Why spend $40 billion and end up with five data networks and one voice network when you can spend $33 billion on a new network that will carry voice and data?
For Dan McFarland, Dallas CIO, voice over IP (VoIP) was the way to go.
"Ive always kept my eye on [VoIP] technology," McFarland said. "I felt that that was the technology that was going to allow us to make our networks ubiquitous and allow us to save a lot of dollars. In my opinion, its the perfect platform."
McFarland said his VoIP phone has been ringing off the hook with inquiries from other municipal governments in the United States, Australia and Europe.
"They all want to know what we think the benefits are to the system; how much savings do we think well get out of the system; and why we picked the technology," he said. "Our decision to go with new technology was simplified from the standpoint that we had five separate large networks that werent interconnected. We had a crumbling old Centrex system. We had a lot of things that we needed to make changes to in the city."
PBX No More
What the city didnt want was to purchase another phone system that would need to be replaced in another few years, McFarland said, noting that some of the phones sitting on employees desks are more than 10 years old, making replacement parts difficult to find.
Under the terms of the deal the city signed, Dallas is leasing the VoIP equipment, something that cities havent traditionally done, he said, adding that the city wanted to avoid the circle of issuing equipment notes, buying the equipment, and, after the notes are paid off, having to start the whole process over again.
"We want to make sure that we always have current technology," he explained. "By leasing that equipment, we can replace it; we can change it out. When we negotiated our deal, part of it was that we have all the software upgrades and everything provided to us on a maintenance agreement. Were assured of having the most current, up-to-date software there is."
Ultimately, Dallas will have approximately 8,500 VoIP phones and 5,000 PCs sharing the same network, McFarland said, adding that roughly 325 people are now using the new phones.
The switch to the new network has been broken down into three phases, and the last phase should wrap up around January 2003, said Michael Jones, Dallas assistant director of communications and information services.
The city is not rolling out VoIP department by department; rather, officials performed cost analyses for city buildings and installed the requisite cabling and telephones in buildings that would provide the most payback, Jones said.
But ultimately, the projects payoff goes beyond replacing outdated telecommunications equipment.
"We are literally replacing all of our data infrastructure at the same time; it goes hand in hand with the VoIP," he said. "The payoffs to my end users are a faster, more secure, more manageable network. The old network, on the data side and on the voice side, was more than maxed out. We would have been unable to deploy large, citywide applications."
The VoIP traffic will run on its own virtual private network, Jones added, which helps the city manage potentially troublesome quality-of-service issues that could lead to dropped voice packets.
When looking for bids on the implementation, Dallas officials stressed the importance of their existing phone numbers.
"We did not want to change telephone numbers, so coming up with a workable dial plan was an extremely large challenge," Jones said. "We have four different NXXs [the first three digits after the area code] across the city. Ideally, what one would