In 2000, as the communications provider for Brockton, Mass., struggled to re-establish service, Mayor John T. Yunits' office was unreachable for three days, and the mayor wasn't happy.
"[The company] was providing poor service, and the city had no one with telecommunications experience to deal with the problems," Yunits said of his decision to hire George Walsh, formerly with AT&T, as Brockton's communications consultant. "I knew George had retired from the communications industry and asked for his assistance."
Building for the Future
Walsh's first task was to remedy the frequent service outages and climbing maintenance costs stemming from the building's nearly 20-year-old telecommunications infrastructure. Brockton also needed to replace costly discontinued equipment, such as $300 telephone units.
City executives already budgeted for a system upgrade, which made Walsh's job a little easier. With a budget and executive buy-in, Walsh hit the ground running by conducting a complete inventory and evaluating telecom solutions for Brockton's technical and budgetary needs.
The city eventually offered a contract to Alcatel for OmniPCX -- its Internet protocol (IP)-based private branch exchange (PBX). The Alcatel bid was $40,000 lower than its competitors -- enough of a difference to fully fund the necessary rewiring project within budget for the system upgrade -- which helped the city's efforts considerably.
The OmniPCX can be used as a traditional PBX and provides telephone service via standard copper lines. Its IP core, however, was engineered around the ubiquitous IP networking protocol and offers native voice over IP (VoIP) support. This means users can implement PBX and VoIP in stages, allowing them to budget for smaller portions of the total expenditure versus buying and implementing all upgrades at once.
For cities that can't afford a full upgrade to VoIP, the Omni system is a workable compromise. A staged upgrade will allow Brockton to use its existing infrastructure while implementing the already budgeted PBX upgrade.
"We're trying to evolve into a voice over IP system," Walsh said, adding that a benefit of VoIP is that it can be completed department by department, rather than upgrading the entire city at once. It also helps that the city already has a fiber-optic data network -- the network's trunks are suited to VoIP duty since they provide IP connectivity between all city departments and City Hall, Walsh said. Add-on components for the PBX and compatible telephones will help upgrade existing desktop telephones.
Walsh is working upgrades for departments into future budget cycles. Since all city departments will now use the existing fiber backbone as the connection medium, the VoIP upgrade would allow the city to completely remove the leased telephone lines to these departments.
Based on Brockton's monthly costs for telephone lines, he said, the savings should add up quickly for a full ROI. The first planned upgrade is the Water Department, which uses 30 CENTREX lines costing $15 each per month. That upgrade alone will save more than $5,000 per year, paying for the OmniPCX add-on module after three years.
"VoIP is foreign to me," Yunits said. "George tells me it will save us more money, so I hope to see the city using this feature sometime next year."
The new system offers full services, improved availability and efficiency compared with the CENTREX system, Walsh said, which lacked the most basic features, such as voice-mail.
Two years ago, if people called Brockton City Hall five minutes after close of business, they had to wait until start of business the next day for someone to answer. If someone called with a request for the Water Department and wanted the call transferred, tough luck. Brockton employees could only supply the phone number -- the CENTREX system could not transfer calls and had no built-in feature so users