Instead of installing separate lines for a computer and a telephone system, Shelby City Schools of Ohio is saving big bucks using internet protocol (IP) telephony, which uses the district’s high-speed computer network to send and receive phone calls.

“I believe an IP phone system puts the power of the phone system into the hands of the district,” said Keith Rittenhouse, the district’s director of technology services.

IP telephony, which is sometimes called “voice over the internet” or “voice over IP,” transmits sound the same way data is transmitted over the internet. Internet protocols send data in small, manageable packets and reassemble them on the computer screen in a recognizable image. With voice, the packets are reassembled into a recognizable sound—but unlike internet data, it’s in real time.

Shelby City Schools’ IP telephony system will be transparent to users, Rittenhouse said, since the district has a robust computer network capable of excellent voice and data transfer.

A few years ago, Rittenhouse said, Shelby City Schools installed fiber optic links in all of its buildings, creating a100-megabit backbone with district funding . The Ohio SchoolNet program put cabling and wiring in every classroom in the state.

The state subsidy standardized the connectivity available to Ohio schools because it required them to buy a network capable of transmitting voice, video, and data.

Since Shelby City Schools’ large, high-speed network is capable of transferring huge amounts of data, Rittenhouse said, it was only logical for the district to use it to send voice traffic as well.

“So many places have these large data networks and they are not using them to their capacity,” he said.

He believes schools should have a network capable of voice, video, and data transfer—such as fiber optics provides—considering the cost and benefits.

“What’s the difference in price between buying my own fiber or renting lines from the phone company?” Rittenhouse said. For most districts, the cost of installing a fiber optic network is comparable to the cost of years of monthly fees for renting T1 lines.

Shelby City officials currently are upgrading the capacity of the district’s network while they wait for the rest of the Cisco equipment, purchased through a third-party vendor, to arrive. They’re adding new switches with modules and a few more network drops.

“When we upgrade and add IP phones to the mix, we are taking our capability between buildings to one gigabit,” Rittenhouse said. “We are increasing what we had by a factor of ten.”

After setting up the system, district officials will mount the phones and train the staff how to use them, although the phones are not much different from regular ones.

“We are going to see connectivity and the ability to talk—but we are also going to see increased bandwidth, which will affect our ability to conduct internet searches,” he said. The upgrades will “provide staff and students [with] a way to reach out more than they have ever had before.”

Every classroom will have telephone service and every teacher will have digital voice mail, once the district’s technology department finishes installing the IP telephony system. Rittenhouse said the number of phones in the district will increase from 65 to 256.

Not only will students be able to contact experts to do research; teachers will be able to call for help if they need to.

“In the event of a potential lockdown of a building, we will have the potential to communicate with every room,” Rittenhouse said.

Network connections to various other school districts could mean free long distance telephony service for Shelby City Schools. Because the system is computerized, the district also will be able to capture detailed information about the volume of telephone traffic on the network.

“The phone part of the project is actually cheaper than a regular phone system,” Rittenhouse said. “All and all, [IP telephony will cost] approximately $150,000 when it’s all said and done.”

Shelby City Schools