The study, which was conducted by the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA), surveyed 279 schools. The web-based survey found that while 65 percent of respondents have had some experience with VoIP, 55 percent have only limited experience, with one-fourth or fewer of their phones employing VoIP service. This, in addition to the 35 percent of respondents who said they have no VoIP phones on their campus, suggests that while the trend is gaining steam among consumers, higher-education institutions have yet to truly embrace the use of VoIP.
“Our members have been seriously considering the benefits of VoIP for some time,” says Jeri Semer, executive director of ACUTA. “I’d say they’re doing their due diligence in learning about the technology and what applications of it might benefit their campus. It’s not about acquiring the technology for its own sake, but about determining how it can best meet their particular needs on campus.”
The survey reveals that of the schools that have begun using VoIP (which is the method of transmitting voice conversations through broadband internet networks, rather than traditional telephone lines), the majority have tried it in IT departments, as pilot projects, and on remote campus sites–suggesting there has been no widespread migration toward replacing traditional phone lines in administrative settings or dormitory rooms.
“Fewer and fewer students are using the campus-provided phones in their room,” says Semer. “They are tending to use their cell phones more, as well as eMail and instant messaging. The actual phone usage in dorms is shrinking, to the extent that a lot of colleges have or are considering removing the phones from their dorms.”
Security issues have always been a concern for some when switching to VoIP. Of the administrators who responded to ACUTA’s survey, 43 percent believe the possibility of viruses and denial-of-service attacks is a major concern. A majority of respondents also feel that security concerns cannot be overcome easily.
“Security is a big issue,” says Semer. “The traditional phone system has been very secure and has had a long track record of reliability. When a virus attacks your eMail program, it’s a major inconvenience. But if it attacks and brings down your ability to communicate by voice, that’s a major safety and security concern.”
This concern is often raised when considering a switch to VoIP, says Kevin Flynn, senior manager of security technology marketing for unified communications at Cisco Systems Inc.
“In the past, people have had two separate kind of systems–voice on one wire, and data on another,” Flynn said. “Now, we’re talking about having both on the same wire. That doesn’t mean the two data types will necessarily impact each other. The problems of having issues on the data stream affecting voice are easily fixed, and that’s just part of any good unified design system.”
Flynn says there is, in essence, an automatic separation between data and voice traffic in any well-designed system. This creates two separate virtual LANs, so that a virus attack on the data end will not affect the bandwidth or the quality of the voice traffic.
The ACUTA survey also shows that a majority of campus administrators believe VoIP vendors need to better disclose the full costs of service and installation, Semer says. More than half of those surveyed say vendors provide unrealistic assessments of the costs of VoIP implementation. In addition, only 19 percent felt that VoIP deployment will save their colleges and universities money over the next five years.
“The challenge for educational institutions is that they typically operate over very long planning cycles,” says Chris Thompson, senior director of solutions marketing for Cisco Unified Communications. “For these institutions to move forward to unified communications, they often would need to do a significant network upgrade.” But schools can avoid these additional expenses and realize the benefits of VoIP service sooner if they design all new buildings to handle voice and data traffic on the same network going forward, Thompson added.
Other results from the survey include:
•A majority of respondents believe deploying VoIP might decrease the costs of moves, adds, and changes to telephone lines and extensions, as well as enhancing and converging business processes, allowing for easier deployments of integrated multimedia applications, and improving integration with third-party application servers;
•76 percent feel more optimistic about the prospects for VoIP today than they did three years ago;
•Senior campus administrators are seen as the biggest advocates for deploying VoIP; and
•59 percent of respondents cited the unnecessary expense of replacing current equipment that functions well as being a major concern preventing them from fully deploying VoIP across their campuses.
While most of those surveyed are wary of fully deploying VoIP across their campuses, almost all agree there are many applications of VoIP they can benefit from. These include unified messaging, emergency notification, business continuity, voice mail, and desktop video conferencing.
“There are a lot of benefits that can result [from implementing VoIP],” says Semer. “But schools need to fully consider the costs, and they also need to figure out business models that will allow them to install and maintain the equipment and [that] continues to pay for its maintenance, upgrading, and technology refreshments on an ongoing basis.”