L.A. suburb moves up, cuts costs with VOIP

The analog phone system that the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., had been using for the past 20 years worked just fine. Why fix it if it wasn't broken?

Although the standard voice messaging system from Avaya Inc. of Basking Ridge, N.J., was operational, the Los Angeles suburb had a powerful motivation to upgrade: Avaya was phasing out technical support for the system's analog technology.

The system had 'its own brain that did the switching of calls, separate from our computer network,' said Dennis McLean, the city's director of finance and information technology.
Whenever the city moved an employee or installed a new phone, someone had to call in the phone vendor to make needed changes, for a fee.

Two years ago, McLean and his IT technician met with the city's technology adviser, Ted Vegvari, to decide how to save the city money and maintain phone service. The trio decided, at Vegvari's suggestion, to adopt a voice over IP system.

The city has installed the VOIP Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. Working with Expanets Inc. of Englewood, Colo., McLean and his team deployed the AVVID system for 95 phones about a year ago.

'The beauty of this system is that the phone is attached to the city's network,' McLean said. To add a new user to the system, McLean and his team plug a handset into a wall jack. The phone is then configured like a PC linked to the city's network, which runs over Category 6 cabling. By having city workers, instead of phone company employees, make routine changes to the system, the city is saving between $5,000 and $10,000 a year, he said.

McLean said the city next plans to add teleconferencing features to the system and create an emergency wireless network.

'We're not a large city,' he said of the suburb of 42,000 residents. 'Yet I think we broke through what could be an easy misperception, that a Cisco VOIP system would be too expensive for us. It wasn't.'

The system cost about $85,000, with annual support costs of about $18,000, he said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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