Cairns City Council is installing a 1000 user IP telephony system as part of a three year project to roll out unified communications across its entire legacy network.
The project will upgrade network connections between central and remote offices with improvements boosting 10/100Mpbs Ethernet links to gigabyte speeds on multi-mode and single-mode fibre, possible implementation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to replace PABX, router, and switch upgrades.
The three-tiered project has cost about $490,000 for the first two stages, and will bring the total budget to $750,000 following the completion of the third and final phase at the end of 2008.
Cairns City Council information services team leader Rob Dodin said the project kicked off as "communications network improvement study" which assessed the feasibility of upgrading links and ditching some of its costly legacy communication systems.
"We have about 35 traditional PABXs across the same number of sites which are in need of upgrades because all the lines and options have been maxed out - and this is a big headache because they are costly software upgrades from multiple vendors," Dodin said.
"We were looking at VoIP a few years back, but it wasn't highly regarded at that time. We assessed all options out there and continued updating our switches and routers."
"We could see the demand for unified communications in the future and we could see the need for a better network."
A massive expansion of council boundaries with the amalgamation of Douglas Shire Council will create such a need.
The state government issued amalgamation, set for March 2008, will be one of the biggest mergers in far north Queensland and will see Cairns City Council known as Cairns Regional Council covering an area of 4135 square kilometres with a population of 142,700.
VoIP is being installed in the fibre-linked CBD sites and will be deployed in remote sites that receive network upgrades.
The installations follow the success of a 30 user pilot which evaluated VoIP handsets running off a re-routed PABX. IP phone lines have been forwarded to users still on the old handsets, who are expected to migrate to VoIP during 2008.
The larger council sites, such as the 400 seat CBD headquarters and the future Port Douglas sister site, will receive video conferencing following further network upgrades, and after a supplier is sourced.
The council's contact centres are being upgraded with Cisco equipment including the Unified Contact Center Express (UCCX) and Call Manager 5 solutions, Microsoft Identity Integration Server, Exchange 2007, and Dimension Data's Active Directory IP telephony management system.
The facelift may also include new IVR systems in the forthcoming upgrades, along with Web click-to-call.
Cairns City Council IT infrastructure manager Dennis Littlewood said he favours choosing a single hardware vendor because it will make further upgrades easier.
"When we want to add new applications or capabilities, we've got a platform that will accommodate them," Littlewood said.
"We have been very happy with the improvements to our telephony environment and we are now looking at upgrading our contact centres."
The city may also get a wireless network. According to Dodin, the network will be initially deployed for council staff but may become a new public access network, similar to the ArtId:1888991343|NSW government's proposal]].
"We have been looking at tri-band handsets for staff to access the LAN, we are keen on exploring the opportunity [for a public network] but the infrastructure must be right first to create it," he said.
Low range fixed WiMAX spectrums such as 1.5Ghz could allow the council to extend the network into less populated remote areas, while higher frequency mobile WiMAX or mesh networks could suit the denser CDB.