VoIP reaps rewards for remote mining company

Billiton's Queensland operation QNI expects to save more than $100,000 a year following the implementation of a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system between Brisbane and regional office Yabulu.

The company, which implemented the Cisco Avvid system in January this year, expects to complete an extension of the 450-handset system to its two offices in Perth within the next couple of months.

QNI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Billiton, one of the world's leading metals and mining companies. The Yabulu site is 23 kilometres north of Townsville and produces nickel and cobalt.

Ross Thorne, IT infrastructure manager for QNI, said integration issues were minimal during the implementation except for a WAN switch which couldn't cope and had to be replaced with a Cisco alternative.

"We had a few teething problems, but the only thing about the system is that it takes a bit of time to tune it; you have to spend a bit of time with it."

Thorne said the only disappointment with the system has been with the Web functionality aspect of the solution, which the IT team is trying to overcome. "It has limitations."

The company did not set out to do a VoIP implementation, Thorne said. However, due to damaged PABX wiring, technical issues hooking into the Telstra network and the fact that the system had reached its limit, the company decided to install the fully switched 10/100Mbits/sec IP telephony technology on its existing data network. The result has been significant savings, he said.

"We found that the copper wiring at the refinery was in such bad condition that it had to be replaced and this would cost several thousands of dollars," Thorne saidIt is estimated that the reduction in phone call costs for the company will total more than $90,000 a year due to calls passing through a national phone network. Another $15,000 is expected to be saved in reduced network administration costs by running a single, IP-based network for all voice and data communications.

"Set up and expansion costs were low since the IP phones plugged into the existing data network and the fact that the handsets can be deployed or moved without the need for outside contractors."

Thorne said the technology also addressed voicemail requirements through the co-implementation of Cisco's ActiveVoice voicemail messaging product.

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