VoIP Gizmo Comes to Universities

Universities have long been the havens for new and emerging technologies; VoIP will be no different.

Thanks in part to Michael Robertson of MP3.com, Linspire (formerly Lindows), and SIPphone.com fame—and his Robertson Education Empowerment Foundation(REEF)—universities around the globe will have the opportunity to be VoIP-enabled through a new initiative called the Global University Phone System (GUPS).

GUPS provides Linux-based technology to universities to facilitate VoIP calls both across campuses and between universities. Participating universities will get hardware and software courtesy of REEF that includes the Asterisk IP-PBX running on Linux, as well as monitoring services and free technical support provided by Robertson’s SIPphone. Freely distributable VoIP softphone Gizmo is also being made available to university students.

SIPphone is playing another critical role in addition to support. “For GUPS to work, there needs to be a directory provider which route calls to the correct location,” Robertson told VoIPplanet.com. “SIPphone provides that directory service that is utilized to move calls between universities and from PCs to university phones.”

The initial beta sites for GUPS included UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, University of Oklahoma, University of Philippines, and Brigham Young University. GUPS claims to have already routed more than 10,000 minutes since June.

Tina M. Donaldson, Executive Director of REEF, explained that REEF has a strong relationship with UC San Diego and has been working with them on several initiatives. “They implemented some VoIP technology and then helped recruit other universities so that calls could be made, not just to PCs, but also between traditional university phones,” Donaldson told VoIPplanet.com. “UCSD had great results connecting up with other UC campuses, so we decided to take it worldwide.”

Donaldson noted that there are about 12,000 major universities around the world and GUPS’s goal is to link them all. “We’re launching with about a dozen universities representing 100,000 phone extensions, which is a great start,” Donaldson said.

Though SIPphone.com and Gizmo are clearly very focused on SIP, GUPS is making use of Asterisk, which is a multi-protocol tool. The open source Asterisk IP PBXis being used simply as a gateway, according to Donaldson. “All these universities have PBX systems already, so the technical challenge is connecting them to the net and being able to speak SIP,” Donaldson explained. “One nice feature of GUPS is that it is able to link PBXs from different vendors together. They may be using Ericsson, Avaya, Cisco, they all are able to participate.”

In particular Donaldson noted that GUPS chose Asterisk as opposed to a SIP-specific IP PBX like SIPfoundry, because they liked the way that Asterisk worked well with the necessary T-1 adapter. “But if a participating university wanted to run SIPfoundry that should be possible,” Donaldson added.

The GUPS initiative, with its potentially massive user base, may also prove to be an important driver for Gizmo and SIP in general. “I see VoIP as engaged in a battle between proprietary formats like Skype and open standards like SIP,” Michael Robertson told VoIPplanet.com. “Since GUPS uses SIP and Asterisk, I think it will definitely help with the adoption of the open standard SIP, which I believe is key to an interconnected VoIP world.”

Robertson noted that some universities have said they plan to provide Gizmo Project to their students and families of students as well. “So it’s likely that this will help increase the popularity of Gizmo Project as well, but that’s of secondary importance,” Robertson said. “It’s really about cementing SIP as a standard and beating back closed systems like Skype.”

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