VoIP Supports POTUS at USMMA

It was a little more than six weeks ago when Howard Weiner, CIO at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, Long Island), learned that the White House had selected the Academy as the venue for a commencement speech opportunity for President Bush—to take place on June 19.

Oh, and, by the way, the press corps would need 150 phones provided in a tent adjacent to the outdoor gathering. (The field where the commencement ceremony was to take place was notoriously bad for cell phone reception.)

As luck would have it, Weiner had been researching VoIP as an expansion solution for its badly stretched TDM phone system, and had already had fairly extensive discussions with Manhattan-based outsourced IP phone provider M5 Networks when the request came through.

“Most organizations don’t have the capacity to pull off something like this on their own,” M5 president and CEO, Dan Hoffman, told VoIPplanet.com. “So they turned to us for help.”

To do the upgrade using TDM equipment would have been a mammoth project, according to Hoffman. The Academy would have been looking at replacing its entire phone system, including running phone lines all over the campus (not to mention out to the field where the temporary phones were needed) and it would have required sourcing roughly seven PRI trunks—at a minimum cost of several hundred thousand, in Hoffman’s estimate. And the time constraints . . . well, it would have been a challenge, to say the least.

Fortunately the Academy had a 100 Mbps fiber Internet service line from local ISP Long Island Fiber Exchange. This would provide the necessary throughput.

“We were able to walk Long Island Fiber Exchange through the steps to give us a dedicated channel across their network, with quality of service to our standards,” Hoffman explained.

As to the rest of the solution: “We run a very high-end infrastructure already,” Hoffman told VoIPplanet. “We have several clusters of redundant IP phone systems serving about 450 business customers—ranging from 5-person firms to an 800-person firm—so we actually had 150 lines that we could repurpose for this, we didn’t have to change a thing,” he said.

One hundred fifty IP handsets from Cisco Systems rounded out the deployment.

An interesting twist to the story occurred last Friday—the final business day before the event—when Weiner learned that the press would have access to some sort of satellite hookup and wouldn’t need the 150 phones after all. The decision was made to deploy the phones anyway—for guests and students—locating them in another part of the campus. M5 technicians accomplished this change well in time for the event.

The day arrived. The throng assembled, The speech went off smoothly. The phones worked.

The only unexpected moment came when one of the graduates, Gabriel Whitney of Nashua, N.H., gave the president an unscripted—and totally unexpected—bear hug as he accepted his diploma.

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