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Colleges get wired; phone-system innovations clear red tape and lower campus administration costs.


Commonly known as a hotbed of centrex applications ("The campus environment is made ofr it," a New England Telephone spokesman told a Comm News reporter a few years ago), American college campuses have also opened their arms to many of ther money-and timesaving technologies.

Let's take tehe example of the following three schools--and there are plenty more where these came from.

Cornell University, Princeton University, and the University of South Carolina are all doing things to reduce redundant staffing and psychological strain on university employees and students.

Network Scrutiny

Bob Gabriel, engineer responsible for Cornell University's labyrinthine telecomm system, worries about managing resources.

That's his job.

These resources include over 300 telephone trunk lines carrying incoming, outgoing, long-distance, and foreign-exchange circuits, and an AT&T System 85 PBX serving over 14,000 students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Over 125 tie lines connect buildings--with some reaching as far as 50 miles away--on Cornell's upstate New York campus.

Cornell's network handles more telephone traffic in a month than the entire city of Ithaca, whose population is nearly twice the size.

Gabriel worries less, however, with AT&T's Trouble Tracker network software giving him critical alarm status, trouble tickets, and network status displays.

"We have geographically distributed switch rooms throughtout the campus to provide the shortest wiring distance for large blocks of users," he says. "At the same time, these switch rooms are set apart in out-of-the-way places for security reasons."

Alarm systems are connected to electronic sensors that monitor environmental controls for air conditioning, power loss, high temperature condition, and floor water in Cornell's seven remote switch rooms. If a deficiency is identified, alarms are sent to the Public Safety department and to plant engineers.

"Unfortunately, these alarm systems use cryptic codes and don't clearly identify the source of the problem," Gabriel says. "To keep track of switch-room problems, I 'piggybacke' Trouble Tracker on the Public Safety department's existing alarm system. Eventually I plan to program the software to list the name and number of the contact person who can fix the problem. Prior to having this system, we didn't know we were having small glitches in service."

Trouble Tracker provides comprehensive log entries on problems and how they were resolved.

These serve as a record to help engineers correct similar problems that occur. When a recent alarm condition showed a loss of air conditioning in one of the remote facilities, the system automatically created an entry in its log, opened a trouble ticket, and called and delivered a displayed status report via beeper to the on-duty engineer.

The beeper display indicated which switch room triggered the alarm, while a trouble ticket printed out in the engineer's office.

From the ticket, an office assistant was able to relay problem-related information--immediately and in detail--via radio to the on-duty engineer in the field.

Gabriel has also arranged for Trouble Tracker to run a parallel program to alert network inginerrs to problems related to telephone trunks and the PBX system.

If, say, a trunk problem occurs, the network engineer is paged with a beeper display, and a trouble ticket simultaneously prints out at his office. The engineer can locate the trouble on his computer screen through a network status display, which shows the problem trunk changing from green to red.

Tech-Conscious Users

The average American college kid spends $40 to $50 per month on long-distance phone calls. A year ago, Frank Ferrara, telecomm manager at Princeton University, went about tryin to reduce his cost per student by 20-30%.

The beautiful stone buildings, often ivy-covered and hundreds of years old, exude history, but they're wiring nightmares. Voice wire no more than five years old is reused. In other cases, Ferrara is totally redesigning a new path into the room, as well as bringing in data cable.

Over the summer, Ferrara had some students interfacing with Northern Telecom and removing as much of the existing cable as possible.

Most of it remained in the walls, and Ferrara's team ran wire through alternate paths.

"If it's buried in a wall, we just cut at the wall and put a plate on it. If it's externally mounted, we attempt to remove it. For each workstation, we're putting in four-pair voice cable. And for 'data' purposes we're bringing in eight-pari cable," says the burly Ferrara, who zips around campus on golf carts for swift troubleshooting.

When eight-pair data was started in 1986, sizing was more than most installations, which had installed four pair for data. Also, cost went up when Princeton found out that plenum-rated data cable, which is four times more expensive than regular cable, was needed in all the dorms.

But the investment has been successful. "This also gives us the capability of running video over twisted pair, because we designed it to 250 feet maximum runs."

Satellite broadcasts are video-transmtted from Israel, the Soviet Union, Japan, and other nations.

Administrative offices and dormitory rooms have the data capabilities. a broadband data network, connected by copper and coax, has been fully functional for years. "In his opening address to the students last year, the president made a commitment to the students that they would have the capability for data connections in the very near future."

Already, most students override Ferrara's rotary-phone handout by shelling out for their own touchtone unit. "Most students prefer to have their own phones that have features such as last-number redial, memory speed calling, mute, etc. They usually purchase them at electronics stores for under $30."

The more enterprising students, some of whom actually run their own businesses from dorms, hook up modems and faxes to the voice-grade technology Ferrara has provided as a base service.

The only add-on he'll provide for free is call waiting. But he warns students that call waiting will blow them out of the water as far as data capabilities using modems.

Princeton University is on a private Northern Telecom PBX-driven network. Every administrative office decides, on the basis of budget, what technology it feels it can afford. Many offices have caller ID on campus (legal in New Jersey).

They won't have of-campus caller ID capability until SS7 becomes available from the local telcos.

Ferrara can tell who has caller ID by whether his calls are answered, "Hi Frank," or just "Hello?".

Touchtone Registration

The University of South Carolina installed interactive voice response to save headaches all around.

First Line 3.1 from Computer Communications Specialists Inc., Atlanta, lets students register from their homes by using touchtone telephone. Courses can be selected, dropped, and added. Fees can be assessed (to be paid with credit card and electronic transfer of funds) with one call.

The university system, employing over 5200 faculty and staff, has grown from an original campus in columbia to include smaller campuses.

A student calls the automated registration number and is answered by a natural-sounding human voice. Pre-recorded prompts instruct the student to register for classes by entering class codes from the keypad. In minutes, the student can review the completed schedule over the phone. There are 60 incoming auto-registration phone lines.

Registrar Luke Gunter says the system particularly helps students who commute 20 or more miles each day.

University officials quickly found other uses for interactive voice response. It gives studens final grades and runs a bulletin board called ASKUS. Before, students waited for faculty to post grades in the hallway outside their classrooms. The new system preserved students' privacy while allowing them to quickly check their grades. Within a recent two-week period, over 25,000 students called the system to get their final fall semester grades.

ASKUS tells students how to order a transcript and all about daily activities on campus. The all-hours bulletin board eliminated the need for hiring temporary staff to answer the questions.

The university also uses interactive voice response to make emergency announcements.

"During a very bad snow storm recently, the university had to close early," Gunter remembers. "All FirstLine callers received an update about the closing and the rescheduling of exams. Before, it was frustrating to come to class only to find out that classes had been cancelled."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Title Annotation:includes a related article on universities
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Worry-free integration.
Next Article:Unwiring of America.

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