Landlines Are Old-School: Universities Increasingly Rely on Cell-Phones and VOIP

Jul 29, 2008

People around the globe have become increasingly dependent on their cell-phones. They are often our only phone lines, our media players, our digital cameras and even our Internet browsers. Yet individuals are not the only ones relying on mobile devices these days. Colleges have recognized the trend and are using it to their advantage.

Preliminary results from the July-December 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicate that nearly one out of every six American homes had only wireless telephones in the second half of 2007. More than one out of every eight American homes received almost all calls on wireless telephones despite having a landline in the home.

Marquette University is one of the first to catch on to this trend, and has managed to save about $150,000 by eliminating traditional phone lines in its dorms. The school provides VoIP (Voice-Over Internet Protocol) equipment for students who are then able to use the school’s broadband connection to place phone calls.

As of the coming fall semester, landlines will mostly be a thing of the past at Marquette. There will be an emergency telephone on each of the dorm floors allowing direct contact to the campus' public safety. There will also be landline phones located at the front desk and in each of the RA offices.

Junior James Hedman never used the landline system in his dorm at Marquette. He says, "I only use my cell phone so I wouldn’t even notice if my landline was deactivated." Many other students don’t even bother finding out what their number to the dorm phone line is.

For those students who do not have a cell phone, Marquette University offers free VoIP equipment. (The term "VoIP" stands for Voice-Over Internet Protocol which is a protocol optimized for the transmission of voice through the Internet.) An increasing number of universities and businesses are switching to VoIP systems. The systems are easy to install and maintain and use technology--broadband, which most already subscribe to. Marquette is testing the VoIP system with the intentions of expanding the service throughout the campus. Other schools, including Brandeis, have also expanded the use of the VoIP system.

Brandeis’ project was initiated when the school's 18-year-old Private Branch Exchange (PBX) switch began to experience failures. (PBX systems have to be installed and maintained by professionals or CENTRX-type services from telephone companies). In a single day, the school switched over its entire traditional PBX system, totaling 6,500 lines, to VoIP and instantly began to use the system.

Free software, from companies like Skype, makes it possible for anyone with an internet connection to talk to others via the internet for free. It costs a small fee to call cell-phone or landlines. Skype users can also make video calls, again, for free.

Still VoIP requires a broadband connection--and does not allow users to call mom while walking across campus or text friends during classes. The fact is that most people carry cell-phones, something vendors have been taking advantage of for some time now. Think ring-tones, bejeweled phone accessories and voting for American Idol via text message. However schools are able to harness this popularity for more practical purposes.

At Virginia Tech, for example, students have to choose how they would like to be reached in case of an emergency. The most common number one answer is a text message alert sent to their cell phone. Integrating cell phones with security planning is just one example of how institutions and vendors can use the latest technology to solve an emergent problem. Bank statements, flight information, and emergency alerts can now all be sent via text. In fact, reading on mobile phones is becoming more widespread in the United States and abroad. Several companies offer free software downloads that allow users to read books on smart phones like Blackberries and iPhones.

As hand-held devices like cell-phones become more powerful and capable, the possibilities for institutions and businesses grow as well. Content vendors are wisely leveraging this mobile delivery mechanism as cell phone ubiquity continues to impact all aspects of our lives.