The College will soon trade its 1970s-era telephones?which Bowdoin buys for 58 cents a piece off eBay?for a swanky new system that will allow students to stay connected nearly everywhere on campus.
According to Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis, the College expects to switch to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system this summer. The $1.3 million to $1.5 million upgrade will bring new phones, new calling features, and a new phone server to campus.
Phone calls will be converted to digital signals and transmitted over the College's existing data network?the same network that students use for computer Internet and e-mail. A data network upgrade was completed two-and-a-half years ago and provided the College with what may be the fastest campus network in the United States.
Davis said consolidating systems saves money and gives the College the flexibility to offer new high-tech features.
"Your computer could be your phone," Davis said, referencing one possible feature. "You could actually just have your voice mail messages on your computer."
Students will also have the option of connecting their cell phones to the phone system, so that they can just hit four digits on their phone to reach the College's four-digit extensions. Room phones will also be able to forward incoming calls to cell phones.
Residences will feature new telephone sets, which will likely include a digital screen and a port in a back for the computer connection. Davis said he expects that each student will be offered an individual phone extension number.
William Donahoe, Bowdoin Student Government's vice president for facilities, serves on Davis's student advisory committee. Donahoe said the committee provided Information Technology with feedback on the system's features.
"Being able to access our phone from anywhere will be extraordinarily convenient," Donahoe said, noting that the system will allow students an easy way to check voice mail from anywhere on campus.
He said he also appreciated the ability to call directory service 4411 and other campus extensions from a cell phone.
Davis said he expects the system will be installed by fall. The College is now waiting to make sure that the technology's contractor can meet the budgetary boundaries.
Bowdoin currently uses a traditional PBX phone switching system that was installed about 25 years ago.
"It just needs to be upgraded," Davis said. "It's struggling."
Davis said that if the current switch were to have a major failure, it would take the College at least two weeks to fix the system and reinstall phone extensions. That would leave college residences and offices without telephone service.
Even though VoIP systems create digital signals, they are still able to call traditional telephones. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the digital signal is converted back to a traditional voice signal when reaching a non-VoIP phone user.
The College's data network expansion is also allowing for the introduction of other new technologies.
Davis said seven courses at Bowdoin are piloting an online video system where course films are offered via streaming video. He said that students and faculty members have praised the concept.
"We can't do it fast enough," he said.
Thirty movies are currently in the system. The College's current technology cannot quickly convert the videos, but Davis said his department has been in communication with vendors about a new system.
Eventually, Bowdoin Cable Network could offer movies on demand over the system, he said.
Davis said his department is also talking with representatives from technology companies Cisco and Ericsson about acquiring chips that students can place in their cell phones and use to provide an unlocking signal to proximity readers that permit access to dormitories and computer labs on campus.
Other technologies in development include a student information system that will allow students to use their cell phones for course scheduling. Microsoft Windows Vista software may also be available at the end of the academic year, he said.
Davis said that while all students may not use every technology innovation that the College provides, he wants to provide choices to students.
"At least there are those options, and that's what we are more about creating right now," he said.