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Say goodbye to desktop phones

John Cox | July 16, 2014
Insurer leverages VoIP client software, 11ac Wi-Fi for "complete mobility".

"When are we going to get rid of these things?" said Ken Henderson's boss as he pointed at the corded desktop telephone that has been emblematic of the American office for decades.

"I'm glad you asked that," replied Henderson, the assistant vice president for technical infrastructure at American Fidelity Assurance in Oklahoma City. He outlined to his boss, AFA President David Carpenter, a plan that had been gestating for a while. The recent purchase of a new headquarters building was the spark to put it into action.

The insurer's IT group is shifting hundreds of employees to voice-over-IP "softphones" on Windows 7 laptops and Apple iPad tablets, all clients to Microsoft Lync Server, for IM and video conferencing and now for VoIP calls, over an 802.11ac wireless LAN from Aruba Networks.

For years, WLAN vendors predicted that 802.11n Wi-Fi was the perfect foundation to support wireless VoIP. But most deployments were relatively small, at most a few hundred wireless VoIP handsets, in part because the combination of Wi-Fi and VoIP in the enterprise required a lot of work. [see our 2007 article, "Wireless VoIP works, but it's work"]

The new Aruba 11ac network at AFA is a pervasive, high-performance, redundant WLAN, replacing what had been mainly a network-of-convenience for employees in the original headquarters building. Going with 11ac shifts all clients to the uncluttered 5 GHz band (AFA isn't allowing 2.4 GHz use, even for Bluetooth), optimizes capacity, and "future proofs" the wireless network for an expected surge in the number of clients and in multi-media, real-time collaboration.

Nearly all of AFA's Wi-Fi clients currently are still 11n, but even these will see a performance gain on the 5 GHz band.

Toward complete mobility

Founded in 1960, privately-held AFA offers a range of supplemental insurance products covering disability, death, and other areas, as well as a range of services to company health plans. In 2012, the fast-growing company bought an existing building to become its new headquarters. Much of the interior was gutted partly for renovations and partly for a new network infrastructure.

"We wanted complete mobility, to support a collaborative environment within the new complex," says Henderson. "That meant we had to go wireless, and that meant getting rid of the desktop phone, because the cabled phone doesn't let you move around and collaborate with others as needed."

"Going wireless" at AFA entails distinct technologies that are intended to realize this idea of "complete mobility."

One is a distributed antenna system (DAS), designed and deployed by RF Connect, a network services company in Farmington Hill, Mich. DAS is essentially a system of cabling and internal antennas for distributing carrier cellular signals inside a building, improving transmission and reception. The DAS deployment is about 80% complete at this writing.


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