About the campus telephone migration project

About | Phase approach | Changes | Benefits | Migration process | Recommended headsets | FAQs

UPDATE [Mar 23]: It will not be possible to eliminate telephone rental charges on May 1, 2022, as had been previously proposed. As noted in Campus Telephony Service and Pricing Change (PDF) this is not a technological matter, but rather an institutional budget matter. Telephone rental charges will remain in place and will be revisited when the active RFP for the telephony replacement project is complete. An updated timeline will be shared once confirmed.

UPDATE: The date for the elimination of telephone rental charges was revised on March 9, 2021 from May 1, 2021 to May 1, 2022. 

About this project

Information Systems & Technology (IST) is proposing a move to a primarily softphone client model for campus telephones and eliminating telephone rental charges effective May 1, 2022.

Such a change will require campus consultation and a review of financial implications. Logical timing for budget changes may be for the 2021/2022 fiscal year, however, IST is proposing a phased approach, such that many of the benefits of this proposal can be achieved before May 1, 2022. High-level changes are noted below. Please see the full proposal for additional information.

Proposed phased approach

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The ‘Migration to a primarily softphone model’ is to be discussed and refined in consultation with stakeholders, for full implementation effective May 1, 2022.

Three green dots

Elimination of telephone rental charges effective May 1, 2022, after the financial elements above are discussed and refined in consultation with stakeholders.

Three green dots

A S4B softphone only service be offered immediately, for $8*/month.

*$8/month plus $15.50/month for zero to three months of forwarding from the existing 3xxxx extension to the new 4xxxx extension. If no forwarding is requested, there is no forwarding charge

Proposed high-level changes to be in place by May 1, 2022

Changes to telephones

Circle telephone
  • Users would be migrated from their existing digital or IP phone to the Skype for Business (S4B) softphone client, with no deskset provided in most cases
  • Existing Polycom desksets would be removed, in most cases
  • There is no S4B linux client available from Microsoft, however, IST will provide an appropriate deskset until an alternative solution can be provided
  • The S4B smartphone client can also be used

Changes to extensions

Circle keypad

Users would be given a new extension in the 4xxxx range, instead of the 3xxxx range and their old 3xxxx extension would be forwarded to their new 4xxxx extension for up to three months

  • Note, each forwarded call uses one of a limited number of telephone lines for the duration of the forwarded call
  • Reliance on forwarding needs to be reduced to the extent possible 

Purchasing headsets and equipment

circle headset
  • Departments would be responsible for purchasing headsets, cameras, or other peripherals as needed
  • Recommended products are available for purchase from Print + Retail Solutions
  • At a later time, IST will be exploring replacing the S4B client with Teams
    • S4B is supported by Microsoft until 2025

Impact on emergency phones

circle emergency phone
  • Emergency phones in elevators would continue to be supported as now, and costs covered as an institutional expense
  • Emergency digital phones are provided in key areas and are restricted to making on-campus calls, emergency calls, and cannot receive calls 
  • Costs are covered as an institutional expense and such phones could be installed:
    • On walls near exits and elevators, on all floors in all buildings
    • In labs, shops, and other areas with unusual hazards (e.g. equipment, chemicals)
    • Large spaces would have an appropriate number of digital phones installed

Benefits of migrating to a softphone client

Improved service

Softphones can be used on laptop computers and smartphones, and can be an important part of supporting Work From Home (WFH). There are enhanced user experience benefits to softphones, some of which include the additional features that integrate with computer workstations:

  • online messaging
  • user presence indication
  • video
  • conference calling
  • file and screen sharing
  • voicemail transcription

Reduced cost

  • Moving to softphones and removing the existing rental charges will prevent the need for unnecessary budget transfers.
  • Approximately 7,000 existing telephone desk sets will require eventual replacement with new models, at significant cost.
  • Reducing the number of physical phones required across campus reduces that eventual renewal cost.

Migration request process

Interested in migrating to the Skype for Business softphone client?

Step one

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The telephone contact representative for an area interested in migrating should contact their IST Account Rep to discuss the migration process, client needs, and to confirm user/phone details.

Step two

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The telephone contact representative can then work with their IST Account Rep to submit a migration request.

Step three

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The IST Account Rep can receive support questions and/or feedback about the migration.

Recommended headsets available from Print + Retail Solutions


What is a softphone?

A softphone is a software application that’s installed on an internet-connected device (e.g. desktop/laptop, smartphone, tablet) to make phone calls. IST is proposing migrating traditional desksets to the Skype for Business softphone client, which will allow users to make and receive voice or video calls on a connected device, from anywhere. A USB headset is recommended to improve the audio quality.

Why would my extension change from 3xxxx to 4xxxx?

The University’s conventional telephone system (supporting the 3xxxx extensions) and the Skype For Business (S4B) system are two separate systems, with a bridge between them to route calls.  The bridge needs to know which extensions are on which system, in order to route the calls correctly.  We have allocated 40000 to 49999 to S4B.

  • The 3xxxx extension rings to a physical phone/deskset (phone may be analog/digital, IP, or conference phone).
  • S4B softphones can be used with/ring to any S4B compatible device (e.g. desktop, mobile, or physical IP phone). The S4B softphone allows you to make and receive calls from anywhere you have internet access (i.e. while working from home vs. being in an office on campus). Note, a mobile device cannot be used for S4B if you are part of a queue.

Can I switch to a Skype for Business (S4B) softphone now?

Yes. A S4B softphone only service be offered immediately, for $8*/month.

*$8/month plus $15.50/month for zero to three months of forwarding from the existing 3xxxx extension to the new 4xxxx extension. If no forwarding is requested, there is no forwarding charge.

Will I need to purchase a headset?

While the computer microphone and speakers can be used, the best call experience is achieved with a headset and microphone. Departments will be responsible for purchasing headsets, cameras, or other peripherals as needed. Recommended headsets are available for purchase from Print + Retail Solutions.

Who can I contact for headset details, quantity pricing, or product features?

Please contact wstore@lists.uwaterloo.ca.

How will I receive a headset from Print + Retail Solutions?

Print + Retail Solutions is offering flat rate shipping anywhere in Ontario for $3. Staff and faculty can also select “curbside pickup” and then email wstore@lists.uwaterloo.ca to arrange a time to pick up their order from South Campus Hall.

My current phone has been working fine, why change it?

At the core of the University’s telephone system is a Nortel Meridian 1 Option 81C Private Branch Exchange (PBX) that was installed in 1995, and Nortel CS1000E IP PBX (upgraded in 2015). Connected to this are approximately 2,700 Nortel Meridian 3903 digital (hardwired) phones and 2,400 1140E IP phones. While Avaya (which purchased Nortel after its bankruptcy in 2009) continued to sell and support these products well after 2009, they have now all passed “end of sale”, and all reach end of support and end of general parts availability no later than June 2024. The sun is setting on Nortel technology. 

A complete telephone system replacement with redundant IP PBX’s and 7,000 new IP phones could cost upwards of $2.5M, still requiring ongoing maintenance, investment and specialized skills.

Why not do this with Teams?

Teams can be used as a full telephone system with additional licensing.   Additional equipment is also needed to integrate with the PBX, and support special cases, like hardwired phones.   Teams also includes a unix client.  Users would appreciate using a single tool for internal calls and external calls, and Teams would be very attractive in that regard.  

However Teams is not the only possibility.  Both Avaya’s and Cisco’s telephone solutions, for example, offer client side integration with Teams, such that users could use Teams to make internal and external calls.   Both Avaya and Cisco offer complete suites of enterprise telephony equipment and solutions.

Given the costs, and options, an RFP will be needed to select the University’s next generation telephone system. This is planned for Fall/2021, with implementation beginning in 2022.

Why was Microsoft Skype for Business selected?

Given the inevitable end of life of our Nortel Private Branch Exchange (PBX) and Nortel telephones, Microsoft Skype for Business (S4B) was selected in 2016 for most new telephone installations. This was based on advantageous pricing through our Microsoft Campus Agreement, meeting requirements, IST expertise with Microsoft technology, and ability to integrate with our existing Nortel PBX. Almost all telephones installed since 2016 have been S4B. Given positive experience with S4B over this time, and over 2,000 campus telephones now using S4B, this is a logical choice to begin modernization of our telephone system and offer improved service.

The telephone always used to be separate from computers and used separate cabling. Why is this changing?

Prior to 2010, most of the University’s telephones used dedicated cabling to the Private Branch Exchange (PBX). After that time, new installations were IP phones, and used the network. This saves having to install and maintain a separate cabling system. Over 60% of the University’s 7,000 telephones are now IP phones. Some additional advantages of this approach, that the University hasn’t fully realized, are the ability to have redundant IP PBXs in separate data centres, and the use of Unified Communications (UC). UC is the integration of multiple communications services including voice calling, voicemail, instant messaging, video calling. Almost all modern enterprise telephone systems are in fact UC systems, even though physical desk phones are included in many cases, and even if not all UC features are used. The desk phones, if provided, connect to redundant IP PBX’s over the network.

Is a softphone as reliable as a desk phone?

For both cases, for any modern enterprise telephone system, the desk telephones or softphones connect over the network to redundant servers in data centres. An IP desk phone contains a computer and runs software, although it is dedicated to one purpose. Hundreds of people at Waterloo have been using Skype for Business for several years now, and the experience has been positive.

What if the power is out or the network is down? 

Almost all modern enterprise telephone systems use IP phones, which rely on the network. Over 60% of the University’s 7,000 telephones are IP phones. These phones are often usable for power outages of up to 20-30 minutes, depending on the run time of the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) supporting the network for the area, but this is not guaranteed. The experience will be similar for soft phones on battery powered mobile devices including laptop computers and smartphones. Naturally, a desktop computer without a UPS will not be useable during a power outage. In the event the network is down, IP phones and softphones in the area will not work.

What if there is an emergency and I need to use the phone?

911 is supported with Skype for Business. There are also emergency phones located near stairwells and elevators, in buildings that have been converted to softphones or IP phones.

Please note, calling 911 from a Skype for Business (S4B) is only recommended if you are working in your on-campus office; S4B should not be used to call 911 from home/other locations.