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Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has been poised for its breakout since 1998. Now, after years of fits and starts, numerous enterprises have announced VoIP rollouts aimed at linking voice and data as well as increasing efficiency and lowering costs.

Miller had been following VoIP for years, and decided immediately to migrate county telecommunications systems over to the new technology. After a brief but legally mandated RFP procedure, he selected 3Com to provide the hardware, and purchased a series of NBX 100 products for gradual deployment over three years. The first NBX 100 system was installed in the county courthouse, an implementation that cost $US14,000 and consisted of 80 phones. By the beginning of 2002, 10 different county facilities were transmitting voice traffic alongside data - 1200 VoIP phones in all. High-end features on the new system included standard VoIP options such as call forwarding and remote management, as well as the capability to listen to e-mail messages through an application that reads them over the phone. Later that year, after consistently spotty service from the out-of-the-box NBX system, Miller signed up for network monitoring and management capabilities from VoIP software company Qovia to sharpen general clarity and ensu re quality of service (QoS) across the board.

The QoS deal with Qovia paid huge dividends; Miller says that since early 2002, the county's system has operated almost flawlessly. Overall, he notes that ROI on the move to VoIP has been even more impressive, netting the county an estimated $US1.5 million in savings in long-distance and hardware costs. Miller adds that by eliminating his need for telephone technicians, the new system has freed thousands of dollars in his budget to reallocate to other jobs or additional IT expenditures. Case in point: After months of research, Miller plans to install his own switches at routers in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles later this year so that all of Nevada County's calls to those cities will become free calls too.

"Wherever Nevada County influence is, that's where our VoIP telephone system will be," Miller declares, predicting that expenditures on expanding the system should pay for themselves by December 2004. "After years of living in the dark ages, now that we have technology to use to our advantage, I want to make sure we do just that."

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