Radio group ditches fixed-line telecoms costs as it brings three networks into one

Just a year ago, Vincent Bourne, infrastructure manager at radio group GWR, was responsible for running three distinct networks: one for telephony, one for data and one carrying live audio broadcasts.

Just a year ago, Vincent Bourne, infrastructure manager at radio group GWR, was responsible for running three distinct networks: one for telephony, one for data and one carrying live audio broadcasts.

Now, he has just one network to manage: a multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network, based on technology from Cisco and capable of carrying all three.

By using an IP network to broadcast hours of programming to listeners across the UK, GWR is a pioneering example of a company using the convergence of communications technologies to its best advantage.

But according to Bourne, it was not the benefits of IP broadcasting that drove the business case for this ambitious consolidation project. In fact, it was the simple efficiencies that he believed the organisation would achieve by switching its telephony network from a traditional, fixed-line environment to voice over IP (VoIP).

GWR operates more than 30 local FM stations around the UK, as well as the popular Classic FM and various AM and DAB (digital radio) services. It is also in the process of a merger with the Capital Radio Group, which will add yet more stations to its portfolio.

Rapid growth through acquisition, however, meant GWR's telephony network was extremely complicated, relying on each of its locations to individually manage a private branch exchange (PBX) system to handle incoming and outgoing phone calls.

"Getting rid of our considerable fixed-line telephony costs was our major priority," said Bourne. "We had every make and model of PBX system from every supplier that you care to mention and that led to major cost and maintenance issues.

"It was not too hard to convince the board of directors that, by consolidating that telephony network and basing it on IP, we would immediately be able to eliminate many of those challenges."

In a sense, he adds, VoIP was something of a Trojan horse. "We made a convincing case for telephony over IP and that got us the go-ahead to implement a network that would also enable us to embrace IP broadcasting."

The end result certainly validates Bourne's business case: GWR has replaced 70 PBXs with three iterations of the Cisco CallManager IP call processing software in its London, Bristol and Reading offices. All calls are now routed through these sites.

Using a Pin, GWR employees can use any of the 2,000 Cisco IP phones to retrieve voicemails or use their own stored speed dial numbers to make calls. When working from home, they can log into the system over their own broadband connections. This has led to huge cost reductions, said Bourne, which in themselves more than justified the project.

"If you take the view that our old broadcast network and our old data network cost us what we now pay for the MPLS network, then it is clear that the savings come from the voice side, and those are pretty well understood within the industry," said Bourne.

"Every saving that we achieve by implementing IP telephony goes to the bottom line, with the additional benefit that we have a new high-capacity data network that we can broadcast on."

By replacing every telephone handset in the group with IP phones, Bourne expects GWR to break even on its initial investment in under two years.

This is paving the way for the introduction of new IP broadcasting services that help GWR to meet targets set by the strict conditions of its licence to broadcast. These oblige radio stations in the GWR group to provide a set number of hours of localised content each day, supplemented by more generic output broadcast material, such as celebrity interviews.

Using the MPLS network, GWR can multicast that material across its entire network, replacing a more costly system based on satellite transmission technology. "You feed one copy of a broadcast in and can get it picked up 31 times," Bourne said.

"The shared nature of the network means that costs are driven down by the removal of our previous voice and satellite networks. It is simply not possible to design a more elegant and cost-effective way of delivering the services," he said. "Converged networking is the future of broadcasting, no question."

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