VoIP has become a very important part of a company’s network infrastructure, and the need for knowledgeable network engineers with VoIP experience is ever-growing. Due to the need for trained engineers Cisco has added the CCNA Voice to their certification programs. Cisco has also added two fantastic features to their Packet Tracer network simulator application that when combined provide instructors with the ability to create a multiuser VoIP classroom lab environment that requires no additional hardware outside of the network simulator application. These two features are the ability to support multiuser and VoIP Labs. Other simulator programs like Boson and GNS3 only support one of these features internally, but not both features. Boson provides VoIP support including VoIP devices such as the 7940 IP phone but has no multiuser support. GNS3 has multiuser support and also supports VoIP on the routers and Call Manager Express (CME) but has no IP devices therefore requiring you to purchases IP phones like the Cisco 7940 which you can find on eBay for about $75. GNS3 also has no configurable switching support. This in my opinion gives Cisco’s Packet Tracer a clear advantage over the competition.
The key to providing a VoIP classroom lab environment is the multiuser capabilities of Packet Tracer. By allowing multiple computers running Cisco’s Packet Tracer to connect to a simulated WAN environment using a Local Area Network (LAN) and ports provides the students the ability to build their own local labs and connect the labs to the simulated WAN as though they were in a real world environment, and with the aid of an inexpensive headset that can actually make phone calls to other students via the simulated WAN.
The simulated WAN environment will be created using Packet Tracer on the instructors computer and can also provide a simulated Internet with WEB and Mail servers that the students can access and send email as though they are connected to the real Internet.
While Cisco’s Packet Tracer does not support all the Cisco’s Call Manager features Packet Tracer will support enough to show the VLAN capabilities of the Cisco 7940 IP phone allowing the student to create separate Voice and Data VLANs. It will also allow the student to learn to configure telephony service and dialing peers. To offer these same features with real hardware would require two routers such as the 1760V one with CME, two switches 3524 and two IP phones 7940. This would cost about $750 on eBay for each student.