HSA, Lucent Team Up On IP-Telephony Plans

High Speed Access Corp. has stepped up its efforts to overcome the barriers to delivering packet-voice services by tapping Lucent Technologies for up to $100 million worth of systems support for Internet-protocol telephony over the next three years.

Rather than going for full-scale, toll-quality service off the bat, HSA envisions offering second-line and other specialized services with a limited number of popular features like caller ID and call waiting.

HSA will use Lucent-supplied interfaces with legacy switches and their support for intelligent-networking capabilities to support the provisioning and other operational requirements.

"We're desperate to get into delivering integrated data and telephony services," HSA vice president of voice services J.R. Anderson said. "Whatever access technology you use, you've still got to provision, administer and bill for services, and that's what Lucent has been a leader in doing for a long time."

Even so, it remains to be seen if HSA can start commercial rollouts in unnamed customer territories by sometime in the fourth quarter, Anderson acknowledged.

"We're still at very basic levels of connectivity," he said, in reference to ongoing efforts to achieve interoperability of multiple-vendor solutions under the PacketCable protocols developed by Cable Television Laboratories Inc.

An especially crucial element of uncertainty concerns the timing of CableLabs' certification of modems complying with version 1.1 of the Data Over Cable System Interface Specification protocols. "Right now, we could not deliver the necessary levels of quality of service if we had to," Anderson noted.

Like other cable entities, HSA has been testing packet-voice services using what operators call "1.0+" cable modems, which are DOCSIS 1.0 modems with some of the software components that will be part of 1.1, but without the hardware components.

Ironically, it's the software portion of the 1.1 spec that is at issue as vendors battle over interpretation of the specs and continue to add enhancements that are meant to improve on their competitors' capabilities.

"Achieving interoperability among vendor implementations with all of these new software patches being added is, let's say, very exciting," Anderson said. "I used to have dark hair, but it's gotten grayer since we got into this."

CableLabs hopes to begin the certification process in June. But it needs to overcome vendor desires to continually improve on implementations of 1.1 as they seek to address customer concerns about traffic loading and management capabilities essential to lifeline-quality service.

"I'm hearing that the operators are telling CableLabs to freeze the specs so that the process can really begin in June," said Dee Dee Nye, vice president of the cable-products group at Lucent.

PacketCable specs provide a standardized means of drawing on the legacy telecommunications-switching domain for importation of signaling and feature provisioning through what is known as the PSTN-or public-switched telephone network-signaling framework.

That way, the operator can deliver voice services within the cable network in IP format using DOCSIS 1.1 modems, while using the PSTN intelligent-networking system to support such features as 800 numbers and number portability, signaling support for trunk management and control and message delivery for signaling system 7 remote-database transactions.

HSA has been working with Charter Communications Inc. to test packet telephony in one of the MSO's Georgia markets since the start of the year.

The Internet-service provider currently provides high-speed-data service via cable modems in 137 communities nationwide, and it has more than 7.5 million cable households under contract or letter of intent, representing more than 45 different cable partners, officials said.

Lucent last week formally announced the implementation of PacketCable protocols for interfacing with the PSTN under the product line labeled "iMerge."

Based on the PacketCable Network-Based Call Signaling (NCS) Gateway, the technology enables cable operators to deploy a converged IP solution in their access networks, while still leveraging their existing switches for connection to the PSTN, said John Slevin, director of strategy and business development in Lucent's cable group.