VOD, New Services Gaining Momentum

New Orleans-Internet-protocol telephony in cable networks, full video-on-demand and value-added uses for application-service providers are gaining momentum as revenue generators and offering multiservice providers, including cable operators, a preview of services to come.

Proponents of the three technologies extolled the virtues of each during a recent National Show technical session here. They also confessed to ongoing challenges in deployment and generating awareness and interest among mainstream consumers.

Although relatively new, the three technologies are beginning to attract the attention of cable operators, Internet-service providers and others.

"[A total of] 60 million homes are touched by cable networks, so our next challenge is to introduce telephony into cable, and we've made the decision to address high-speed-data needs, as well. Now, that's happening," Lucent Technologies architect for cable communications Jay Proano said.

Lucent is using two interim approaches: a circuit-switched overlay network at the service level and a hybrid solution that includes IP access to circuit-switched telephony equipment, Proano said.

Both have their downsides, however, such as bandwidth inefficiencies and interoperability barriers. Lucent's hybrid solution is considered the most efficient of the two.

"There's significant capital-cost savings to the hybrid solution, and it minimizes the development of new operating systems, so when we jump into whole IP and eliminate circuit switches in the main office, the cost goes down significantly," he added.

ASPs are gaining ground, as well, said Pablo Martinez, solutions manager for the cable communications group at Lucent. "There are opportunities for ASPs. They can offer applications as a network service where the end-user can remotely invoke application features."

Some of those features include electronic mail hosting, data storage, Web housing, electronic customer care, electronic-commerce hosting and desktop productivity. The target markets, Martinez added, include small office/home office, telecommuters and small businesses.

The business analysis looks promising, he said, adding, "It allows for reoccurring monthly revenues, cross-selling solutions from other ASPs and adding new users quickly. If you combine the converged services, the revenues get bigger."

With the costs for streaming, servers and other components comprising VOD applications continuing to fall, the promise of VOD is getting closer, Harmonic Inc. director of product-line management for transmitter systems John Trail said.

"Costs are being driven down for VOD streaming, while open-market competition, single-PC-board combined functions and greater volume are all driving the VOD business," he added.

Yet issues remain for VOD before it can keep its long-held promise of delivering movies and other services on-demand. "There must be accountability in deployment. Who do you call when something doesn't work? And content-provision agreements are issues, as well," Trail said.