The VoIP Shopping List

Since voice-over-Internet protocol is all about connections, it is little wonder that at next week’s National Show the VoIP focus is on front-end facilities — especially multimedia terminal adapters (MTAs) — and backroom capabilities. Nearly two dozen voice-technology suppliers are bringing new devices and services to the San Francisco convention. And cable operators know what they are looking for when it comes to VoIP technology.

Atop their roster is the service integration. Steve Friedman, chief operating officer of Wave Broadband, a small-market MSO based in Kirkland, Wash., notes that integration “requires execution of a very detailed plan to ensure we deliver a quality product and serve our customers, both technically and through our customer service.”

Friedman believes that “the packet-based solution offers the best quality to our customers, over a SIP [session initiation protocol]-based solution.” And his pursuit in San Francisco will be for “upgrades to our DOCSIS [Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification] equipment to allow for a packet-based VoIP service.” He is also looking for tools to expand Wave Broadband’s provisioning system “to authorize MTAs and other telephone services.” Wave Broadband operates systems near Seattle (Port Orchard and Port Angeles) and in the La Conner/Camano Island areas of Washington, as well as in Ventura, Calif. All these systems have been upgraded and will launch VoIP later this year.

Friedman is also seeking VoIP provisioning services that “tie into our billing system,” and he wants to talk to advanced providers who can help him connect VoIP and Internet features to other technologies, “such as wireless and Wi-Fi.”

For Charlie Dietz, chief technology officer at Insight Communications Co., it’s all about integration.

Insight’s Shopping List

“Given that 'phone’ is an integral part of our bundle of services, we are particularly interested in features that create interoperability between the bundle products,” Dietz says. He cites online voice-mail access or caller ID via the TV monitor as “the types of products that interest us for our product roadmap.”

He’ll also be looking for products “to enhance the platform that we will be rolling out in a trial later this year.”

With operators eager to find specific tools for their VoIP and other voice rollouts, vendors are putting their cable modem termination service hardware and software — so prominent in past years — on the back shelf.

For new products, the emphasis is on advanced MTAs, software technology and billing/integration tools aimed at speeding cable VoIP introductions.

Scientific-Atlanta Inc. will unveil four cable modems with embedded MTAs, offering a variety of configurations. All have two phone jacks, but there are different battery back-up capabilities of up to 16 hours to handle the VoIP problem of power loss during an electrical blackout. Kevin O’Brien, S-A’s business development director for VoIP, says that MSOs demanded such capabilities.

One of the new S-A modems includes a cordless/wireless phone feature, effectively putting the base station into the modem. O’Brien explains that the capability is being enabled by a drop in the licensing fee to use certain wireless frequencies for such phones. The basic S-A WebSTAR DPX2203 model meets PacketCable 1.1 and DOCSIS 2.0 specifications. The upper-end DPR2434 version includes a router and wireless access point, effectively making it a wireless residential gateway.

Motorola is spotlighting its new family of plug-and-play gateways that combine VoIP and home networking into one device. The three new models in Motorola’s VT2000 Voice Gateway series — packaged as sleek, silver-colored boxes — can handle two lines of telephony service for VoIP service through any high-speed connection (cable or digital subscriber line).

Consumers can plug the Motorola gateway devices into a broadband modem and a standard telephone handset, including cordless phones. The Voice Gateways prioritize voice calls over data transmissions, enabling simultaneous voice and data usage.

The Motorola VT2000 series products are interoperable with networks that support the SIP standard for Internet telephony. The advanced models include more ports for gaming consoles or printers and firewalls.

Cisco Systems Inc. will introduce its Wideband Protocol for DOCSIS, a new technology able to deliver up to 1 Gbps broadband speeds to consumers and businesses over existing hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) networks. The new protocol enables the convergence of VoIP, video and data traffic via a single, IP-based, high-speed service offering. Cisco claims that this coalescence will enable increased service flexibility and lower deployment and operational costs.

Separately, to serve front-end needs, Cisco’s Linksys division will showcase its latest phone adapter and wired and wireless routers with phone ports.

These new products have reached 1 million ports in six months, making them the most successful launches in the division’s history.

Cisco is also believed to be working on a VoIP product with IP Unity, but it may not be ready for exhibit until the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers show later this spring.

At the Headend

To handle the increased complexity of VoIP and other triple-play service management, exhibitors are unveiling an array of software, tools and facilities for cable headends.

The Accenture Porting Service is debuting as a patented solution that offers full accountability for porting closure, a guaranteed service level and comprehensive coverage. It provides a platform, processes and methods to optimize connections and rules required for porting.

In a related development, DST Innovis Inc. is unveiling its Automated Work Distributor/Business Process Management (AWD/BPM) capability for telephony.

The DTS exhibit will illustrate how to define and enforce complex business rules across an enterprise for triple-play services, including VoIP.

Gallery IP Telephony, an Israeli developer, will show a “Multimedia Switch,” the newest version of its Cassiopeia Softswitch, aimed at first- and second-tier MSOs. It is a network-based IP telephony software-based switching system.

Michelle Specktor, senior vice president for business development at Gallery IP, says the new version can handle IP telephony and multimedia applications and is designed as an open architecture that is networked via distributed components. That approach makes the Multimedia Switch flexible and scalable to meet MSO demands, she says. The software can handle connections to the proxy server, scaled in terms of the performance that the MSO requires.

The basic Cassiopeia configuration can handle about 100,000 subscribers, but it can scale up to 1 million connections.

Integrated Broadband Services Inc., which handles back-office support for high-speed data, is coming to San Francisco with technology to treat VoIP as an application that runs on DOCSIS.

“We’re taking back-office services to the VoIP space,” says IBBS vice president Bob Hobbs. “We’ll be provisioning element-management, network-management and call-center services. The provisioning process can handle both SIP and PacketCable.”

IBBS is also looking toward handling enhanced services for calls and other services conducted through the embedded MTAs. Hobbs notes that time charges may be invoked upon Embedded Multimedia Terminal Adapters or on other devices used for IP access. The company is handling provisioning and management services for cable operators such as Seabridge, Northland Cable Television, Patriot Media & Communications and about six dozen other firms, mainly offering call center, element management and other operations services.

Beyond VoIP

Although VoIP will be the main target of voice-focused attendees at the National Show, other services and approaches will be on display in San Francisco.

For example, Cedar Point Communications is calling its technology “extensions of VoIP” and is trying to aim prospective customers to the next generation of advanced services. Among its updates will be new software for its “Safari” line, which enables customers to switch between wireless fidelity and cellular networks. CedarPoint will also unveil an “entirely new class of features designed to support business voice services,” says vice president Mark Zuban. The rollout is part of Cedar Point’s balancing act, offering both SIP networking functionality as well as PacketCable switches via IP networking. CedarPoint is also plowing into videophony, using Safari’s ability to manage video telephony using SIP endpoints.

The Vibe Solutions Group is introducing new features for its video mail service now being used by Comcast Corp. and other MSOs. Among the enhancements are integration with e-mail services such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Microsoft Outlook, an enhanced media-sharing component that generates the ability to share digital video files and music (MP3 files) and compliance with SIP industry standards for presence detection and contact lists.

Pioneer Digital Technologies will introduce “Passport Caller ID,” a client-based interactive application that identifies incoming caller information and displays it on screen for Passport users. The application was developed to support most back-end VoIP switches.

Commercial Services

Several exhibitors are spotlighting products aimed at cable’s escalating interest in commercial/enterprise services.

For example, XO Communications, which is making its first appearance at a cable show, is putting its voice termination capabilities as the centerpiece of its exhibit. XO is also showing gigabit Ethernet and private-line features. XO VoIP Termination allows broadband telephony providers and cable companies to terminate voice calls to domestic locations in the United States using softswitch technology deployed across the XO national IP network.

Alcatel is focusing on its “office in a box” — the “Omni PCX Office” concept that is aimed at small and medium-sized firms.

Alcatel is also introducing “collaborative workspace software” called Instant Collaboration System (ICS), using the technology of eDial, which it acquired last year.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.