Wholesalers Put Cablecos in Phone
By Khali Henderson
date, cable telephony deployments have been TDM-based as most would-be
cable/telcos have been waiting for an end-to-end VoIP solution, which has been
touted as being a less expensive entry strategy than connecting two-way
hybrid-fiber coaxial (HFC) to Class 5 switches.
The wait may end soon as required
network components — embedded multimedia terminal adapters, cable modem
termination systems and call management servers — were expected to be certified
compliant with the PacketCable IP-based voice-over-cable standard at the end of
first quarter. While many cablecos finally will be able to move out of the trial
phase and into live deployments of an end-to-end PacketCable architecture in at
least some of their markets, analysts at The Yankee Group say large-scale voice
deployments are still a year away.
Meanwhile, other MSOs — small and
large — are turning to partnerships and wholesale agreements as alternative
paths to adding TDM and even IP-based voice to their video and data bundles.
Insight Communications Company, the ninth largest cable operator, for example,
entered an agreement with AT&T Corp. in summer 2000 to co-brand AT&T
local telephone service both independently and as part of a voice, voice and
AT&T installs and maintains the
switching equipment and serves as the local exchange carrier. Insight maintains
and provides access to its cable infrastructure. Telephony revenue is attributed
to AT&T, which pays Insight a monthly per line access fee for the local
loop. AT&T also pays Insight for marketing, installation and billing support
for AT&T’s local and long-distance service. AT&T and Insight share
capital expenditures; Insight is responsible for network investments from the
cable headend to the customer premise, including all customer telephony
equipment, while AT&T covers the network from the connection at the headend
to its telephony switching equipment.
Insight’s AT&T Digital Phone
service is available in parts of Louisville and Lexington, Ky.; Evansville,
Ind.; and Columbus, Ohio. The company reports 30,600 telephone customers as of
Dec. 31, 2002.
Ted Griggs, founder and chairman of
Syndeo Corp., a softswitch vendor backed by Comcast Interactive Capital and
others, says this kind of arrangement between cablecos and service providers is
going to become more common, particularly as the cable companies enter
"Right now they are starting to
run more and more high-speed data links into small and medium businesses and
they’d like to augment them with telephony services like Centrex," he says.
"So the MSO has the rights of way into the businesses and another provider
will come in and layer the equipment either on the premise or inside the MSO’s
network to deliver the voice service to the subscribers." Griggs claims to
know of three MSOs that are looking at similar models.
While VoIP is less expensive than
TDM, Syndeo estimates total cost of ownership for a residential VoIP deployment
is about $400 to $500 per household with a return on investment window of about
four to seven years.
It’s these kinds of numbers that
have MSOs, particularly those serving less dense areas, looking at alternatives
like Gemini Voice Solutions Inc., which offers private-labeled hosted VoIP
services to MSOs, such as top 20 MSOs WideOpenWest LLC and Tele-Media Corp.
"Gemini Voice has been able to
provide a completely integrated service solution that has minimized any
additional resource allocations from our end," notes Steve Koval, vice
president of information technology for Tele-Media in a press statement,
concurrent with the company’s February rollout of the service in its Virginia
systems following a successful four-month trial.
The Gemini Broadband Voice service
includes a proprietary softswitch/call management server, VoIP-to-PSTN network
termination, the Gemini Gateway customer premise equipment, back-office
telephony support systems and billing integration. The same platform was used to
provide service to 1.4 million users and processed 60 million per month for
Gemini’s predecessor PhoneFree, an ad-supported direct-to-consumer PC-to-phone
To provide the service, Gemini takes
a 50 percent share of the revenue plus upfront fees for integration with the
MSO’s customer service and billing systems.
Geoff Hatheway, senior vice
president of marketing for Gemini, says the model can be attractive to MSOs that
don’t have huge headends or resources. "Those companies are going to
continue to need a hosted solution," he says, noting that larger MSOs might
also find the solution to be a good entry strategy with a migration path to a
facilities-based model by licensing the Gemini Voice Operating System.
"They can start hosted and when they have enough customers, flip it to an
‘own and operate’ model, replicating our IP telephony infrastructure into one of
Hatheway says such a license has not
been sold, but would run into the millions of dollars.
Currently, the Gemini Voice Service
is suitable for second-line voice applications. The Gemini Gateway’s PSTN
pass-through feature enables an "any-distance" phone service that
co-exists with the end-user’s LEC service, eliminating the need to have a
separate VoIP-only long distance phone. As broadband operator networks are
upgraded to achieve 99.999 percent availability and PacketCable standards are in
place for the industry, the Gemini Broadband Voice service will be able to
deliver full primary line service capabilities, such as support for network
powering, emergency 911 and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement
Cox: VoIP May Reduce Reliance on
By Khali Henderson
By investing in circuit-switched
technology instead of waiting for VoIP to be perfected, Cox Communications has
been a frontrunner in rolling out cable telephony services and now serves
740,000 local phone customers. It relies on resale agreements with IXCs, such as
WorldCom Inc. and WilTel Communications Group Inc., to provide the long-distance
portion. That may change once the cableco moves to VoIP.
"With its network, Cox could
potentially transport all of the long-distance traffic to it own business
locations as well as its customers’ long-distance calls, thus minimizing
reliance on third-party wholesale long-distance providers," the company
wrote in a February 2003 whitepaper detailing its VoIP strategies.
The company reports nearly 20
percent of the outbound calls made by Cox phone customers are to customers in
other Cox circuit-switched markets, highlighting the opportunity to transport
all those calls on-net. Even in non-Cox markets, such as Chicago, Dallas, Los
Angeles and New York, the company envisions having to pay only the local
interconnect charges, since its 0C48 IP backbone not only connects all Cox
markets, it passes major metro hubs.
The white paper identifies the
benefits of such a step, including reduced exposure to the unstable
long-distance carrier market beset by recent bankruptcies and business failures,
cost savings from leveraging the capital investment in its new IP network,
reduction in overall transport costs for long-distance minutes of use and better
utilization of the full capabilities of its IP backbone.
The company’s network includes 11
regional data centers and three services data centers (SDCs) providing the
company with a national presence beyond the local-only networks typical in the
cable business. The SDCs could potentially serve as hosting locations for VoIP
softswitch technology, enabling nationwide telephony coverage.
Spokesman Bobby Amarishahi tells
PHONE+, "We consider great potential in VoIP technology and our national IP
network to lessen our reliance on other carriers for transport of our
long-distance services, but we don’t see ourselves completely disconnecting from
such providers to support delivery of [long distance]."
|AT&T Corp. www.att.com
Cox Communications www.cox.com
Gemini Voice Solutions Inc. www.geminivoice.com
Insight Communications Company www.insight-com.com
Syndeo Corp. www.syndeocorp.com
Tele-Media Corp. www.tele-media.com
The Yankee Group www.yankeegroup.com
WideOpenWest LLC www.wideopenwest.com
WilTel Communications Group Inc. www.wiltel.com
WorldCom Inc. www.wcom.com