As my column groupies have probably noticed, I’ve been on a roll the past couple of months, stressing the need to offer telephony subscribers more than basic dialtone and a few custom calling features. Once everyone offers bundles of data and video along with voice, residential consumers are going to be looking for other value-added services. Given the pace of competition, that time is not far off. Drills or holes? Finding new features for basic telephony is like a hardware store seeking ways to sell electric drills to the home handyman. The occasional handyman (think average telephony customer) will settle for a single speed (basic dialtone), perhaps battery powered (custom calling features). The professional craftsman will value things like clean hole edges and tool lifetime (carrier grade service), but the weekend warrior who only needs a couple of holes won’t pay a premium for speed and durability, especially if the bolt goes in the same and the head covers any burrs. When the drill manufacturers realized that what consumers really bought were holes rather than drills, they started to offer premium cutting devices that look, feel and operate a lot like a drill. The difference is that they not only cut circular holes the same size as a drill bit, but also ovals, odd shapes, and even bigger round holes. Voila! The consumer has a reason to buy the premium offering. For us, basic telephony is the electric drill. Carrier grade service, instant dialtone, and crystal clear voice are the extra horsepower motor that produces a smooth hole fastest, but Vonage and Skype have the low-end tool. Until we come out with some ovals and odd sizes, we open ourselves to losing the business from unsophisticated, but numerous, consumers who opt for a flat-rate landline connection to the world, even with mediocre quality. While I agree with some analysts who question the continued lifetime of broadband telephony firms financed by investment capital, it’s likely that even if the present companies in the business disappear, their subscriber base will be absorbed by another entity that continues the concept. Consumer-friendly, value-added features, vs. provider consolidation, are a more certain way to capture market share. Enterprise services We can learn a lot about adding feature capability from the vendors who market telephony systems to corporate users, also known as enterprises. Their market has forced them to address issues similar to those we are beginning to encounter about five years ahead of us. The main drivers that caused this are deregulation and increased competition that preceded network-based telephony deregulation by at least 10 years, and earlier introduction of economical Internet protocol (IP) telephony calling as a cost-saving measure in corporate managed data networks. The ability to complete an IP-based telephone call with an acceptable quality of service (QoS) to another corporate location is no longer a marketing advantage, but more the price of entry to the market. Features are the differentiators used by enterprise vendors to gain market share. Avaya is a good example. In a recent press release describing new IP phones that work with Avaya telephony systems, the company presented a range of applications that were reasons to commit to an Avaya communications system. As might be expected from a vendor of IP phones, there were the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS)-like presence applications that help create impromptu conferences by touching the names of available people on a built-in screen. On the other hand, however, there were also simple features like call logs for quick dialing of missed or recently dialed calls, contact directories, and broadcast alerts. If you’re an operator selling phone services rather than phones, these latter examples are features that could be implemented with simple customer premises equipment (CPE) and network-based messaging systems. Expo standouts On another telephony front, this year’s Expo was a good snapshot of what vendors have been doing to help us grow our telephony businesses. Expanding its strategy of being a full-featured, second-source supplier, Pace Micro Technology announced its new Boston embedded multimedia terminal adapter (EMTA). The product includes the usual plain vanilla EMTA features (two lines, Ethernet and universal serial bus, or USB, ports, dual battery, and visual indicators) and is based upon a single-chip Broadcom implementation, which the company claims will provide increased energy efficiency over other units on the market. Scientific Atlanta displayed its two-line EMTA with DECT (Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) interface. The interface operates in the 1.9 GHz range, which prevents interference with devices operating in the 2.4 GHz band. Normal range is 200 feet indoors, 100 feet outdoors. Standard battery backup is 8 hours. Also at the show, Arris announced a new multiline EMTA targeted to the multiple dwelling unit (MDU) market. Unlike previous offerings aimed at MDUs, this unit has been specifically designed for an easy transition from existing telephone service. Rather than using individual RJ-11 jacks, the TM508A and TM512A units are built with an RJ-21 multiline connector. Using the associated kit, an operator can reterminate building lines at a punch-down 66-connector block and then connect the block to the EMTA via a cable equipped with plugs on both ends. Like the company’s single family TT402/502 counterparts, the TM 508A and TM512A units feature programmable boost loop current, provisionable ringing waveforms, loop voltage policy settings, and auto adjusting caller ID signal levels. The units are packaged in a 1-RU enclosure and support an extended temperature range for utility closet installations. When installed with a local power supply, up to 16 hours of service can be provided during a commercial power failure. A 100BaseT Ethernet interface is also included. Not to be outdone, a staffer at the Nortel booth pointed out that there was nothing that would prevent a cable operator from providing a Nortel BCM50 IP private branch exchange (PBX) as a building telephony system, which also includes outgoing and incoming call completion. The call processing unit for this system is 2.6 x 8.6 x 12.7 inches and is mounted in a wiring closet. Such an installation would provide up to 50 telephone lines and a full range of PBX features. At the show, Nortel also announced a new purchasing agreement with Liberty Global and an agreement for network design, integration, management and maintenance services with Suddenlink (formerly Cebridge Connections). Justin J. Junkus is president of KnowledgeLink and telephony editor for Communications Technology. Reach him at jjunkus@knowledgelinkinc.com.

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