Cable operators seeking to advance the charge into the commercial market have peppered the news this month with announcements.

Comcast revealed that it will host a suite of Microsoft‘s SMB communications products, including corporate class e-mail, calendaring, and document sharing. Helping SMBs procure services once available only to large corporations could lead to bundled video services and potentially voice services down the road, Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer told Pipeline recently.

Cox Business followed soon after with the announcement that it has launched VoiceManagerSM – a telephony platform that integrates the desktop phone, PC and wireless devices – in its New England system. The company will roll it out in two additional markets before the end of the year and continue to "aggressively expand" in 2008.

And, most recently, Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey announced that it will launch a business class phone service at the NYXPO later this week. Webinar With commercial services on the mind and in the press, Communications Technology co-hosted a webinar with ARRIS on Monday, titled "The Business Services Market: A Current Revenue Opportunity." (Click here to view the on-demand version.)

After running through statistics (including a study that predicts the commercial market could be worth $15 billion to cable operators by 2015) and listing reasons for entering the commercial market (taking money out of telcos’ pockets, for one), Jeff Brooks, senior director, business development, ARRIS, noted that anecdotal evidence indicates many operators will target the SMB market first, meaning businesses with one to 19 employees.

An analysis indicated that these folks believe the strength of the MSOs to be newer and better technology and the weakness to be the perception of poorer network reliability compared to telcos. "The No. 1 reason for considering moving to another provider is to get VoIP technologies, which is exactly what cable operators have rolled out," Brooks said. Accentuate the positive Cable operators must arm salespeople with the ability to accentuate the positive and combat the negative perceptions. "One of the ways the industry can step up … is through the SLA," said Marv Nelson, vice president, professional development, SCTE. With a service level agreement, a cable company can guarantee 24/7 availability and a certain percentage of reliability.

Brooks added that salespeople should be prepared to provide testimonials and proof of service awards, explain infrastructure investments and fiber upgrades, and give details about the intelligence and digital aspects of the product. "Very specifically, the MTAs used to deliver service have the ability to look at the twisted-pair inside the building and determine if there are any issues inside the building … while the person is online with customer service rep," he said.

Some MSOs have used their visibility as a provider of residential services to their advantage, placing advertisements on their channels detailing commercial products. Nelson applauded this tactic, but offered a warning as well. "Be very careful because if you stumble … you may lose a residential customer as well," he said.

Taking that one step further, he noted that while there might be frustration about not moving into the market quickly enough, care must be taken. "A stumble early in the process of breaking into the business environment could be devastating to your long term profitability or market share," he said. – Monta Hernon

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