Back in mid-2005, a senior partner in Accenture’s communications and high technology practice told attendees at a business services-related event that MSOs had about 18 months to figure out how to deliver voice to commercial customers.

By late November 2007, a series of press releases indicated that several MSOs, in fact, had figured this one out, and more or less on schedule. For its part, Cox Communications, which is typically well ahead of the game, having been in the business and voice arena for more than a decade, announced the launch of Cox Business Voice Manager, a platform aimed at the needs of the broad business market that integrates desktop phone, PC and wireless devices.

The day before that release, Comcast and Microsoft jointly announced that they were launching an Internet-based communications product for small and medium-sized busineses (SMBs) that would give them "access to services that have traditionally only been available to companies with IT staffs."

The third release came from Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey, which introduced at NYXPO, a technology show, a business-grade digital telephony service with several features designed for the SMB market.

There’s no escaping the importance of voice to the SMB bundle. According to a poll of SMB decision-makers conducted in 2006 by Heavy Reading, 88 percent of respondents listed voice over IP (VoIP) as a main reason for their using or considering MSOs for business services. That compares with 38 percent for dedicated IP virtual private network (VPN) and 29 percent for video. Two execs The two business services executives participating in this section share a wealth of knowledge and experience on the business voice question. Jack Burton is director of systems engineering at Cablevision, where he is involved in several R&D projects for voice, business services and network transport. As we reported in our September 2007 issue, Cablevision – another industry early mover – already was well underway in serving the SMB market with a compelling mix of services.

One such package (five lines with unlimited local and long distance plus 15 Mbps high-speed data, along with a static IP address) appeared to be one-third less expensive than a slower service package from Verizon.
Our second participant, Cox Business Services Vice President of Product Development and Management Kristine Faulkner, is on record as a strong advocate for business voice.

The keynoter at the 2006 SCTE "Hot Topic" Symposium on Business Services (her former boss Bill Stemper, now president of Comcast Business Services, was this year’s keynoter), Faulkner noted a year ago that the voice-to-data spend ratio for businesses is anywhere from 3:1 to 5:1.

This year Burton and Faulkner address several questions related to the use and adoption of session initiation protocol (SIP), service level agreements (SLAs) and carrier-class Ethernet, among other topics. One trend to follow going forward in 2008 is SIP trunking, or what Burton said the industry is trying to re-name as IP multimedia trunks.

"Today, very few devices are ready to accept a SIP trunk from a service provider," Burton said, "but this is changing."

For her part, Faulkner said that Cox’s move toward SIP-based delivery techniques is ongoing. "The market – at all levels – will evolve to more simplicity and efficiency in their LANs and delivery of enhanced voice services," she said.

In her 2006 keynote, Faulkner advanced the MSO-wide business services goal of "$10 billion by 2010." Helping to push the industry toward that milestone will be Stemper, who noted at the 2007 symposium in Atlanta that the 6 million SMB customers in the Comcast footprint alone spend approximately $20 billion annually.

Stemper put more of an emphasis on attitude, however, than metrics. Specifically, noting how much effort businesses place on trying to find plausible new revenue opportunities, he suggested that something like an attitude of gratitude was in order.

"The first place I would ask you to pause and think is how fortunate we really are, that we have billions of dollars of market growth and market opportunity, right in our area of strength," Stemper said.

It’s also fortunate that Comcast, and the industry as a whole, now has VoIP, aka digital phone, solidly under its belt. Although SIP and other developments in business telephony are ongoing, without voice, MSOs would be seriously hampered in their efforts to serve the business community.

 – Jonathan Tombes Business Services/Telephony Executive Profiles JACK BURTON, CABLEVISION

KRISTINE FAULKNER, COX BUSINESS SERVICES

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