Cable One is one of those cable operators that marches to the beat of its own drum. First, with about 700,000 bracketed into 18,000-20,000 subscriber groups in rural areas in 19 states, it’s a subcompact compared to mammoth SUVs like Comcast, Cox and Time Warner that are barreling down the information superhighway. Second, it’s pushing ahead with VoIP services rather than taking cable’s time-honored tradition of heaping more on the video plate before proceeding off in other directions. In this case, Cable One decided not to pursue video-on-demand (VOD) and go straight to primary line voice via VoIP. "It’s purely an economic play. There’s a larger return on our investment from a voice perspective than there ever will be in VOD," says Steve Fox, Cable One’s vice president of digital services and technology. It’s not that Cable One is ignoring video. The Phoenix-based MSO is in the vanguard of the cable digital video revolution with all the right initials-DVRs, HD, SD-"everything except for VOD," says Fox. "We don’t feel we’re compelled to have VOD." On the other hand, Cable One did feel compelled to offer VoIP, which it will start rolling out via an undetermined pattern next January. "There are two ways to do voice: partner up with a Net2Phone or a service provider and let them do everything for you, take care of technology, take care of OSS-BSS (Operational Support System-Business Support System), all the back-end stuff (and) you become a market engine; or quasi-built it yourself and leverage partners and technology providers … to maintain some level of control but at the same time be the service provider and the marketer," Fox says. Cable One chose Nortel for its switching expertise and professional services and Nortel went out and, in the lingo of the times, gathered "partners," including IPUnity and Sigma Systems to help accomplish the end game. Nortel brought the softswitch and Sigma brought "the glue that’s going to make it all work," says Fox. The softswitch will be centrally located and cover all 19 states in Cable One’s service area. Each individual market will be served without a local switch, says Elaine Smiles, Nortel’s director of cable marketing, with only out-of-market calls going back to the main softswitch. "That’s a big advantage with voice-over-IP. Separating the media gateway from the softswitch allows you to have one centralized softswitch and only the call control needs to travel over the IP network to the softswitch. The local calls can stay within the community," she says. The system will use NCS (Network-based Call Signaling) on the trunk and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) going across the IP network from Cable One’s headend to Level 3’s network, Fox said, calling the arrangement "somewhat PacketCable; it’s not fully PacketCable, but it’s mostly." The triple-play option of VoIP, video and high-speed data should give Cable One a leg up on its telephone company competition. Interestingly, though, it might be a short-lived lead because the rural local exchange carriers (RLECs) are increasingly active in advanced services and generally are far ahead of their bigger RBOC (regional Bell operating company) brethren. "At some point they’ll be coming into our markets, some more quickly than others," Fox concedes. Until then, he says, Cable One will have what it feels is "the only economical way to get into the voice business in our markets – VoIP." -Jim Barthold

The Daily



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