Cable operators have dollar signs in their eyes when it comes to business services these days. Their ability to deliver voice services to small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) provides an entry point to sell the full triple-play bundle to a new market.

At a business voice workshop at Cable-Tec Expo, Glenn Russell, director of business services at CableLabs, said, "Business services is where you have almost unprecedented opportunity for greenfield growth, and voice is where the emphasis is coming from."

Christopher Gugger, senior director of market development with Cedar Point Communications, said: "This is a great time to actively seek these new customers. It is a well-defined market."

A lot of the low-hanging fruit for business voice comes from very small businesses, such as auto-repair shops, hairdressers, doctors’ offices, and the like. These customers need an Internet connection and more frequently also want a video connection. As long as they’re getting these services from a cable provider, they’re prone to use that same provider for voice.

Voice is usually delivered to these customers using the same PacketCable 1.5 technology as residential, with a softswitch terminating at an embedded multimedia terminal adapter (EMTA), said Russell. There’s also a lot of interest in multi-port adapters to serve a business’ need for multiple lines of service and the ability to handle a fax machine.

David Hancock, project director, signaling architectures, at CableLabs, said his group is working on PacketCable 2.0 specifications to help cable operators offer more services to business voice customers.

"Operators knew they wanted to provide lots of new services and roll out easily," said Hancock. "Instead of softswitch, they want more support functions in the core network and the apps moved out into the application servers. The idea is that the interface is a standard interface, (where operators can) bring along a new application and plug into that common interface."

One key difference in PacketCable 2.0 is that it uses session initiation protocol (SIP).

CableLabs is working with the SIP Forum to create a SIP PBX standard that’s been dubbed SIP Enterprise Connect (SIP-EC). Its goal is to define a common SIP connector.
 
"For the small PBX, that’s the tricky, controversial item we’re working on," said Hancock, "how it tells the network, ‘here I am, I’m online and ready to go.’ It’s going to be a big advantage for a lot of people – providers and vendors. The current sate of affairs just isn’t scalable because there are too many SIP-PBXs. If we can get this SIP-EC finished, it will be of great value to service providers."

And technology advances in business voice directly help cable operators compete.

"Why we think this is so great – this success comes directly at our competitors’ expense," said Russell. "It’s taking lines from LECs that are targeting your broadband business.”

– Linda Hardesty

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