It seems the first quarter of the year is the time for telecom trend observations and predictions from analysts through CEOs. Although much of this fortune telling is self-serving attempts to stimulate some market action, over the past couple of months I found some pearls that appear worth dropping on the table for the consideration of cable’s technical planners and developers. Predictions Let’s begin with some quotes from a report by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications group: "PSTN (public switched telephone network) operators will probably offer increasingly generous, all-you-can-eat bundles of services." No surprise here—this just means the telcos will expand their efforts to package data and video with phone service. (Hmm, who else does this?) "The PSTN is likely to continue to suffer from poor handset functionality. At least 10 percent of all calls placed from within the home are made on mobile phones due to the convenience of dialing." Deloitte points out that network usage can be stimulated by adding features such as stored number dialing, text messaging and conference calling that are comparable to those found in mobile phones. We’ve got this one solved without replacing the customer’s phone set—PacketCable can easily change and add features in the network. "There will be a rise in VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) spam." This topic needs an entire column, but for now, let me remind you that once the routing for a subscriber’s telephone calls is via an IP address, even if transparent to the subscriber, the door is opened to massive volumes of unsolicited phone calls. Voice mail boxes will be the first target, but there also is potential for butting into conversations and hijacking calls. Fortunately for us, PacketCable security has addressed a lot of these issues, but the game isn’t over for parasites ranging from telemarketers to hackers. "Services and pricing should be based upon actual needs not just bandwidth allocation." Bandwidth on demand, here we come! "In 2005, several operators will launch converged telephone services that feature fixed line pricing within buildings and mobile pricing when outdoors. … The initial rate of adoption for these services will be limited. Technical requirements will be far more challenging than operators expect, and even after those hurdles are cleared, disagreement over customer ownership is likely." This is an interesting and probably valid comment on the "four-play." The moral of the story may be to get basic VoIP service well established across our subscriber bases and only then add seamless mobility interfaces. "Few companies will make money from VoIP in 2005. Consumers will be deterred by the complexity and inconsistent quality of PC-based VoIP—and by the cost and limited availability of specialized VoIP handsets—causing most to stay with the PSTN." If we have any quality or complexity issues with cable VoIP, it’s likely they will be in the customer premises. Plugging a phone into a multimedia terminal adapter (MTA) doesn’t take a genius, but any problems with customer phone wires and jacks that were there before will be magnified with VoIP. If cable properly trains its installation force on basic telephony, we can quench this fire before it starts. Speaking of the need for training on premises wiring, try this practical trivia question suggested by Mike Sawyer, Charter Communications technical trainer (answer at the end of the column): When you (or a customer) make up a four-wire telephone extension cord with RJ-11 jacks on each end, should the pin order on the two jacks be the same or reversed? TIA’s take Returning to the main line of thought for this month, the Telecommunications Industry Association has just issued its look at the future in a 250-page report that projects telecom industry spending over the next few years. This very comprehensive report includes projections for all segments of telecom, as well as a summary of applicable regulation. I recommend it not only as a planning tool, but also for competitive industry analysis. The report points out that cable has just completed a massive infrastructure upgrade, more than $80 billion between 1996 and 2003. Although we deployed 16.9 million miles of fiber between 1996 and 2001, we are still expected to add 1.2 million miles annually through 2008. Our spending on services that support our infrastructure is projected to have a compound annual growth rate of 11.9 percent between 2005 and 2008, when it reaches $13.8 billion. TIA expects us to grow our telephony base more than 20 percent each year through 2007 and then "moderate" to a 19.4 percent growth rate in 2008. Their projections indicate cable telephony revenue will grow at a 22 percent compound annual rate through 2008. The full TIA report is available at www.tiaonline.org/media/mrf.cfm. Vendor trends In general, operator consolidation seems to have forced vendors to take more of a systems view of the world. Think of Arris, for example. In 1999, their digital systems telephony product line was relatively limited to network access via the circuit switched Cornerstone product and a basic cable modem termination system (CMTS). Progressively, the company acquired or developed next generation CMTS technology, a line of MTAs and operations systems products. They are now introducing a digital multimedia termination system with quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) management capability to handle emerging multimedia applications. C-Cor is another example. Previously a vendor of amplifiers and other cable transport hardware, the company has pursued a vigorous campaign of acquisitions to capture that lucrative services market documented by the TIA. In just one year, C-Cor has acquired Optinel for its wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) lightwave systems, Alopa for provisioning, Stargus for network qualification and n-Cube for IP video management. I spoke with Dave Woodle, C-Cor’s CEO, at Emerging Technologies in January, and he shared his vision for the company. "We have chosen to evolve out, to go from building buses and cars on the information transport highway to building the tollroad and its traffic management." Leading the charge The bottom line to all this, as I see it, is that telecommunications has returned to the land of the living. Cable, at least for now, is leading the charge to new revenues with telephony and other bundled services. Our competition isn’t sitting on the sidelines, however, and keeping the lead depends upon how well our service bundles exceed those offered by other providers. Trivia Answer: Pin order on the two jacks should be reversed. The reason is that the wires must remain in the same position on the jack when either end is inserted into the wall. If you form a loop with the cord, keeping it from twisting, and have the jacks face each other same side up, you’ll see a "mirror image" phenomena. (Did you get it the first time? FYI, this question stumped three "experts" in a row. Imagine the multiplier if these had been trainers.) Justin J. Junkus is president of KnowledgeLink and telephony editor for Communications Technology. Reach him at email@example.com.