PM Through the A.M. and P.M. In his column last month, Senior Technical Editor Ron Hranac included comments from Steve Allen (senior broadband technologist at Kramer.Firm Inc.) on the importance of preventive maintenance. Here’s a letter that touches on many of the ideas shared in the responses we received: Thanks from a 30-year veteran in preventive maintenance from Kokomo, Ind. At last, there’s someone who understands the importance of the contribution that preventive maintenance technicians make to the cable team. We are constantly harassed and ridiculed as to what it is we do from some of our cable team members. We, the ones who do the dangerous pole changes, preventive maintenance of standby power supplies, which can blow up with no warning, sweeping and balancing nodes, line extenders, outages cable and fiber cuts, FCC tests, amplifier repair and cable leaks. Let’s don’t forget noise suppression and maintaining levels that have to be set for near-perfect output, which are almost impossible tasks to maintain. All this is to ensure proper return signal for smooth modem and converter operation, for our customers. While performing these tasks, technicians also have the obstacle of dealing with ever-changing weather conditions. In Indiana, the temperature can range from -60� with the wind chill throughout the winter to an excess of 102� in the summer. Thank you for taking the time to recognize those technicians who battle all the hardships in order to provide our customers with quality service.-Donald R. Hale Sr., Network Maintenance Specialist Technician, Insight Communications Steve Allen’s response: Thank you for your comments. I think you nicely restated what I meant by duties that fly under the radar at a cable operation. And how important it is to the reliability that our customers are increasingly expecting. Thirty years of experience means that you have gone from 12 channels (possibly even less), to the modern network, and everything in between. You obviously have a good grasp of what preventive maintenance means. Short of a complete teardown and new-build, the preventive maintenance duty is like trying to keep a 1975 auto running as if it were a new car. That is a daunting task. We face very stiff competition from new technologies such as DBS, DSL and wireless. We no longer have the luxury of hooking people up and expecting them to remain loyal forever. Every month, customers take a vote of confidence in your ability to provide a quality product at a fair price. They vote with their checkbooks, and they can change their minds at any time. Thousands are doing exactly that each month as the industry consolidates and becomes less "local." It is worrisome that our executives think that raising rates and adding yet another unwatched channel will stem that tide. I fear for our industry that we love so much. Stay true to yourself, and continue to perform for the customer. They are the ones who really cut your paycheck. People like yourself really do make a difference, and I am honored to serve in the same profession. Set the example by your actions, and never let anyone tell you that your work doesn’t matter. It does. De-Mazing the VoIP Maze I wanted to compliment Jay Junkus on his January column, "Sorting Through the VoIP Maze." This is the first piece that I’ve seen to lay out the VoIP landscape clearly without over-reliance on jargon. Do you know where I can find a list of the top players in each of the network categories you outlined (carrier, hosted, Tiers 2-3)? Does a company like IBasis qualify as a carrier-grade network? Tony Casso, Telenordic Editor’s response: Thanks for the kind comments. Here are a few pointers to the answers. First, I am not aware of any consultant or VoIP authority that has compiled a list of service providers grouped according to my criteria. However, any search engine can return a list of Web pages that provide names of VoIP service providers. It then becomes a matter of applying some criteria to classify each provider, and that’s not always as easy as it sounds. For example, a provider of carrier-grade VoIP service must guarantee quality of service, end-to-end. A visit to several sites that reference VoIP offerings yields many familiar names, such as AT&T, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Verizon, Sprint and Time Warner Cable. While it is fairly safe to assume that these carriers’ packet-based voice offerings have comparable QoS to their circuit-switched products, you cannot be absolutely certain unless you know the details of the underlying network. The cable companies mentioned in this list are offering VoIP using PacketCable-compliant networks, which by definition means they must at minimum meet the criteria for end-to-end delay, jitter and reliability that produce the same voice quality as the PSTN. Perhaps even more important to complying with carrier-grade criteria, however, is that the subscriber’s carrier must be able to provide E911 (emergency) and CALEA (law enforcement wire tapping) services comparable to circuit-switched offerings. These services are tied to the endpoints of the VoIP call, and are so important that they are a substantial part of a white paper on proposed FCC regulation recently published by the NCTA. For second- and third-tier providers, the classifying task is a bit simpler. Both tiers do not guarantee quality of service, and usually do not have the means for E911 or CALEA. A second tier provider will make the telephone experience seem more like a regular telephone call by providing some means of dialing the number of the called party from a telephone set; while a third tier provider will usually depend completely upon a computer interface for the call. As for your question on IBasis, this company appears to be a carrier’s carrier, which provides VoIP interconnection between service providers offering either VoIP or circuit-switched telephony service. As such, it is not responsible for E911 or CALEA services, but to qualify as a carrier-grade provider, would need to ensure a carrier-grade quality of service. According to the IBasis Web site, its network technology is proprietary, so the only way of knowing whether it really deliver carrier grade QoS is through documented field experience.—Justin J. Junkus, Telephony Editor Write to Us Communications Technology welcomes letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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