Tom Buttermore, the relatively new (he joined Jan. 9) general manager of Nortel‘s global cable business, understands it can be an uphill struggle to convince cable operators to shake off their traditional vendors and go with someone from the outside. “I’ve sat on the other side of the table many times,” Buttermore admitted. “I know how an operator thinks because I was one; I know the kind of financial offers and plans that make sense, and I have a pretty good feel from the inside of where the industry is heading.” As vice president of data engineering and operations for Adelphia Communications, Buttermore urged the company to select Nortel as its softswitch vendor “largely due to the fact that I felt they’d gotten it right,” he said. “I’d seen every softswitch that was out there-certainly more companies that you’d call more pure cable or had bigger market shares in cable than Nortel did at the time-and I was pretty overwhelmed by the product, and I think a lot of other people have been, too.” Nortel endorsement Now, with a vendor’s pride and purpose, Buttermore said that Nortel “has forgotten more about voice than the other guys have learned.” Nortel’s big differentiators will be-drum roll, please, or eye roll if you’ve heard this before-IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS, thus far 2006’s top buzzterm) and wireless, “two aspects (that) are going to be critical as we look at fixed-mobile convergence moving forward,” he said. Buttermore is definitely wearing a new hat. While many cable-centric vendors would have you believe that fixed-mobile convergence-or FMC as it is rapidly becoming known-will be spurred by cable’s wireline side, he remains neutral. Going both ways “Convergence cuts both ways,” he said with the new-found diplomacy that comes from being on the selling rather than buying side. “Across the board, the networks are looking more and more similar all the way to the point where you get to the traditional last mile. Is it fiber? Is it cable? Is it WiMAX or UMTS or 3G?” It’s all fair game for Nortel’s line of softswitches that will, in this era of converged services, shed that telecom-centric switch nomenclature. “Softswitches will evolve in the IMS world into becoming applications servers,” he said. “The IP evolution of traditional circuit switching becomes an application server in terms of the signaling and feature sets that it serves up.” Getting rid of softswitches … sort of That’s as good a way as any to pry Nortel, one of the big telco players, away from its traditional base and make it palatable for cable. Softswitches, after all, are telephone devices; applications servers can be whatever you want them to be. “The softswitch doesn’t go away,” Buttermore added. “The functionality is further distributed in an IMS world.” And Tom Buttermore will distribute that functionality to his old friends in the cable industry … he hopes. “The opportunity here for me personally, moving from the operator to the vendor side, is to drive Nortel’s presence in the cable vertical,” he concluded. – Jim Barthold

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