SCTE member since 1995 Title : President, KnowledgeLink Inc. Broadband Background : Jay Junkus has more than 30 years of telecom experience. He is president of KnowledgeLink, a telecommunications consulting and training firm, and author of Digipoints: The Digital Knowledge Handbook (Volumes 1, 2 & 3). Junkus also serves as the telephony editor of Communications Technology. What was it like writing about telephony to this readership in the early days? To most of our readers, everything was fresh knowledge, and the first need was training. I introduced the column with a list of topics that I planned to cover over the first few months, and over the first year covered most of the terminology that cable technical persons would need to conduct intelligent dialogs with telephone engineers. In my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d have 10 years’ worth of topics, but the pace of technology has made it apparent we’re not going to run out of subject matter in the near future. What has surprised you most about the cable industry’s adoption of telephony? The amount of change that was necessary to support telephony and other forms of interactive communications. Cable needed to make major changes to its technical and business practices to become a real player in the telephone industry. Getting our back office support systems to a point where they could support telephony has been an ongoing challenge. How has this technology impacted cable’s technical culture? While in the past it was typical to have separate support systems for each set of network elements, today we tie everything together in NOCs. At first, we put all the monitoring in one room and visually coordinated what was happening in each element management system. Today, we have IT staff whose job is to build software that automates that coordination, tracks events, retains history and performs root cause analysis of trouble conditions. This level of sophistication requires high-power technical people, who keep their knowledge fresh by participating in either formal degree programs or ongoing professional development. What are the biggest gaps in technical knowledge of telephony among the industry’s technical workforce? The customer premises are still where we are most vulnerable. Cable’s telephony is a digital technology, and that places us in a double-jeopardy situation. Obviously, an installer needs to know basic cable installation, including verifying signal levels on both the forward and return paths. On top of that, however, he or she needs to be trained in telephony wiring, which includes finding and fixing customer "modifications" that could bring service down. (Believe it or not, I’ve encountered locations where a lamp cord was used to connect a phone.) Finally, there’s a need to understand how digital circuits can be affected by conditions such as intermittent grounds or faulty passive devices and how telephony interfaces with high-speed data service. Has training kept pace with deployments? Not always, but we’re improving. There was a time about a year ago when several major operators realized that the number of post-installation service calls indicated something was wrong. They instituted intensive "boot camps" for both in-house and contracted installation personnel, which improved the situation. Recently, Jones International and NCTI have created VoIP training courseware that can be delivered via CD ROM and the Web, which gives us training tools that can in many cases be deployed without excessive time out of the field. From an engineering perspective, what are the biggest "gotchas?" Probably traffic engineering. Even though we no longer use dedicated circuit-switched paths, common equipment such as CMTSs and call management servers (CMSs) must be engineered to provide service during peak telephone calling. With subscribers being added at a furious pace, it’s easy to miss some of the scaling issues that can cause service to degrade. Some operators, such as TWC, have focused heavily on installs. Is this the correct approach? Absolutely! As I mentioned earlier, the highest area of vulnerability we have in telephony is still at the customer premises. Anything we can do to improve installation and the support of our customer as service is turned up will yield dividends in customer loyalty. What are the biggest challenges in home networking today? A home network is really a set of subnetworks, and figuring out how these subnetworks should communicate is going to require a good plan. For example, our industry has been emphasizing multi-set access to PVR devices over the past year. In the meantime, home computers continue to communicate with the Internet and with devices in the home. These two subnetworks may appear unrelated, but applications can be designed that need access to both. When would you say that the MSOs became comfortable with softswitch technology? Cable experimented with softswitches from their early introduction in the mid-’90s in technical trials. Cable operators were among the first to realize that softswitch technology could provide carrier-grade telephone service, as witnessed by the introduction of a CMS and media gateways in PacketCable 1.0, prior to year 2000. As far as commercial use, however, somewhere around 2003 was when we began seriously offering commercial, primary line service. Thoughts on the Sprint-Nextel joint venture with cable? We need a joint effort that includes cooperation of both major cable companies and the wireless industry to develop interoperability standards, particularly with IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), and this is a good first step. Technically, I have the feeling that there’s going to be an overlap with the CableLabs projects, particularly in the interfaces between wireless telephony and home gateways. Next frontier? Personally, I believe wireless telephony interfaces between cable and home networks are the next likely step for cable. At some point in the near future, however, customers will demand an easy way to seamlessly tie their home phones and Internet access to their handheld personal assistants and cellular phones so that they don’t need to coordinate office, home and cellular voice messaging systems, or walk around the house with a Batman-like utility belt.