While residential – if not business – telephony became old hat several years ago for many large MSOs, some smaller operators are still celebrating initial success in this market.

Avenue Broadband, a cable operator with about 38,000 subscribers, serving communities in southern Indiana and Illinois, launched an IP-based digital voice service in June 2008. After one year, Avenue has just passed the 3,000-sub mark for its telephony offering, said Mary Iafrate, VP and GM at Avenue.

"We are actually beyond projections," Iafrate said.

As with other small operators, Avenue faced both internal constraints and competitive threats. "They’re in between AT&T and Verizon in that territory," said Cliff Rees, CEO of XCast Labs, Avenue’s digital voice partner.

A self-described software as a service (SaaS) provider, XCast offers a fully hosted VoIP service. "We run all the phone calls through all our equipment based in Los Angeles with backup in Chicago," said Rees. "Traffic goes to their customers on their cable network."

While hosted, the service still depends upon Avenue’s CMTS equipment and data network. It also called for some upgrades to the operator’s plant. "We’re in the process of upgrading the system with new taps, new amplifiers and power supplies," said Jess Spence, Avenue’s VP of engineering.

Avenue faces other challenges common to smaller operators that optically link with many but not all of their rural properties. "There are some systems that are very remote, and it’s not feasible to run fiber to them to interconnect," Spence said.

The operator is targeting 85 percent of its systems to offer digital voice.

"The hardest part was getting all the features to work with the EMTAs (embedded multimedia terminal adapters)," said Iafrate. Avenue uses the ARRIS 602 EMTA, which provides voice and Internet connection.

Iafrate said a lot of smaller operators are intimidated by telephony, but that the VoIP product offered through XCast was "really very simple."

– Linda Hardesty

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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