December 2005 Issue Once a year, it’s a good planning exercise to step back and review where you are going and what’s driving you. That statement holds true for technologies, industries, companies and individuals. At the end of the year, and on the 10th anniversary of this column, I thought it would be particularly appropriate to look at what 2005 brought cable engineers, especially in telephony, and where we seem to be headed. I get a lot of my insights from trade shows. They’re good vehicles for those of us who try to be visionaries, since most of them combine forward-looking technology conference sessions with practical vendor booths where today’s wares are being marketed for immediate sale. Before I started writing this column, I mapped out the highlights from my notes at Emerging Technologies, the National Show, Supercomm, CableTec Expo, two symposia and a conference on convergence. For what it’s worth, here’s what I saw. VoIP My first impression is a no-brainer: Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) is up and running, and is this year’s premier application. The reasons are both economic and strategic. We can get 18 percent to 20 percent average penetration for telephony offerings, and they are a key part of the service bundle that operators need to create subscriber “stickiness.” However, the main reason this year became “the year of VoIP” is that market and technology forces finally caused our competition to become serious about attacking our video stronghold. Consumers like simple solutions, and the market winner is the company that makes it easier to keep a package than to sort out voice, video and data. Conversion to IP technology in core communications networks brought both increased competition to the telcos and the beginning of a solution for video delivery, but the access piece for the telcos needs more bandwidth than twisted-pair can deliver. Because we’ve done HFC rebuilds, our execs understand that 18 months from upgrade decision to plant-in-place is not out of line, so completing the triple play took on new urgency. Bandwidth allocation The corollary to being a triple play provider is that you need to find better ways to allocate bandwidth for a growing number of subscribers and applications. Although we began mapping out the Next Generation Network Architecture (NGNA) sometime around 2002, vendors only started discussing real-world solutions this year. Dave Large reminded us at ET that NGNA is a three-level architecture that provides a framework for bandwidth management across applications. At the same conference, Sangeeta Ramakrishnan, technical leader, Cisco Systems, talked about reconfigurable quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) devices that could achieve optimal usage by supporting multiple services. The National Show saw further discussion by Cisco’s John Chapman on standalone edge QAM devices with interfaces to modular cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) and practical demonstrations of DOCSIS channel bonding by Arris on the show floor. Although video and data may be the first applications that come to mind, it serves cable engineers well to remember that telephony traffic is one of the most volatile bandwidth consumers, so these innovations are key to its success as well. Commercial services Our industry gave a lot of attention to commercial services this year. While it may appear that the biggest application is last-mile extensions for data services to business, T-1 is still the dominant mode of interconnection for voice networks. At least one vendor has stated that voice applications will account for 80 percent of wireless extension applications, and time division multiplexing (TDM) over IP technology will support at least part of that need. Stephan Kroll, at the SCTE Commercial Services Symposium, also pointed out how cable operators can add value to transport by combining PacketCable dynamic quality of service (DQoS) with extensions to the resource reservation protocol (RSVP) to deliver the QoS needed for enterprise voice services. Mobility For this year-end reflection, I’ve saved the most important implications for last. This year, we started discussing seamless mobility as the “quad play.” There was the “Wireless/Wireline Convergence” breakfast event that CT organized with Nortel at the National Show. The consensus here and at other venues was that mobility is important, but there are challenges, and no one is exactly sure what form it would take in the marketplace. Talk about implementations has included interfacing with the emerging IP multimedia system (IMS) standard, using a wireless home gateway as a type of bridge between landline and cellular. Our competition seems to be on the same wavelength; at Supercomm, there were several conference sessions on IMS and chart-level displays at vendor booths that pointed toward IMS as the link between landline and mobility applications. The key component of the IMS architecture is the home location register (HLR), which is the subscriber database that can be used to implement person locator services. Person locator services are truly a sea change application. At Supercomm, Motorola’s display showed how a busy engineer could begin watching the Super Bowl at home, have the audio portion follow him in his car as he drives to the office for some materials needed on the way to the airport, where he could finish watching the game on his wireless PC. Convergence Live! in the fall of this year discussed a wide range of collaboration services made possible by seamless mobility, where managers could assemble teams of experts on a moment’s notice to support real-time decision making. In the consumer arena, seamless mobility provides instant connectivity to a personal network of friends and associates, virtually eliminating missed calls. In my opinion, this application has the potential for creating the type of change brought about by the PC, email, and the Internet. At the National Show, Yahoo’s co-founder Jerry Yang noted that adolescents and teens no longer watch linear media, but depend upon real-time interaction to learn. Collaboration services could easily extend that mentality to telephony in the workplace, creating an environment that makes “instant personal connectivity” the dominant form of social interaction. In the corporate world, it could displace task forces and speed decision making, but the tradeoff may be loss of personal depth. As engineers, our task is to make possible tools into reality. As human beings, we need to remember that tools are only as good as their users. Justin J. Junkus is president of KnowledgeLink and telephony editor for Communications Technology. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.