Interested parties have long waxed poetic about the business services market. But there was nothing fanciful about this week’s prediction from Cox Communications CEO Pat Esser that commercial services will deliver $1 billion in revenue for Cox in 2010.

With Cox’s nearly 250,000 business customers representing less than 20 percent of the businesses in its footprint, the large Atlanta-based multiple system operator (MSO) reasonably sees significant, continued growth ahead.

Opportunities also await tier 2 and tier 3 operators, but as the Cox experience has demonstrated, nailing down the telephony piece is a crucial key to success. For an example of how Atlantic Broadband has adapted session initiation protocol (SIP)-based telephony to serve the small to medium-size business (SMB) market, see this article in the current issue of Communications Technology.

Another example of how smaller MSOs are tackling these challenges surfaced this week with the announcement that SinglePipe Communications is helping Northland Cable Television provide managed voice services. Northland hopes to roll out residential telephony in Sandpoint, ID, and Stephenville, TX, as early as Sept. 15. Other locations will follow, as will an SMB telephony offering.

"With SinglePipe, we will expand our footprint with voice. This will allow us to get into markets we haven’t been able to get into in the past," said Steve Tanabe, Northland’s corporate operations manager. "Expanding our footprint was key (as was) being able to have a small business or commercial offering to bring to our markets." Opportunities The smaller MSOs that typically serve less dense population centers actually have a market advantage, in that lack of competition has kept the cost of traditional phone service and business services high.

"We are addressing markets underserved by the major players out there and ignored from the perspective of competition," said Matt Philips, SinglePipe CEO. "There is still an opportunity for a cable company with a price component to come in and make inroads into the market."

These MSOs, however, also have faced challenges, such as interconnecting their sometimes disparate networks, local porting, and finding solutions scaled down to meet their size and cost requirements.

Wholesalers, such as SinglePipe, have identified this need. "We use our CLEC status and interconnection agreements to be able to serve areas (they) might (otherwise) not be able to serve or are more costly to serve," Phillips said.

SinglePipe’s solution includes regulatory compliance, FCC-compliant 911 and local number portability. It is based on a SIP platform. Residential customers use their existing phones, but have access to the advanced features that SIP can enable. From the business side, operators can offer a suite of services including SIP trunking and hosted VoIP. More markets Northland has been offering telephony since 2005 through an association with Net2Phone (which IDT Corp. acquired in 2006). Northland has 5,500 voice customers to date and currently doesn’t have plans to switch this base from Net2Phone.

However, Northland wanted the ability to offer voice in additional residential as well as in commercial markets and also was looking for a solution that used EMTAs with battery backup, Tanabe said, explaining the decision to partner with SinglePipe.

"Installation time will go down (with the EMTAs). Support is key. We will be able to look into the device better to monitor call quality," Tanabe added. The company also liked the fact that it will be able to integrate its own back office systems with SinglePipe’s platform.

"The customer service representative can go into one system to enter all information," Phillips said, adding that this cuts down the learning curve.

– Monta Monaco Hernon

The Daily

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