Getting to the quad play is a multidimensional task. If you follow what our industry is doing to put together a business that includes mobility as well as video, data and voice, you understand why this piece of the communications puzzle may be the most complex part of our evolution from one-way video to full service communications. Much of the current activity is planning and analysis, but even today, there are opportunities for cable operations personnel to get hands-on experience in mobile technologies. The JV Unlike our entry into telephony, we are building the quad play with a strong emphasis on providing more than regional service. To do that, early in the planning stages, we nailed down a working agreement between major MSOs and Sprint, which was already in the cellular business. From the beginning, the purpose of this alliance of Sprint, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House was to create a converged, national network as the basis for individual mobility offerings by each of the participants. From a business perspective, the MSOs are looking for a way to provide new multimedia services and applications. Sprint is participating because of its interest in enhanced content for current and future mobility offerings. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment to date of SpectrumCo LLC, as the consortium is now known, is the placement of leading bids for 137 metro market licenses for new frequencies, covering all major markets.
The consortium can get us into the cellular business, but more than spectrum and air interfaces are needed to arrive at a robust set of multimedia applications. That part requires technology integration across both mobility and landline platforms. The Internet protocol (IP) multimedia subsystem (IMS) has emerged as the route to the applications targeted by the business consortium. It has generated a lot of talk about a path to fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) via either PacketCable 2.0 or hybrids of pre-IMS /PacketCable 1.x architectures. I’d place my bets on the hybrid approach. While both alternatives require changes in systems that are already functioning, the pre-IMS approach is less disruptive and can be implemented sooner. Full IMS may be the most efficient solution for delivery of multiple multimedia applications that transparently cross boundaries between landline and mobile platforms, but as one of my MSO executive sources noted: “We need to see more applications in the field before we spend any more money on infrastructure.” Backhaul Right now, there’s already a back door—or more accurately, a backhaul—into the quad play that provides an early hands-on start to learning about field service in a business that integrates cable systems with mobile carriers. Even for basic phone service, mobile networks eventually need to connect to land-based switching centers as their link to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). With multimedia applications, linkages are needed not only to the PSTN, but also to packet-based networks. Today, the predominant connection between cellular towers and a mobile switching center is T-1 carrier. With multiple technologies available to provide T-1 over cable company plant, there are lots of ways to enter this part of the mobility business even before quad play services are offered.
As this column reported in March of this year, T-1 can be provided over DOCSIS plant using proprietary modems with a DOCSIS chipset and a unit similar to a cable modem termination system (CMTS), available as products from Vyyo. It can also be delivered over an HFC plant as a pseudowire connection using an Ethernet-based protocol, with different proprietary equipment. Alternative implementations of this technology are available from Narad and the Scientific Atlanta unit of Cisco.
For companies that have invested in multi-protocol label switching (MPLS)-based fiber facilities for other applications, it’s also possible to deliver pseudowire-based T-1 via those resources. Time Warner Cable in Houston has a good example.
I spoke with Chuck Sweeney, Time Warner Cable regional vice president, Business Solutions, about the company’s use of equipment from RAD Data Communications. “The main concern we had to satisfy was the cellular carrier’s need for high reliability. The MPLS network met that concern with ‘five nines’ or better. In addition, before installation, we simulated the backhaul in our lab, and tests using conventional T-1 test equipment showed no difference between our service and actual T-1 lines.” TWC now serves eight towers in Houston with this technology and is discussing other sites with its customer.
From the perspective of the quad play, the opportunity this service gives our technicians to interface with cellular technical personnel and equipment is just as important as the new revenue it generates. In particular, as the backhaul is installed and maintained, we get to observe, learn, and participate in procedures and testing that will be part of the quad play world. Road warriors, take 2 Now, I’d like to take the remainder of the column to provide an addendum related to last month’s topic.
You may recall we reviewed broadband telephony offerings from Vonage and Skype and concluded that despite vendor’s claims, broadband telephony over a wireless data link in a hotel is an unreliable method of voice communications. Just after publishing the column, I received a white paper from Salt Lake City-based iBAHN (www.ibahn.com), a high-speed broadband service provider that serves the hotel market. The white paper discusses the various applications that hotel guests access over high-speed lines during their stays and points out the potential for bandwidth choking. It goes on to say that iBAHN offers a product to hotel operators called Speed Solution, which provides guaranteed grades of service for guests willing to pay $9.95 extra per night. Under iBAHN’s program, basic high-speed data service is free, both to the hotel and the guest, and fees from the premium service and splash page advertisements subsidize the basic data connection. As part of the service, iBAHN provides an IP gateway, router and traffic monitoring. As traffic increases, it promises additional T-1 links as required.
I don’t believe a business traveler would pay the extra fee just to avoid cellular or hotel phone charges, but if he or she were also downloading large files or doing work that required streaming data, broadband telephony is essentially thrown in for free when the extra bandwidth is guaranteed on a per user basis. Maybe there is a road warrior telephony market after all, albeit a smaller one than implied by the broadband telephony marketing.
Now the only question is whether the commercial services organizations of cable operators want to consider offering a similar service to hotels, using dynamic quality of service (DQoS). Justin J. Junkus is president of KnowledgeLink and telephony editor for Communications Technology. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.