Voice over IP—VoIP—is not necessarily the most accurate or best description of new voice services transport mechanisms. This is partially because IP has an ugly connotation stamped on it by the myriad personal violations perpetrated by fun-loving uber geeks and partially because not every VoIP call actually traverses the Internet. Packetized voice, the next labeling option, sounds like something that Alexander Graham Bell gave Mr. Watson for Christmas. This nomenclature dilemma has led some industry linguists to talk about voice over broadband—VoB for the initiated—to describe new voice services that don’t run over telephone lines. Broadband speeds are necessary for reliable voice, and the primary broadband vendors are telecommunications providers that use cable or DSL transport. Now a partnership of vendors that includes CableMatrix Technologies and VCom is hoping to add a third piece to the broadband mix. “We’re unveiling a system based upon the WiMAX specification (IEEE) 802.16. We’re using the air interface and are going to be demonstrating a high quality voice over IP over-the-air interface enabling the full quality of service (QoS) policy management and network management,” said Jay Malin, vice president of business development at CableMatrix. GlobalComm demo; cable target The two companies introduced and demonstrated their voice over WiMAX capabilities at the telephony group hug known as GlobalComm this week in Chicago, targeting it, surprisingly, at the cable industry. “We’ve identified and are seeing a number of cable operators who want to extend their network or find areas where they’re not providing the level of service that they want. They want to deploy a WiMAX solution as well,” Malin said. The company’s goal is to take what its learned in cable and apply it to wireless and then market it back to cable “working with people like Vcom, that allows an easy path for some of these cable operators to have that kind of capability using known technologies,” he said. A tough sell Fixed wireless—even if it’s WiMAX—is a tough sell in the United States where wires are just about everywhere. Voice over fixed wireless is even a tougher sell, so the vendors expect to add other broadband applications to their mix. Of course, voice is what brings a sparkle to vendors’ eyes, so voice is where they’re concentrating their first WiMAX efforts. “Rural (America) is offering an opportunity,” said Malin. “For somebody who wants to do voice over IP and may not have broadband options, we’ll provide the low-cost revenue-generating option.” That’s an opportunity that is, frankly, as remote as the customers they’re suggesting need to be served. There’s also a chance that voice over WiMAX could make some inroads in the metropolitan markets with business customers, but, again, there are already wires in place there, and wires are more dependable than air, so it’s a risky proposition. International markets More likely, the biggest voice over WiMAX opportunity will be in the international markets that have always been fertile ground for over-the-air services because they’re behind the times on built-out infrastructure. “In developing nations, voice is something that you need to have a low-cost option to be able to deploy,” said Robert Forget, director of business development at VCom. While both CableMatrix and VCom are providing integral pieces of the transport puzzle, they are not going it alone in the voice-over-WiMAX effort. The ingredients “VCom provides the base station, the subscriber station and the modem, and we provide policy management,” Malin said. “We’re the middle piece that facilitates individual applications like SIP to provide the appropriate level of network management and resource management to manage those sessions over the base stations.” Both Malin and Forget emphasized that voice, while touted at GlobalComm, is only one application that the two companies can deliver with reliability not usually associated with WiMAX. “It can be extended for video, for commercial services (although that probably won’t interest the cable industry) or an SLA (service level agreement,” Malin said. “There are a number of other applications that are able to sit on top of this platform, but SIP voice is one that’s most easily recognizable.” Even if it’s going over WiMAX. – Jim Barthold

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