After years of crawling, today’s VoIP walk seems like a veritable sprint. A few cases in point: Details please

This momentum builds PacketCable qualifications, which CableLabs began in December, and VoIP deployments by Charter in Wisconsin and Liberty Cablevision in Puerto Rico, also from late last year. Discussion of VoIP has, thus, quickly turned to details. Time Warner so far has opted for Cisco’s soft-switch and voice gateways. Cablevision is using Siemens’ softswitch, trunking gateway and media server. Already using Nortel circuit switches to handle its 750,000 existing telephone customers, Cox picked Nortel’s Succession softswitch and Nuera’s media gateways for its migration play. Charter also is using Nortel gear. And GCI is going with Arris. One wrinkle in Cablevision’s planned launch of Optimum Voice is its decision (for now) against backup powering. The operator has declined to characterize the service as primary or secondary line. Otherwise, from a PacketCable perspective, Cablevision is "doing everything by the book," says an engineer familiar with the platform. SIP vs. PacketCable A larger divide over VoIP technologies involves the use of session initiation protocol (SIP) and PacketCable. "Fundamentally, the difference is where the intelligence resides," Stan Brovant, vice president of marketing for Arris’ Broadband Group, says. "SIP requires a great deal of intelligence in the client device," Brovant says. Advanced Cable Communications and Armstrong are two cable operators offering SIP-based VoIP services through Vonage. An earlier version of Net2Phone was SIP-based, though it now uses PacketCable technology, Brovant notes. Both Vonage and Net2Phone are examples of hosted telephone services, an approach that appeals to smaller operators. The Vonage service, which uses a Cisco ATA 186, analog-to-digital converter on the consumer side and includes billing and customer care, is available to any broadband subscriber, whether cable or DSL. The company says it had activated 30,000 lines and transmitted 30 million calls over its SIP network by early June. Lou Holder, Vonage executive vice president of product development, says its success is evidence of the public’s willingness to settle for something less than traditional, five-nines, telco-grade service.

‘Not invented here’ What Holder says Vonage faces now at the larger MSOs is "an internal war" between those who "built it themselves" and those sympathetic to a third-party service. "It’s the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome," he says. “All big companies have it.” But the technically demanding requirements of primary line is finding support, even among operators of smaller systems. "If you want to get into a quality phone service, not replicating cell phone-type quality, it would be in your interest to be on a DOCSIS 1.1 platform," Steve Fox, CableOne vice president of digital services and IT, says. "We could do it today, but the end-user experience could be damaged," Fox says. "I don’t think we’re ready and willing to slap our name on a product that could basically damage our brand name." —Jonathan Tombes Emerging advertising delivery systems are enabling the targeting of ever-more granular populations with advertising and specialty programming. Indeed, the technology exists to address individual households. The key is that video-on-demand (VOD) programming demands a discrete connection from the headend to the customer premises. This makes addressing that home rather easy. In SeaChange International’s case, if a subscriber buys a VOD program that has advertising avails, a simple database lookup determines if a super-local spot is on hand that should be spliced into the MPEG bit stream headed for that sub, says Director of Broadband Joe Ambeault. A spot for a toy store two blocks from the viewer’s home, for instance, can be inserted into a VOD presentation of a children’s concert. Starting at Zip+4 SeaChange plans a related project with an unnamed MSO at the end of this year or the beginning of next. The project won’t start with micro-targeting. Instead, insertion into VOD streams will be a bit broader, perhaps at the “Zip+4” level. Everstream, another VOD advertising vendor, is deploying its S4 platform at two Time Warner national divisions in Florida and one each in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Initially, the Time Warner installation will focus on managing the VOD system. The ad insertion module may be added later. An unnamed MSO will roll out S4-based advertising in a new VOD
offering early next year, says CEO Stephen McHale. Customized advertising is particularly important as personal video recorders—such as TiVo and ReplayTV—enable subscribers to avoid commercials entirely, says Adi Kishore, a media and entertainment analyst with The Yankee Group. Though he thinks it will be a long time for the players to get in sync, Kishore says that customized advertising will become common. “I think it’s going to take a while, but in the truly long-term we are going to see this type of technology widely deployed,” he says. —Carl Weinschenk

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