The talk that surfaced at last year’s Expo over the convergence of fixed and mobile services has gathered steam, with cable executives now busy strategizing and vendors stepping into the void with solutions and expertise. Cedar Point EVP of Strategy and Market Development David Spear, for instance, said at the NCTA National Show that his company is working with unnamed partners who are “managing and looking at the signal strength and then making a determination in terms of signaling to us that they need to be switched over” from either the cell network or the Wi-Fi network. “What we’re trying to show is the first phase of this capability,” said Spears. “It’s basically just us doing SIP (session initiation protocol) handoffs and interworking with our partners. It’s an extension to the PacketCable platform, bringing SIP on the access and trunking side.” One promising approach to cross-platform internetworking involves the standards-based IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) architecture, a topic discussed at a Nortel-sponsored breakfast event at NCTA. Wireless carriers already are adopting IMS, and there are good reasons for MSOs to do the same, said Alan Stoddard, GM, converged multimedia solutions for Nortel. Hosted by Communications Technology, the “Wireless/Wireline Convergence Opportunity” event covered technical, operational and strategic factors associated with the ongoing migration of wireless convergence from the home network to the wider mobile space. The speed of this shift is noteworthy. “It’s surprising that just as we’re seeing the completion of the triple play, now we’re adding the fourth dimension,” said William Markey, president and general partner of RelevantC, a marketing and business development firm. Along with technical enablers, the opportunity itself has ripened. “Forty percent of mobile calls happen within 10 feet of a landline,” said Markey. Yet huge hurdles remain. “A lot of work” There is little chance that outside mobile providers, tightly linked to incumbent telcos, would willingly partner with cable, panelists said, and wireless spectrum is expensive and the logistics of building and maintaining a national cable wireless network are staggering. “We have a lot of work to do from a network perspective,” said Tom Buttermore, VP data and voice engineering and operations for Adelphia Communications. From a strategic standpoint, Buttermore said, it “all makes sense” for cable to consider wireless. Tactically, he said, “we’re looking for real money on return in the short term” and that’s not likely to be there The first step in wireless/wireline integration is merging in-home components and services so consumers can wirelessly move about the premises, said Mimi Thigpen, vice president of strategy for Cox Communications. Cable must address the wireless market because tomorrow’s customers – today’s youth – are expert wireless users and “cable has to learn how to address that segment and provide for it,” she added. On the other hand, today’s cable subscriber is not technologically advanced. “Seventy percent of the people just want to make a phone call,” she said. Not there yet Cable must take a complex operation – wireless convergence – and make it simple enough for today’s subscriber and feature-loaded enough for tomorrow’s, said Buttermore. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something,” he said. “People don’t want five options. People want to be fed.” Cable, he said, must develop “intuitive” services and then back them up with enhanced back office operations and, more importantly, customer support. “We’re not close to being there,” he said. Citizens Communications Dabbles but Defers on IPTV, VoIP; Signs on with DISH Despite having what President-CEO Maggie Wilderotter calls “a great IP network,” Citizens Communications is not aggressively pursuing voice-over-IP or IPTV. It is, on the other hand, partnering with EchoStar’s DISH Network to deliver a triple play of voice, video and data. Citizens is a local exchange carrier (LEC) whose Frontier Communications business brand serves about 2.5 million phone lines in primarily rural and suburban markets. Wilderrotter came to Citizens in November from Microsoft, where she ran the government and education division. She had previously been president and CEO of Wink Communications and was prominent in the cable industry. IPTV trial As a predominantly rural LEC, Frontier is picking its battles carefully. “We have a core competency in delivering telephone and Internet network capabilities,” said Wilderotter, “We are not in the content business; we’re in the network operations business.” “For us to build our network out to deliver a full digital video programming service like EchoStar would take millions and millions of dollars in capital and probably several years,” she said. All the same, the Sacramento Bee reports that Frontier plans a third-quarter pilot IPTV project in Elk Grove, Calif., a fast-growing community where the company has upgraded its fiber optic plant. When push comes to shove, Frontier likely will do more with VoIP than IPTV. The communications services company is trialing VoIP in one of its 23 markets. But don’t expect to see commercial deployments any time soon, Wilderotter said. Wilderotter on VoIP, bundling “From a residential perspective, voice-over-IP is simply an alterative technology to deliver local phone service,” she said. “It’s not as reliable; it doesn’t provide 911 capabilities; it doesn’t stay active or accessible when the power goes out; and it’s spotty in terms of its transmission capabilities in many rural locations.” On the other hand, the company wants to offer subscribers a triple-play option and EchoStar “has a lot of experience partnering with telecom companies and offering a triple play bundle.” Citizens, under its Frontier brand, offers users packages of 60, 120 or 180 channels from DISH. It sets up the installation and handles customer contact. “We get paid an acquisition fee from the DISH Network for every customer that we put onto one of these packages,” she said. “It’s profitable for us to do this, and it provides us with an opportunity to have a single bill solution, a one-stop shop for our customers who want to have multiple communications services from us.” – Jim Barthold and Jonathan Tombes

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FCC Meeting Dispatch

FCC chmn Ajit Pai would not confirm whether or not he will be leaving the Commission before the end of the year when asked during a press conference Wednesday.

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