TIME WARNER CABLE TESTING NEW VoIP BUSINESS APPROACH
Time Warner Cable may be getting back into the voice market with small and medium businesses after some recent tests in Austin, Texas.
Using Voxpath's service, which includes customer premise equipment as well as access to a switch and personnel training, Time Warner has been providing PBX replacement service to about 45 customers in the Austin area. Combined, those customers have around 500 handsets.
“We're getting enough traction now to really put something in front of our corporate group,” said David Roon, vice president of marketing for Time Warner Cable in Austin. “Right now it's been a rather low-key approach. Corporate knows we're doing this little test but they haven't blessed it yet.”
Under what Voxpath is calling its Lighthouse program, the Austin-based service provider is delivering the basic elements for a cable operator to offer voice-over-IP services to small and medium businesses (SMBs). Key to the Voxpath solution is a premises-based service gateway that provides DHCP and network address translation functions, firewalling and a secure tunnel to multiple points of presence.
“We could put a gateway in Dallas and serve POPs in Los Angles and New York,” said Alaric Silveira, chief technology officer for Voxpath.
At the POP, Voxpath also deploys a media gateway, application servers and an SS7 gateway, as well as software. The goal is to get cable operators up and running in the market and turn over the keys to the operation after all personnel have been trained. And while most MSOs have just started rolling out some business services, notably Ethernet connectivity, Gary Forton, vice president of marketing for Voxpath, said the experience of beating telcos to the punch in the residential high-speed access market should give them confidence.
“Cable companies have already tasted the blood,” he said. “They've smacked around the telcos before and they know how to do it again.”
Voxpath, of course, is not the only service provider trying to help cable operators get into the voice market. Net2Phone has staked much of its future on providing connectivity to cable telephony operators and earlier this year helped launch Liberty Cablevision's service in Puerto Rico. And both Sprint and MCI have signed agreements with Time Warner to provision voice service to customers, terminate VoIP to the public network, carry long-distance traffic and provide 9-1-1 service and local number portability. Voxpath, however, is specifically targeting the SMB market, believing that cable operators eventually will come to the realization that that sector is significantly more profitable than residential users.
“The cable companies are the ones in this that have a real greenfield advantage,” Forton said. “The RBOCs don't want to speed to market with this stuff. So if someone can beat the rest of the industry by upwards of 12 months, that's a huge disruption point.”
For Time Warner, providing voice to SMBs would represent a bit of déjà vu. The company was among the first cable operators into the early CLEC business but spun off Time Warner Telecom in 1999. Time Warner Cable, which has been offering VoIP service to residential users in North Carolina and parts of Maine, has shown a willingness to work with other carriers to speed deployment. The test in Austin would represent a slightly more aggressive step into the market, with the MSO eventually owning more of the infrastructure.
“You have a softswitch in the equation that Time Warner could be the owner of,” Roon said. “That's part of the test. We're just trying to get some data to give them something to consider.”
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