Comcast Launches Joint Switch Test

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Signaling a move toward Internet-protocol telephony service, Comcast Corp. on Nov. 19 began a lab trial of CedarPoint Communications' Cable Media Switching technology, which can simultaneously handle both voice-over-IP and circuit-switched calls.

Comcast has been part of the camp that's followed cable's conventional wisdom in terms of rolling out VoIP: It's waiting for the technology to be both cost-effective and technologically proven. But the Philadelphia-based MSO has 30,000 circuit-switched telephony subscribers in Michigan, acquired in a system swap with MediaOne Group Inc. last year.

Comcast also would stand to inherit 700,000 circuit-switched telephony subscribers if it succeeds in purchasing AT&T Broadband.

"Cable operators face logistical, technological and financial challenges in deploying telephony services," Comcast senior vice president of new media development Steve Craddock said in a statement. "We're extremely interested in being on the leading edge in the development of solutions, like Cable Media Switching, that creatively address these challenges and hold the potential to jumpstart the industry in deploying these new revenue-generating services."

CedarPoint said its switching technology combines elements of Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s PacketCable architecture, which works with distributed network elements that allow operators to handle circuit-switched and IP calls on a single packet switch.

Operators want "an economical, flexible, reliable system that is easily integrated into existing back-office operations, no matter how small the system," said CedarPoint CEO Dave Spear.

"A single cable media-switching system significantly simplifies network integration and turn-up," Spear said. "We developed this from the ground up, just for cable operators."

Spear said MSOs could use the switch both as a stand-alone IP solution and a hybrid approach to migrate circuit-switched customers to a full Internet-protocol setup. CedarPoint aimed to combine the resiliency of class-5 systems with such IP elements as media gateways, call-management servers and signaling gateways.

"It insures a more secure and simpler network," Spear said. "The whole architecture creates resiliency and full redundancy for anyone that wants to move toward primary-line service."

The CedarPoint headend-switching system is linked to the public-switched telephony network, as well as the cable-modem termination system and host digital terminal at the headend. CedarPoint estimates it would save operators 60 percent to 70 percent of the costs of circuit-switched technology. Operating costs would run 50 percent lower.

CedarPoint also said its switching system would save operators 67 percent on floor space, 86 percent on power and 60 percent on maintenance. And CedarPoint's technology is scalable, able to support systems from 2,000 to 1 million subscribers, the company said.

CedarPoint has landed some heavy hitters for its advisory board, including Craddock;, former AT&T Broadband senior vice president of telephony engineering and operators Mark Dzuban; consultant Walt Ciciora; NBC chief technologist for broadband technology Wendell Bailey; former Charter Communications Inc. Western region vice president of engineering and operations Wayne Davis; and Broadband Access Networking Group vice president of network engineering Walter Casey.

Separately, Comcast is testing TollBridge Technologies Inc.'s TB300 VoIP service in Detroit. That technology allows the MSO to leverage its existing client-switching infrastructure for nominal capital expense.

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