Comcast Rings In VoIP in Phila.

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Comcast Corp. will dial up Internet-protocol telephony service in its hometown of Philadelphia, beginning in mid-2003.

The move will mark the first voice-over-IP deployment for the Philadelphia-based MSO and rank among the first such rollouts in the United States. Comcast already has 40,000 circuit-switched telephony customers in Michigan and Virginia.

The MSO will use a VoIP system powered by Arris Group Inc.'s C4 cable-modem termination system (CMTS) unit, which is Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications 1.1-qualified. It will be installed in the headend at a Comcast system in the Philadelphia area during the next few weeks.

Word about which access device Comcast will use — and other project elements — should be announced soon, according to Stan Brovont, vice president of marketing for Arris' broadband unit.

"We're very optimistic and excited about the potential that this has for our business," Brovont said.

Although plans call for Comcast to offer residential IP phone service in the second quarter of 2003, the exact location and rates for the initial service were not disclosed.

Comcast has already announced it intends to unveil or expand phone service in Philadelphia and Detroit upon the consummation of its merger with AT&T Broadband.

For Arris, Comcast is only the fourth operator to take VoIP to commercial deployment. That list includes the Frankfurt Plant Board in rural Frankfurt, Ky., and two as-yet unannounced MSOs.

Brovont noted that he has contacted the unidentified MSOs about disclosing their deployments, arguing "maybe it is time for the industry to strongly signal that we are done with trials, we are done with lab work. Now, we have to do the next phase, which is to perfect the operationalization of this service."

Compared to traditional circuit-switched phone service, IP telephony offers several advantages to cable operators, including better bandwidth efficiency and the ability to combine voice with data services. Comcast recently completed VoIP technical lab trials and has concluded the technology is ready for deployment.

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