Execs Stress Sweating the Details on VoIP

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Denver— The cable industry’s push into voice-over-Internet protocol telephony is starting to add real dollars to MSO bottom lines, but the attention to nuts and bolts issues is really spurring growth, according to speakers at a May 5 conference here.

“We spent a lot of time on the installation” in the early days, said Gerry Campbell, senior vice president of voice at Time Warner Cable, using former Bell employees to train cable personnel.

ESSENTIAL SERVICE

“We had to get it right. Compared to high-speed data, the customer experience is greatly different. HSD is forgiving. But if you don’t have dialtone, forget it,” Campbell said during a panel session at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers VoIP Symposium here.

Last week, Time Warner reported ending the first quarter with 372,000 VoIP customers. With a weekly run rate above 15,000 installs, it’s now surpassed the 500,000 mark, Campbell said.

Cablevision Systems Corp. added more VoIP subscribers than high-speed Internet subscribers in the first quarter: 92,000 to 88,000.

It now counts 364,000 VoIP customers among its 1.44 million high-speed data subscribers, a 25% penetration.

The industry will soon get another burst of subscribers, as Comcast Corp. rolls out VoIP.

Rian Wren, senior vice president of sales and business development at Comcast, said the MSO will increase its 1,500 to 2,000 VoIP installs a week as it launches Boston in the next week and Chicago and Portland, Ore., thereafter.

Comcast remains on target to have 20 VoIP markets by the end of this year, he said.

Charter Communications, which launched VoIP in St. Louis and Madison, Wis., several years ago, has added systems in Massachusetts and South Carolina, according to Mark Barber, corporate vice president, telephony.

Bresnan Communications, which launched IP telephony in Grand Junction, Colo., in March and is doing 100 installs a week, plans to launch three more markets, including Durango, Colo., in the next month, according to Katherine Kichner, director of telephony operations.

Panelists emphasized execution was key to successful VoIP rollouts. “We’re attempting to scale our processes and people,” Wren said. “We won’t go gung ho for units this year. That’s next year.”

Added Charter’s Barber: “The focus is on the operational metrics.”

With VoIP launched in 31 Time Warner divisions, Campbell has the widest experience with VoIP rollouts. “The devil in the details never ends,” he said. Wiring inside the house — unrelated to VoIP technology — often is the biggest problem, he said.

PUBLIC-SAFETY CHATS

Campbell also said it was important for operators to open a dialogue with local public-safety officials, so they understand how 911 calls work on VoIP.

Finding maintenance windows is another challenge, as VoIP is an around-the-clock service. And because some homes have security systems linked to phone service, alarms can be set off through normal headend maintenance.

Down the road, panelists envision cable using session initiation protocol to provide new service features to consumers, Barber said, such as caller ID on the TV and PC, video conferencing, video mail and vacation home VoIP integration. “We want to give them extra features,” he said, but added “we’re struggling what it is that customers want.” Several trials, he said, should answer that question.

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