GI, Telcordia Team Up On IP-Telephony Gear

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General Instrument Corp. and Telcordia Technologies Inc.are teaming up to supply IP-telephony solutions that will be available for commercialdeployment by year's end.

"There are some operators that want to move as quicklyas they can, and that will deploy services in advance of completion of some of the formalstandards," John Burke, vice president of marketing at GI's advanced-networks andtelecommunications-systems group, said last week.

"Our intention is to move very quickly to commercialavailability by the end of the year," Burke added.

This view of the market squares with that of Telcordiapresident Sanjiv Ahuja, who asserted three weeks ago that a significant number of MSOswere inclined to get telephony under way on the Internet-protocol platform ahead of theindustry's standards-setting process.

Leading MSO engineers have made it clear that they don'texpect to be able to move forward with commercial deployments on the standardized platformbeing devised by the PacketCable task force until the middle of next year or beyond.

The GI move to embrace the call-agent system developed byTelcordia, the former Bell Communications Research (Bellcore), comes amid intensifyingpreparations for the rollout of new modems based on the still-unfinished version 1.1 ofthe DOCSIS (Data Over Cable System Interface Specification) standard.

DOCSIS 1.1 capabilities -- which support guaranteedquality-of-service and more efficient use of bandwidth than is possible with the 1.0version -- are widely viewed as crucial to delivering IP-voice services.

GI's DOCSIS 1.1 modem, the "3100," startsshipping toward the end of this quarter, running on 1.1-compatible Broadcom Corp."3300" chips, but lacking the software needed for full 1.1 compliance, Burkesaid. "We believe that the software will be available for downloading in the thirdquarter," he noted.

The 1.1 specs have recently been further revised to includea voice-friendly feature known as "header suppression," said Mark Sumner,consulting engineer for Motorola Inc.'s Internet-networking group.

This technique, which will likely have some small effect onchip designs, eliminates unnecessary header information in the link between the end-userand the headend, thereby opening more bandwidth for carrying the voice signal, Sumnerexplained.

"We're taking away an average of 34 bytes per packetand adding two to store some of the information that's removed," Sumner said. Suchdevelopments represent a "case of creeping functionality," which is affectingthe timing of the completion of the 1.1 specs, but which is essential to accommodatingoperator requirements for robust applications support, he added.

Stand-alone 1.1 modems with built-in or add-on componentstranslating signals to and from standard telephones to the IP mode represent one approachto supporting IP-voice connectivity in the home.

But Burke said GI's initial implementation of IP-telephonyCPE (customer-premises equipment) will probably be in the BTI(broadband-telecommunications interface) mode, where the CPE is designed explicitly forthe voice application, with the modem and other components tightly integrated.

"There's still a fair amount of integration activitythat must be done," Burke said. "But first, DOCSIS 1.1 must be finalized andaccepted. We're expecting it to be settled soon."

GI is also contemplating product implementations of IPvoice in set-top boxes and in fully integrated household gateways that are basicallypremises broadband controllers that deliver all types of signals to various appliancesfrom a single, wall-mounted unit.

"We're still evaluating our product road map as wework with our customers in their preparations for initial trials," Burke said.

Telcordia's call-agent software acts like a local-officevirtual switch, providing intelligent call-control features and end-to-end signaling usingstandards-based call-control protocols.

The features to be supported in the initial versions of thesystem include basic Signaling System 7 capabilities, such as 911 and 800 numbers, andcalling features, such as call forwarding, call waiting and caller ID, said David Fritch,director of product management at Telcordia.

Call-control logic embedded in the BTI and other end-userdevices does not require a lot of processing power, but it is sufficient to support thecreation of richer features as time passes, Fritch noted.

"Our goal is to provide what customers most needfirst, but to have a way to leverage the flexibility of IP to develop new features asoperators discover new market opportunities," he said.

Telcordia has developed a means of translating the signalsdelivered over the SS7 Intelligent Network layer of the public switched telephone networkso that they can be imported into the IP-telephony "cloud" and used there toseamlessly tap the legacy features of the PSTN, Fritch said.

Standards bodies are currently reviewing various approachesto this translation process, but there is no agreement yet on a uniform method.

The parties declined to say which MSOs are likely to movequickly to commercial deployments on the GI/Telcordia platform.

So far, the only announced cable customer of the Telcordiacomponent is Canada's Le Groupe Vidéotron Itée, which intends to begin deploying IPtelephony using the call-agent system in conjunction with hardware from Cisco Systems Inc.by year's end.

In January, AT&T Corp. said it would test an end-to-endIP-telephony service with Cisco and GI, but Telcordia was not part of that announcement.

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