Going on Safari for Comcast Launches

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Comcast Corp. last week named Cedar Point Communications Inc. as one of the primary vendors for its voice-over-Internet protocol telephony rollouts.

The deal calls for Comcast to expand deployment of Cedar Point’s Safari C3 media-switching system in new VoIP markets. Cedar Point had been one of many vendors testing its products in Comcast’s lab.

“Cedar Point offers the simplified, cost-effective implementation we need to efficiently deploy services that will generate subscriber growth and retention,” said Comcast senior vice president and general manager of telephony operations Rian Wren.

The MSO rolled out VoIP service in parts of Philadelphia in 2003, before adding Indianapolis and Springfield, Mass., this year. Executives have said the operator is making its plant ready for widespread VoIP rollouts in 2005.

The company also has more than 1.3 million circuit-switched telephony subscribers in former AT&T Broadband markets.

COMBO DEVICE

The win is significant for Cedar Point, as it shows Comcast’s faith in the upstart’s architecture, which combines softswitch and media-gateway telephony functions into a single headend-based device.

“Their implementation of PacketCable is a little more tightly coupled,” Wren said, since the media gateway and switch are in the same rack unit. “We like aspects of that. But we also talked to them and they have plans to separate that gateway.

“Their architecture offers a nice, easy way to get going.”

Comcast also is looking at VoIP platforms in which the equipment is more distributed, giving the MSO the ability to mix and match softswitch and media-gateway vendors.

“We’re not purists,” Wren said. “We like the flexibility.”

Both Cedar Point CEO Andy Paff and Wren said the vendor’s gear could be deployed in small and large markets. Paff said single Safari units can scale from 5,000 to 100,000 subscribers. “We can move deeper into the network or centralize it,” Paff said. “We are a major-market solution.”

Wren said Comcast will be cautious about the scale of its rollouts of any piece of telephony equipment. “Even if they can meet some of their specs, from a reliability standpoint, we may limit how many subs we put on one box,” he said.

Wren declined to comment about present or future Cedar Point markets. The MSO’s telephony rollouts in Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Springfield, Mass., pass 1 million homes. “We’re testing business processes, selling and billing processes,” he said. “At some point, we’ll expand that activity.”

Added Wren: “We need to make sure features like call-forwarding work the way they always have worked.”

One question to be examined during trials, he said: “Do you implement call-forwarding the same way?

“We need to understand how we need to change maintenance procedures on our cable plant to meet reliability requirements,” he added. “There are different maintenance windows for telephony.”

When Comcast rolls out VoIP next year, it won’t be confined to greenfield markets, Wren said. He indicated that VoIP would launch in the MSO’s circuit-switched markets.

Comcast leases switching equipment from AT&T Corp. in those markets. “But we can rapidly move into the IP zone on our own network. The long term plan is to migrate our customers onto our network,” he said.

The contract is a key win for Cedar Point. “This is a validation of the Cedar Point product,” Paff said, as Comcast joins Charter Communications Inc. and Net2Phone Inc. on the vendor’s roster.

“We view Safari as an integrated platform,” he said. “We’re not inventing proprietary tech to handle applications. This allows operators to adapt to their technology and their business plan in a very scalable way, from very low penetration to very high penetration.”

Paff said Cedar Point’s Safari C3 unit stands six feet tall and 19 inches wide, occupying one-third the space of a cable-modem termination system. In functionality, it replicates the traditional Class-5 circuit switch, he said.

OTHER APPLICATIONS

Calls are routed through the multimedia terminal adapter to a DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) 1.1-capable CMTS. Calls then go through the Safari switch and onto the public-switched telephone network, or to a long-distance carrier for off-network calls.

The Safari unit contains the softswitch and media gateway, and handles CALEA, 911, voice messaging, and other applications. Paff said Cedar Point also is working on new applications, such as caller ID via the TV set.

While some MSOs, like Time Warner Cable, have plowed ahead with VoIP, Comcast has taken a more methodical approach. “We’re more concerned that we do it right,” Wren said. “Our theme is quality and reality.”

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