Mark Dzuban's calling has always been in cable telephony, but now the phone is ringing in a new office.
An early architect of cable-telephony systems, Dzuban recently set aside his consulting business and took a job as executive vice president of cable telephony deployment at startup Cedar Point Communications Inc.
While that makes him chief pitchman for Cedar Point's gateway products, Dzuban also sees his new position as a chance to become even more of an evangelist for the gospel of voice-over-Internet protocol.
"I want to promote voice-over-IP in the industry, and Cedar Point is giving me a vehicle to do that," Dzuban said.
Dzuban was in on cable telephony at its genesis. His career in cable dates back to 1968, and he was one of the early engineers of cable voice- and data-transmission technology at AT&T Corp.'s Bell Laboratories. His three-year, early 1990s project to develop that technology turned into a nine-year task, and evolved into the basis for much of AT&T Broadband's voice and data services.
Dzuban left AT&T and formed Hattaras House Consulting, aiming to drive acceptance of IP technology among cable's investment community. Part of that included signing on to the advisory boards of several technology companies, including Cedar Point. After about a year, he decided to take a permanent full time position at Cedar Point to more directly champion IP telephony technology.
"Being on the advisory board, I watched this — it's sort of like giving birth to a child," he said. "I was able to see the growth and the alignment of what I believed was a solution, that this is what I believed was critical for simplicity, to hit the economic targets for the cable operator, because telephony is not necessarily part of the core business."
In the VoIP world, Dzuban said several major MSOs, including AT&T Broadband, Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc., have committed to adopt the technology.
But lately, the cable industry he's facing has developed something of an allergy to capital expenditures. Dzuban's challenge is to convince the MSOs that IP telephony's expense can reap rewards.
"I think it's actually an opportunity, in the sense that once they look at the incremental investment versus what they can yield out of it to create improved valuation, the math works out pretty good to show this can be pretty attractive," Dzuban said. "So my view is, the calculator is going to make the decision, and they will follow suit."
Despite that favorable math, he believes MSOs will be cautions with IP telephony rollouts, likening the process to binary computer language.
"The binary code is to start with one. You do one, and I believe they are going to start with Philadelphia in Comcast's case," he said. "They are going to purge out the learning experience obstacles, they are going to learn how to do it right and then they are going to just like a binary code do two more, then four more, then eight more, until they build out their operating systems. And that's the right way to do it."
For the proposed merger of AT&T Broadband and Comcast, that includes coming up with a way to reconcile AT&T Broadband's large circuit-switched telephony systems with the merged company's focus toward IP.
"I think there are methods of operating the legacy systems, and still operate in an IP domain, and those are some of the things we are working on right now, to help them reduce costs so that their embedded solutions can perform effectively and not have to be wrecked out," Dzuban said.
Other issues still exist, including the continuing debate over whether cable telephony will be fielded as full, lifeline voice service or a second-line, unpowered add-on.
"I believe in letting market forces prove or disprove the theories," Dzuban said. But with respect to full lifeline telephony, he added, "I think there are a lot of good scenarios that say now if you can manage the capital requirements, the $50 per-subscriber, per-month revenue, and some of the margins I believe can be achieved, is pretty darned attractive."
Cedar Point enters the IP-telephony game with the Safari C³, a next-generation gateway device that combines the voice and multimedia switching functions found in call-management servers, media gateways, gateway controllers, signaling gateways and record-keeping servers. The unit should be ready for general availability in June of next year — at just about the time that Dzuban predicts cable operators will be dialing up IP telephony.
"So we are very far down the road, we have equipment in labs, we are putting together programs to get out products in the field, and what I mean by general availability is you can turn up tens of thousands to millions of subscribers, and that is how you make money," he said. "That's our target, and Comcast and many others are doing pilots to shake out the systems and back-office stuff, and therefore I think middle of next year we will start to see some real volumes, and 2004 should be a great year."