Denver -- Amid a rush of new services and technology to
support them at last week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers Cable-Tec Expo
here was a strong resurgence of cable-delivered telephony -- both cable- and packet-based.
Cox Communications Inc. took the biggest validating leap,
agreeing last Tuesday to spend $100 million in an exclusive, five-year contract with Antec
Corp. for its "Cornerstone" cable-phone gear.
Alex Best, senior vice president of engineering for Cox,
reiterated the MSO's bullishness on cable telephony during a panel session here last
Wednesday, saying that Cox will use the Antec gear in eight of its nine metro clusters.
Specifically, watch for Cox to serve up cable-phone service
in Orange County, Calif.; New England; San Diego; Phoenix; Hampton Roads, Va.; New
Orleans; Omaha, Neb.; and Oklahoma City.
Best said the deployments will happen because 83 percent of
Cox's subscribers are located in the MSO's nine system clusters, and most of those systems
will be upgraded for two-way capabilities and expanded bandwidth by the end of this year.
Cox is deploying all three new service types -- digital
video, high-speed data and cable telephony -- and Best ranked the services in that order
in terms of ease of deployment.
"Telephony -- that's not for the faint of heart,"
he admitted. "It's a little more difficult, and it helps if you already have
[telephone] switches. Powering is an issue, and agreements with telcos are an issue."
But the payoff, in terms of penetration and revenue, seems
to be worth it, Best said. "We spend about $200 per home passed to upgrade our
network, and we felt that we could get the greatest return on that investment if we
leveraged our network to provide all of the services that were economically feasible --
and circuit-switched telephony is certainly one of those," he said.
Notably, Best said, Cox anticipated a five-year time frame
before it would reach a telephony-penetration level of 20 percent -- and it then reached
that milestone after six months of offering phone service. "What we do know is that
an RBOC [regional Bell operating company] customer will switch to a cable operator's
telephone service," he said.
Antec executives called the five-year deal "the
largest deployment of the Cornerstone system to date."
Jack Bryant, president of Antec Network Systems, said Cox
is one of several top-10 MSOs with renewed interest in cable-telephone gear, and Antec was
able to use the two-year demand lull to hone its Cornerstone product to its current,
commercially viable state.
"We're on the fifth software release in two-and-a-half
years, and they're all feature enhancements," Bryant said, noting that a new
Cornerstone subscriber unit is now in the works for a fourth-quarter release that is
substantially smaller and that consumes less power than the existing unit.
Meanwhile, Tellabs Operations Inc. -- a pioneer in
cable-telephone gear -- last week signed Tekstar Cablevision, a regional MSO in Minnesota,
as a taker for its "Cablespan" equipment.
Tekstar, which serves about 16,000 homes in 30 communities,
will begin rolling out a bundled video and telephone service this fall, followed by data
services via a Tellabs add-in board next year, said Wayne Partington, group product
manager of broadband systems for Tellabs.
It is the industry's first combined phone/data deployment,
"Our customers are excited at the prospect of having a
choice of service provider for local telephone and data services," said David Pratt,
general manager of Tekstar.
Tellabs also snared a European cable-telephone nod last
week, when Dutch operator ZekaTel Multicommunnicatie bv agreed to deploy telephone
services over its cable systems using Cablespan gear.
The initial Cablespan deployment is under way in de
Banjard, Netherlands, executives said.
Plus, Philips Broadband Networks used last week's Expo to
unveil its new "Crystal Line" indoor subscriber-interface unit -- described by
executives as a drop-in, house-powered solution for operators that may not want to upgrade
network power or deal with installing power-passing taps.
The ISIUs cost "in the low $200s" for a two-line
unit, which accepts a coaxial-cable input and connects via RJ-11 to the in-home telephony
wiring. The unit comes with an optional module, "Crystal data.link," which
enables 128-kilobit-per-second connections to the Internet "without the need for a
traditional cable modem," executives said.
ADC Telecommunications Inc. also touted its telephony gear
at the Expo, showing a new aspect of its "Homeworx" broadband-equipment line
that lets operators offer Internet-protocol phone and circuit-switched telephony at the
ADC executives said the new Homeworx setup lets operators
support an array of telephone and data services, including circuit-switched, 64-kbps and
IP phone, from the same loop-access system.
For the IP-phone portion, ADC linked with Lindon Corp.'s
LinkNet IP-telephony gateway, which serves as the interface to the