AT & T, Motorola Get Vocal About Voice-Over-IP Plans

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In addition to remaining AT & T Broadband's primary supplier of advanced digital set-tops through 2003, Motorola Broadband Communications Sector last week also became the MSO's primary supplier of digital technology.

That technology includes Motorola Broadband's digital conditional-access system, its voice-over-Internet-protocol wares, a large volume of cable modems and its cable-modem-termination-system equipment.

In the first part of the deal, AT & T Broadband said it plans to buy 700,000 "SURFboard SB3100" and "SB4100" cable modems through the end of next year.

Both of those models are upgradable to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 1.1 via a software download, and the SB4100 also houses "plug-and-play" universal-serial-bus capabilities, Motorola Broadband corporate vice president and director of North American sales and support Matt Aden said.

AT & T Broadband reported that it had 689,000 high-speed subscribers at the end of 2000's second quarter. The company hopes to boost that figure to 1.1 million by the end of this year.

To keep pace with expected consumer demand for high-speed services, AT & T Broadband agreed last week to buy 700,000 modems from Thomson Multimedia.

AT & T Broadband's deployment commitment to Motorola Broadband's CMTS equipment was not specified.

Noting that the MSO's commitment to Motorola's headend equipment will be "significant," Aden said his company is currently in trials with its next-generation, DOCSIS 1.1-based "CAS 2000" CMTS. "We have not firmed the total volume of [AT & T's CMTS] order," he added.

On the telephony front, AT & T Broadband said it selected Motorola Broadband as the initial equipment provider for its first pair of VoIP trials, which will take place in two "major markets" in "the near future."

According to AT & T Broadband chief technology officer Tony Werner, the MSO is already installing equipment for the trial, which will initially include a base of AT & T employees, and then expand over the course of this year.

In initial trials, AT & T Broadband will use Motorola Broadband's "CentriQ," a wall-mounted customer-premises device that will transport IP-voice calls from consumer homes to the cable headend before they are converted to the switched network.

CentriQ "will take advantage of the class-5 switches the MSOs have already put into place," Aden said. "In a full IP environment, a lot of the CLASS [custom local-area signaling services] features are not fully developed yet."

Those features include call waiting, selective call forwarding, caller ID and other special items that are available from circuit-switched telephone companies.

"We're bullish on voice over IP over the long term. The pilot will tell us a lot," Werner said. Results from those initial tests will help him to determine when AT & T Broadband would scale up its IP-telephony plans, he added.

With its merger with Media- One Group Inc. complete, AT & T Broadband-using a circuit-switched model for local phone services-said it had 223,600 phone customers at the end of the second quarter. The company expects to have between 500,000 and 650,000 by the end of this year, a company spokesperson said.

AT & T Broadband gets the bulk of its circuit-switched equipment from Arris Interactive LLC, a co-venture of Nortel Networks and Antec Corp. The company has also purchased a smaller amount of phone equipment from ADC Telecommunications Inc. and Tellabs Operations Inc.

Earlier this year, AT & T Broadband struck an extended, three-year deal with Arris that made Arris the MSO's exclusive provider of cable-telephony products in eight of the MSO's nine major U.S. markets.

Like Motorola Broadband's CentriQ product, Arris' "PacketPort" approach is also designed to give cable operators a circuit-switched-to-IP migration path for voice services.

Werner said AT & T Broadband's IP agreement with Motorola Broadband shouldn't affect the agreements it already has with Arris.

"Motorola has been doing a great job on their voice-over IP strategy," he added. "In the long term, Arris and these other folks will have a [VoIP] strategy ... It'll be a competitive environment that should be good for everybody."

The MSO's IP aspirations took another turn last week when sister company AT & T Strategic Ventures invested $10 million in Nuera Communications Inc., a provider of VoIP-infrastructure solutions. AT & T Broadband and AT & T Wireless also agreed to a technology-sharing relationship with Nuera.

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