Time Warner to Take Second VoIP Test Run

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Following "excellent consumer acceptance" culled from an ongoing test in Portland, Maine, Time Warner Cable said it has expanded its trial of local Internet protocol-based, local phone services to cable modem customers in the Rochester, N.Y.-area.

The service-dubbed "Line Runner"-will be offered to 1,000 Road Runner customers there, MSO spokesman Mike Luftman said, noting that the same amount of customers presently are participating in the Portland trial.

Time Warner Cable said it is marketing Line Runner as a second line to Road Runner customers in Rochester, essentially bundling VoIP and high-speed data services. The MSO will offer the VoIP base service for $9.95 per month. Optional features, such as caller ID and voice mail, will send the price higher.

Line Runner's offering delivers voice services by linking a standard telephone into a cable modem. From there, voice packets are transmitted via the cable system as part of the Road Runner data stream, Time Warner Cable said.

While some MSOs are exploring VoIP as a carrier-grade, primary-line service, Time Warner Cable's view of it as a second-line offering remained steadfast.

Luftman said the costs involved in a carrier-class VoIP offering, especially costs to provide power over the cable network, remain too high. Offering a second-line VoIP service also is "more attractive" when it's bundled with the Road Runner's high-speed data service, he added.

Luftman declined to reveal when the company might market VoIP commercially or extend the service to other cable properties. "We will learn what we can first before taking the next step," he said.

The MSO said its initial market research indicated that between 40 and 50 percent of Road Runner customers would subscribe to Line Runner, and that buy rates among home office users could be even higher.

IP potential among business customers also sparked other players to come forth with their own strategies.

For example, AT&T Corp. last week launched its first VoIP retail service, offering an option that enables businesses to combine voice, fax and data traffic via the same connection. The company said it plans to add VoIP to its managed network services portfolio over the next year, and bundle Internet hosting, virtual private network and OC-48 (2.5 gigabits per second) dedicated access services to commercial customers.

AT&T's corporate cousin, Lucent Technologies Inc., also got into the commercial IP game last week, unveiling a new service strategy based on its "service intelligent" architecture and its new "SpringTide 7000" IP switch. Like AT&T, Lucent also markets IP-based VPNs, allowing business customers to access their corporate Intranet securely.

Fiber-to-the-home overbuilder WINfirst already has signed on to offer peer-to-peer networking and VPNs using Lucent's SpringTide gear.

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