VeriSign Pitches Ops CALEA, VoIP Aid

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As cable operators look to add voice-over-Internet protocol services and meet federal law-enforcement electronic-surveillance requirements, a host of new vendors are entering the cable space.

A handful of those vendors presented papers at last week’s private Cable Television Laboratories Inc. summer conference.

One company falling into that category is VeriSign Inc., which handles Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) compliance functions for Cox Communications on an outsourcing basis.

In addition to handling CALEA chores for operators, VeriSign executives see a market for handling peer-to-peer traffic for cable operators as VoIP expands.

Next month, VeriSign plans to hold a cable-company summit on peer-to-peer traffic management.

“The technical issues have been discussed,” said VeriSign vice president of next-generation networks Tom Kershaw. “We’re now talking business issues.”

One core dilemma centers on if — and how — one MSO might pay another for call termination, he said. Kershaw is recommending that the companies account for transactions on a minute-by-minute basis by tabulating information in a database, but stop short of establishing payments. It’s likely “we won’t have financial settlements to start,” he said.

But that brings another question, said Kershaw: “What happens is there are big discrepancies in traffic volume? What if one cable MSO sends calls to Vonage and they don’t have a service-level agreement? Who’s at fault,” he asked, if the call breaks down.

Those are the issues likely to be hashed out at the summit.

VeriSign provides broadband carriers with an end-to-end VoIP solution, helping them connect islands of IP-telephony traffic. Typically, a VoIP call that must transverse the public-switched telephone network [PSTN] can cause a service provider to incur unnecessary costs. Another result is that features are often “dumbed down,” Kershaw said.

“Feature sets are limited by the PSTN,” he said. “Rich video needs an end-to-end IP connection.”

Kershaw said the enterprise environment is just beginning to see the possible cost savings from VoIP peering.

PBX TARGETS

There are 8 to 9 million VoIP private telephone networks, or PBXes (for private branch exchange), in operation today, Kershaw estimated. About 6 to 7 million PBX units are churned out each year, and most new PBXes are VoIP-capable.

Although the entire PBX universe stands at 150 million, VoIP PBX will reach a 10% penetration rate next year. And at some companies, such as Ford Motor Co., Sony Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., up to 50% of all phone traffic in the supply chain can be VoIP traffic.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by cable’s providers of commercial services. They see the increase in VoIP PBXes as a way to sell cable VoIP services to businesses.

“Someone has to provide the interoperability,” Kershaw said, and VeriSign sees that role for itself.

VeriSign offers carriers call-management at the perimeter of a carrier’s network, effectively linking IP plant without calls ever traversing the public-switched telephone network.

CALEA INTEREST

While VeriSign pitches operators on peer-to-peer traffic, it’s gotten traction with CALEA. “CALEA is a cost center for cable MSOs,” Kershaw said. “Cable operators are trying to do it for as minimal [capital expenditures] as they can.”

Operators have to plug CALEA-compliant translator equipment into their VoIP soft switches to allow law enforcement officials to tap information.

Most CALEA-related activities is statistics gathering, Kershaw said, rather than actual wiretaps. But CALEA can be a $1 million capital expenditure for MSOs, and allowing VeriSign to gather and house the data removes a capital and operating expenditure burden from the MSOs, he said.

VeriSign has more than 1 million CALEA lines under contract, Kershaw said, most in the wireless space.

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