Wanted: Wireless-VoIP Connection

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Cablevision Systems Corp. wants to pair its voice-over-Internet Protocol telephony network with wireless providers, a move that would allow wireless customers to use their wireless handsets and receive wireless calls over their wireline Cablevision voice service.

At the Standard & Poor’s Telecommunications Conference in New York last week, Cablevision executive vice president of product management and marketing Patricia Gottesman said that type of convergence is being considered by the Bethpage, N.Y.-based cable operator.

“We think there are enormous opportunities for our Optimum Voice product to converge with wireless services from all major providers,” Gottesman said in a statement later. “We can use our network’s strength and flexible configuration to deliver real value to customers by capitalizing on the similarities between VoIP and wireless when it comes to offering advanced features and a better user experience than is possible through traditional telephony.”

EXPLORATORY MOVE

According to Reuters, which first reported her comments last week, Gottesman said at the conference that Cablevision had aggressive plans to deliver a converged wireless service, but gave no time frame as to when such a product would be available.

Cablevision declined to comment further. But one cable executive familiar with the initiative said that it was more of an exploratory program, and if it ever came to fruition it would likely involve giving existing wireless telephone customers the ability to access calls over the Cablevision VoIP network.

It is also likely that Cablevision would need to reach at least some type of agreement with major wireless carriers like Verizon Wireless, Cingular, Sprint-Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile to facilitate the handing off of wireless calls onto Cablevision’s VoIP network. And so far, no such agreements are in the works.

Even though the parents of the two largest wireless carriers — Verizon Wireless and Cingular (owned by AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp.) — are making their own moves to offer video service in competition with Cablevision and other cable operators, spokesmen for both companies would not rule out the possibility of working together.

“We’re looking at a whole variety of possibilities,” Cingular spokesman Mark Siegel said, adding that he would not speculate on the future. “We’re exploring a whole lot of possibilities for getting the maximum value out of wireless and making it as easy to use as possible for consumers and as seamless to use as possible for consumers. One of the things it is very good at doing is in a positive way obliterating boundaries and restrictions and barriers and we continue to look at ways to do that.”

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jim Gerace said that he knows of no discussions with Cablevision or any other operators regarding this type of service. He also said that it would not be correct to assume that because its parent Verizon Communications Inc. is launching its own video offering that it would not cooperate with a cable operator. But he also seemed puzzled at Cablevision’s logic.

“I do find it interesting, given that they don’t have a wireless partner at all or a wireless business, that they would be presuming that they could do this alone,” Gerace said.

NOT IN SPRINT JV

Back in November, four major cable operators — Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — announced a joint venture with Sprint-Nextel that would allow the parties to provide a host of services, including integrated wireless and wireline voice mail, integrated messaging and future services like access to video programming over the cell phone and a dual purpose wireless and wireline handset.

Cablevision was one of several top 10 cable operators that did not join the JV.

The executive familiar with the Cablevision initiative said that it is unlikely that Cablevision would move at least in the beginning toward a dual-purpose phone. “This isn’t like you would have one phone in your life,” the executive said. “This is about convergence with wireless service; it’s not about partnering with a wireless service with a one-stop phone.”

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