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Industry Insight
March 2003

Jim Machi

This Time, I'm Right...


Because this is an Industry Insight column, many times I write about new Internet telephony happenings even before they make it onto the industry�s radar screen. Over the last four years in this space, I have written very early on topics that ended up having a huge and important impact, like softswitches and voice portals. Sometimes, however, I�m off the mark and write about something that, in retrospect, is no big deal. (Fax over IP and voice over DSL come to mind.)

When I write this column, of course, I really have no way of knowing what will end up succeeding and what will end up -- well, I was going to say �not succeeding,� but that�s not quite right. In this industry I�ve seen too many ideas remarketed or renamed, becoming almost �new� again for a brief time. So instead of �not succeeding,� I�ll just say, �never moving beyond the formative stages.�

For example, exactly two years ago I was very bullish on voice over DSL. As we all know, both DSL and voice over DSL never lived up to their early promise. I bring this up to introduce this month�s topic, the opportunity for voice over cable -- similar to voice over DSL because it has the potential to introduce IP telephony in a big way to residential households. Hopefully, it will be dissimilar in that it will have a different outcome.

So why write about voice over cable now? After all, voice over cable has been a possibility for at least five years. In fact, I actually remember attending my first CableLabs PacketCable vendor meeting in 1999. One reason to address it now is that I only get to write one column a month and just never got to it. Another reason is that real trials are taking place now in the U.S. Perhaps most importantly, the cable vendors themselves are actually talking about voice over cable, showing that it works and that it can potentially increase their revenues. For instance, the Web site of ComCast (my cable service provider) includes press releases detailing their plans for deploying VoIP line service, including the vendors they�ve picked for architectural components for their system architecture.

Another reason to talk about voice over cable now is because the networks can now support the DOCSIS 1.1 (Data over Cable Service Interface Spec) network required to handle voice in the cable network. Something that is theoretically possible but practically impossible is not possible. But with the network ready, voice over cable has become possible.

Another reason is because of the availability of cable modems. With many employees (including myself) using cable modems for broadband VPN connection to work from their homes, cable is already widely available for more than just TV programming.

If you use cable for both TV/media and data, and it�s already wired in your house and, more importantly, to your house (another differentiator from DSL, since the complex installation of DSL and then voice over DSL became a big contributor to DSL�s downfall), why not use cable for voice? While cable providers will probably promote voice over cable as the primary telephone line to your home, I doubt this scenario is close to becoming reality. What I see is an opportunity for people already using cable modems to connect to their work environment without the hassle and expense of a second telephone line.

You could gain another benefit from voice over cable if your company uses an IP or IP-enabled PBX by putting an IP phone in your home office. This phone could act as if it were at the company site, offering three- or four-digit dialing, conference calling using the feature phone buttons, the ability to forward voice mails, and access to other features. Callers would just think you were holed up in your cube without realizing you weren�t physically on site. Yes, there are some barriers to overcome to make this work (for example, your company IT department would need to support it). But it�s definitely possible.

Even without this benefit, cable is already established in most households, and voice over cable is working today. So just remember, use this column wisely. After all, this time I could very well be right.

Jim Machi is director, Product Management for the Network Processing Division of the Intel Communications Group. Intel, the world�s largest chipmaker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking, and communications products. For more information, visit www.intel.com.

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