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The Telco IP-based Triple Play: Leapfrogging The Cable MSOs?



The telco triple play the delivery of voice, data, and video services over a common network infrastructure has become the rallying cry of an industry under assault from multiple fronts. Indeed, with their POTS revenue at risk from upstart VoIP providers and Cable MSOs with their VoCable offerings, and DSL uptake significantly trailing cable broadband, the RBOCs and the majority of local, independent telcos are rapidly facing their moment of truth: either upgrade their network infrastructure and expand service offerings or endure a slow and steady contraction of their subscriber base and revenue streams.

With the lines drawn in the battle, the strategy is clear: Telcos must add their own video services including video telephony, broadcast video, and video-on-demand to their current voice and data offerings in order to effectively compete in todays marketplace. To highlight the growing threat, consider that broadband cable providers have taken more than 38 percent of the broadband Internet market and 2.2 percent of the local telco market, according to industry sources, and this trend is expected to grow dramatically if left unchecked. In Omaha, Nebraska, the number one telephony provider today is Cox Communications, the citys leading cable MSO.

Different Paths, Same Destination

The big four RBOCs Verizon, SBC, BellSouth and Qwest are all devising different network architectures to deliver the triple-play service bundle. For example, while Verizon seems to be favoring Fiber to the Home (FTTH), the other RBOCs are focusing primarily on Fiber to the Node (FTTN), with new DSL-based delivery mechanisms that will allow them to leverage their existing DSLAMs and copper-based local loops, while reserving FTTH for mostly Greenfield deployments.

A FTTH triple-play architecture with fiber traveling all the way to subscribers households offers virtually unlimited bandwidth. In contrast, FTTN architecture employs fiber up to the local loop distribution point. From that point on, the service would run over copper loops to the subscriber using DSL. The advantages of this approach are that it leverages the copper infrastructure as well as the telcos sizeable investment in DSL technology. The downside is that copper local loops cant support anywhere near the same bandwidth as fiber.

The challenge for the telcos then, even with new, more efficient digital video-encoding algorithms like MPEG-4, and new higher-capacity flavors of DSL such as ADSL2+, VDSL, and VDSL2, is that there will still be a need for even greater capacity, considering that their infrastructure will have to support not only a multitude of standard and high-def video channels, but also broadband Internet and voice.

The Promise Of True IP-Based Triple Play

To solve this dilemma, IP is emerging as the telcos most potent weapon in their technology arsenal. Indeed, by leveraging existing Ethernet and packet-based technologies, telcos can efficiently deliver a triple-play service bundle over their existing DSL connections in a highly flexible and cost-effective manner.

From a network equipment perspective, we are seeing the arrival to market of a host of new, IP-centric products that essentially form the puzzle pieces for a complete migration from a circuit-switched to packet-based network infrastructure. Products such as softswitches for voice services, digital head-ends for IP video, and broadband loop carrier systems are all serving to enable the convergence of voice, data, and video on a single access network infrastructure. From a services perspective, an array of IP-based applications are also available, including VoIP, Internet access, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other data services, video telephony, and conferencing, and broadcast video (IP TV) and video-on-demand.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the triple-play for telcos is the ability for them to provide a host of new enhanced services and applications that would have been impossible for them to offer before over their relatively low speed, inflexible legacy network infrastructures. Not only will a true IP triple-play allow telcos to enter the entertainment marketplace with video on-demand and IPTV, but the integration and bandwidth improvements will also help facilitate and promote a host of new and unique services, including video phone and video mail, e-learning, medical alerts, and SMS alerts on mobile devices of incoming calls to the home phone.

Indeed, the potential even exists for telcos to be able to leapfrog over cable MSOs and satellite providers in the race to provide the most advanced service bundle in the marketplace. IT

Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, which offers an array of services to the IP telephony industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 24 years. For more information, call RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail [email protected]

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