Comcast Tries Voice IP

Mar 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Comcast plans to roll out its first voice over IP trial in early April, in Coatesville, Pa., an area west of Philadelphia that will serve as Comcast’s proving ground for IP telephony and as a bellwether for the cable industry. The nation’s largest cable operator formalized the details of its test at a CableLabs conference in Boulder, Colo., recently.
As the new industry leader, Comcast’s moves are closely watched by other cable operators, said Amy Harris, an analyst with IDC. “This is significant because it’s the biggest one and because it’s the largest operator, and it’s primary line service,” she said. Most MSOs want to migrate their telephony service to IP telephony because it’s cheaper for operators than circuit-switched telephony.
Comcast laid the groundwork over the past few months by enlisting 75 “friendlies” for the technical trial being served from one headend in Coatesville. Comcast will expand the trial in early April to about 300 to 500 friendlies in the greater Coatesville area, serving 180,000 homes passed from five headends, said Sam Chernak, VP, voice over IP, Comcast.
To do that, the operator will cut a voice over IP fiber ring around Coatesville to extend the service. At the same time Comcast will test different voice over IP architectures in its labs in Moorstown, N.J. The next 100 days should yield information that will help determine Comcast’s long-term strategy for IP telephony. “If this thing really works, this has the potential to be a super-platform,” Mr. Chernak said. “We want to get this right.”
The goal is to minimize the incremental cost of introducing the service. The way to do that is to layer the IP voice network onto the existing high-speed Internet network and to piggyback onto the back office infrastructure for high-speed Internet, he said. “You really start to see efficiencies and benefits when you have an integrated voice and data plant,” he said.
The initial trial will use, however, a separate voice-overlay network. As the trial expands over the next six months, the networks will be meshed. “We’re hoping as the months roll by that we can achieve an integration of voice and data. That’s where we see very compelling economics,” Mr. Chernak said.
The ability to leverage the infrastructure makes this trial attractive, said Danny Klein, an analyst with the Yankee Group. “If it works in Coatesville, they could copy and paste it into other markets,” he said. “Everyone is looking toward [Comcast] to see how the cable leader is approaching voice in general. It would be a win win situation all around when and if it’s successful.”