Cable Moves on the Commercial Front

Carl Weinschenk
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The cable industry, which is holding its annual conference this week in Chicago, is a real success story during the past quarter century. Here's the proof: Oprah is headlining the opening general session.

The industry, as all big businesses do, faces significant challenges. During the past year or so, the biggest challenge has been cord cutting. Some folks are leaving or downgrading their cable services for Verizon's FiOS or AT&T's U-verse. Others have been picking their programming "over the top" from the Internet.

But the sense is that the industry is compensating for these losses through gains in phone and data services. In a way, it is the best of both worlds: The industry is successfully pivoting away from its video-only roots, becoming better rounded and increasing revenues. The industry also is showing signs of becoming more aggressive in an area that has long been a wildcard. To date, the cable industry's forays into commercial services have been based on its residential platform. The low-hanging fruit - small businesses and small office/home offices - were sufficient.

Lately, however, the industry has set its sights a bit higher. In the shorter term, the industry - and, in particular, its CableLabs R&D consortium - was instrumental in writing the next version of a recommendation, SIPconnect 1.1, which will be important in attracting larger businesses.

The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a key VoIP protocol. The SIP Forum, another consortium, created SIPconnect in 2008. It's a "recommendation," or set of guidelines, aimed at simplifying SIP trunking, which is the carriage of voluminous SIP-based VoIP calls from one location - such as a medium-sized business - to another. SIPconnect 1.1, which is aimed at refining that recommendation, was approved in March and announced last month.

SIP trunking and SIPconnect are aimed at medium and larger businesses. The industry so far has not taken on the carriers in going after large enterprises. That is a longer term goal that will be served by another initiative, DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE). Essentially, the standard is designed to enable operators to use their Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification to work on Ethernet-based optical networks. In short, it's an attempt to position cable operators to eventually go after bigger businesses and enterprises.

The cable industry has long been on the periphery of business services. As their traditional business recedes, these two initiatives - SIPconnect 1.1 and DPoE - position them to replace some of that revenue.

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