Videotron is laying the foundation for next-generation multimedia services such as video calling and unified messaging as it expands the reach of its voice over IP offering in Quebec.

The Montreal-based firm has chosen Nortel Network Corp.’s Communication Server (CS) 2000-Compact soft switches and Nuera BTX 4000 media gateway to support VoIP beyond the initial service Videotron launched in January of last year, which was primarily aimed at Montreal, Quebec City and Chicoutimi.

Videotron’s original service, which the company says has attracted about 300,000 customers so far, is based on a mixture of time division multiplexing (TDM) switches and Internet protocol-based equipment. The Nortel gear will create a more “pure” VoIP service that will pave the way for more advanced features, said Videotron senior vice-president of engineering Daniel Proulx.

“The soft phone would be mostly an add-on to position ourselves for the future,” he said. “The coverage will be about the same as we have with the hybrid solution.”

Nortel director of cable marketing Elaine Smiles said Videotron is among the few cable operators to have chosen a hybrid system. The softswitch approach, on the other hand, can terminate data traffic much less expensively than through TDM, according to Smiles.

“It’s just an easier network to run,” she said. “You’re integrating voice and data services in a way you couldn’t before because they’re shared over the IP pipe.”

Proulx said that while IMS and other technologies are still in the emerging stage, Videotron wants to be ready to move as quickly as its user base demands it.

Many cable operators are taking steps to ensure they are IMS-ready, Smiles said, whether it is installing a policy server or consolidating voice and data services. The tipping point for moving from TDM to VoIP could include many factors, she added, such as ease of deployment or extending their reach.

While the expectations for next-generation services may be high, Smiles said the introduction of PacketCable multimedia architecture is giving operators options on how to handle quality of service.

Videotron already has a SONET network that provides IP voice transport and business services. Proulx said the softswitch rollout should be complete by the end of the year.

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