Videotron lays groundwork for next-gen multimedia

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 on Monday said it had chosen Nortel Networks to provide its Communication Server (CS) 2000-Compact softswitches as well as the Nuera BTX 4000 media gateway. The products will be used to offer 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 multiplex (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 . . . From a technology perspective, (the TDM-IP hybrid service) was working fine.”

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.

“There are some customer who are interested in next-generation service and some customers that won’t be interested,” he said. “We want to pursue (the market) with both technologies for the time being.”

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 subscriber information. The tipping point for moving from TDM to VoIP could include many factors, she added, such as ease of deployment or extending their reach.

“There are some that are wait for customer premise equipment to fail, or for customer churn,” she said.

While the expectations for next-generation services may be high, Smiles said the introduction of PackeCable multimedia architecture is giving operators options on how to handle quality of service. A policy server could establish a standard of service based on the user or by the application to meet various needs.

“They could have a gold, silver and bronze gaming package,” she said, “where if they get the gold package (the operator) could guarantee bandwidth.”

Videotron already has an optical SONET network based on Nortel products that provides IP voice transport and business services. Proulx said the softswitch product rollout should be complete by the end of the year.

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