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RealTime IT News

Nortel Notches Charter VoIP Deal

By: Ron Miller

Nortel Networks extended its relationship with cable provider Charter Communications this week in a new deal to provide softswitch equipment.

The agreement announced Tuesday covers Charter's Midwest and Great Lakes operating divisions and builds on a December 2002 joint partnership between the two companies.

In-Stat/MDR's Norm Bogen told internetnews.com the partnership is the culmination of a long testing period between the two companies.

"Charter has been in trial with Nortel for quite a while. Now they are just saying, we've tested it and we're ready to go with softswitch-based telephony services," Bogen said.

The deal comes against a backdrop of a growing demand for voice over the Internet -- also known as VoIP -- which continues to drive the softswitch market.

In a recent report, analysts at In-Stat/MDR, predicted explosive growth through 2008 in the softswitch market, although they predicated this growth on the continuing demand for commercial VoIP service.

"This is part and parcel of the growth in that market," Bogen said.

Elaine Smiles, director of cable marketing at Nortel, says Charter is moving into new territory with this agreement.

"What's unique is about this is Charter's intention to use SIP (session initiation protocol) to provide multimedia services to customers," Smiles said.

As part of the arrangement, which is still subject to the two parties signing a definitive contract, Charter plans to purchase the Nortel Succession Communication Server (CS) 2000 softswitches to run their voice over IP network in the new locations.

The two companies said they also plan to deploy Nortel Networks Multimedia Communication Server (MCS) 5200 in a 2004 market trial, which according to In-Stat/MDR's Bogen will allow Charter to deploy more advanced telephony applications and give them an edge in the increasingly competitive telephony market.

"I think until recently, maybe the middle of last year, a lot of people buying VoIP were doing it to reduce cost and that only takes you so far. What's happened is that traditional long distance has come to down to compete with VoIP. The cost difference is so little, that it's enhanced features will drive consumers to move to VoIP and that's exactly what this about," Bogen told internetnews.com.

Charter's Wayne Davis, senior vice president, engineering and technical operations, certainly sees the deal as a way to expand the company's cable business into the growing telephony market and the new network equipment allows them to deliver advanced products and services over cable.

"Nortel Networks has played a strategic role in our packet network transformation, delivering a cable voice over IP solution that is very robust and mature. Their extensive knowledge of cable telephony, together with a strong background in services and professional support, has enabled us to aggressively enter and compete in the telephony market," Davis said.

Nortel's Elaine Smiles says that among the advanced services that Charter will be able to offer running the combination of Nortel servers include video conferencing, video calling, integrated instant messaging, a PC- or Web-based client that lets the customers manage all of their calls along with an advanced call routing service that enables customers to define exactly how to route calls.

For example, if the customer has a summer cottage, they can set up a call list of friends to route to the cottage, and all other callers are routed to voice mail.