Cable Tech

PacketCable 2.0 Adds Business Hooks

CableLabs is working on an extension to the PacketCable 2.0 platform that will give cable operators a uniform way to offer voice services and IP-based applications to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs).

CableLabs has not released a specification on that extension, called Business SIP Services (BSS), but expectations are that it could be defined sometime in 2008, according to PacketCable director Eric Rosenfeld, who presented on the subject today during a CableLabs-sponsored Webinar.

"It's something we're currently investigating," Rosenfeld said.

As outlined, the BSS component would extend the residential cable voice platform to handle traditional business features, such as extension dialing, hunt groups, and call conferencing. It would also add IP-PBX functionality; Web-based provisioning; and support for IP phones, "soft" phones, and other devices that businesses are adding to their communications mix.

These features arrive as cable operators launch or improve services tailored for SMBs. Bresnan Communications LLC recently started such an effort, and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has hired more than 500 people to sell its business products.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts estimated in September that the SMB sector represents a $12 billion to $15 billion opportunity in his firm's footprint, and he has set a goal to grab 20 percent of that market in five to seven years. (See Comcast Speeds Up & Slows Down.)

PacketCable 2.0 is based on IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) Release 7 from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) . Release 7 was "frozen" to new functionality in June, according to Rosenfeld.

The 2.0 version is designed to have "feature parity" with PacketCable 1.x, but also to deliver applications, including voice and video, across different types of physical networks and devices.

In June, for example, CableLabs issued a new spec that defines how voice calls and applications such as call waiting can move seamlessly between cellular and PacketCable networks using dualmode handsets. The R&D house has also incorporated "presence" extensions so the system knows where users are located and how they can be reached. On that front, the CableLabs spec has adopted the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) architecture and interface definitions. (See CableLabs Issues FMC Specs.)

Concerning the timing of PacketCable 2.0, Rosenfeld reiterated that CableLabs held its first PacketCable 2.0 lab event in late August, one of several tests that could lead up to official certification and qualification testing by mid-2008. (See Vendor Visions and CableLabs Hosts PC 2.0.)

"That's certainly the goal we're shooting for," Rosenfeld said -- although the timing for those tests rests largely on vendor readiness.

Recent indications show that MSOs won't be ready for the new architecture anytime soon. Considering the capital investment required for PacketCable 2.0 and questions about the near-term revenue potential for the services that will use it, industry observers and some cable engineers don't see PacketCable 2.0 becoming a reality for at least 18 months. (See The Slow Road to PacketCable 2.0.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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