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Facing Dumb Pipe Fears

5:45 PM -- Neil Cox is one of those rare telco executives who don't blanch at the terms "dump pipe" or "network neutrality."

As far as Cox and Qwest are concerned, the more the merrier where over-the-top video providers and other advanced applications developers are concerned.

“We welcome the entrepreneurs who come up with the next-generation of applications,” Cox says.

Those who wonder where Qwest will make its money might consider some of what is running through Cox’s mind on that topic...

1) Qwest @ Ease: Qwest currently provides only wireless modems into the home, and it's introducing new packaging to make self-installs even simpler. Realizing that many consumer devices including Blue-Ray HD players and TVs, now come with wireless capabilities, Qwest will soon offer customers a new level of management and support for wireless in-home networks, at levels that vary in cost.

“Customers get frustrated,” Cox says. “We sell them a 40-megabit service that may outpace the ability of their equipment or of the Web sites they are using.” Advanced trouble-shooting can address that frustration.

2) New levels of in-home networking: Wired connections from Qwest’s wireless router in the home to the new set-top boxes of its video partner, DirecTV, via an Ethernet port, will make the set-top the heart and brains of an in-home network, according to Cox. In addition the DirecTV set-tops have a terabyte of storage, and can be the platform for new applications, via an app store. One idea: a traffic widget that gives instant access, not only to traffic flow information, but to the Webcams posted along major roads -- funded by changing ads superimposed on billboards and visible only to the Webcam viewers.

3) Home security, redux: Cox once headed a company called Ameritech SecurityLink, which was Ameritech’s venture into the home security business. When SBC Communications bought Ameritech, it sold off SecurityLink. With a small amount of software and development work on the set-top box and the network, and addition of a dirt-cheap Web camera, a nanny-cam or front-door cam service can be set up for viewing online via a broadband portal or via recording onto the DVR.

4) Smart grid, version 2: While with Ameritech, Cox also built the first smart grid, working with Wisconsin Electric. “What we did wouldn’t work today." What does work, Cox believes, is two-way communication between the remote energy management devices in the home and the utility company, using broadband-over-powerline technology to bring the signal out of the house to a point in a neighborhood where it is then consolidated onto a virtual private network on Qwest’s broadband infrastructure, which the utility company can control. The smart grid would enable power companies to control usage during peak times in ways largely unnoticed by consumers but effective in balancing power loads, Cox says. “What makes the most sense is to use the broadband network we already have." Using BPL rather than a DSL service or cable modem insures the customer has connectivity. Qwest is already trialing this with Excel in Boulder, Colo.

5) Provisioning, maintenance, billing: Qwest is already at work looking at how these core competencies can be monetized, Cox notes, and is even talking with certain industry verticals (think healthcare) about different ways to partner and move their applications into the network cloud.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading
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