Cable Moves to SIPconnect 1.1

The growth of cable's commercial voice services revenue has been a long-term money maker for the industry. It has not, however, been the gold mine that many observers predicted a decade ago.

To date, much commercial services revenue has been generated by adopting the industry's basic residential infrastructure. That approach garners a great deal of business from the low-hanging fruit of small businesses and SOHOs sprinkled throughout an operator's residential area. It tends to leave a lot of money on the table, however, in the form of businesses seeking the broader array of services traditionally available from telephone companies.

Gradually, the industry is taking aim at providing this fuller menu of services. The immediate goal is not to take on the established telephone companies at the full blown enterprise level. Instead, the new sweet spot can most easily be short-handed as the "medium" in the small- and medium-size business (SMB) continuum.

The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a key enabler. "While [cable operators'] initial enterprise focus was on the SOHO market, they are beginning to actively build the product, sales and services required to address the SMB and even large enterprise markets," wrote Curtis Hartmann, BroadSoft's senior director of product marketing, in response to emailed questions. "SIP trunking represents a key building block to implement this strategy, providing both an entry point into the enterprise as well as a foundation for unified communications services."

Cable operators are lucky. The desire to go after somewhat larger businesses with more sophisticated offerings is happening in parallel with the ongoing telecom industry transition from older TDM systems to IP-based systems. Operators, unencumbered by huge amounts of TDM infrastructure, can implement IP-based approaches largely without stranding previous investment or getting bogged down in complex migration scenarios, at least on the service provider side.

Connecting with SIP

A key element of the move to offer business voice services is SIP trunking, which is the use of IP networks to ferry traffic from the end user's premises to the cable facility. From there, traffic can be dispatched to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), Internet and other IP-based networks' points of presence, other business networks -- in the case, for instance, of private line connections linking multiple locations of a company campus -- or elsewhere.

SIP trunking, of course, is complex. In January 2008, the SIP Forum, an industry consortium, introduced SIPconnect 1.0, a set of guidelines or suggestions designed to simplify service provider implementation and management of SIP. A new iteration of SIPconnect -- SIPconnect 1.1 -- was approved in March and announced last month. Observers say that CableLabs was very influential in the writing of the new version.

SIPconnect, like much of the roiling world of telecommunications standards, is a work in progress. "SIPconnect 1.0 started from the premise of, 'Let's get dial tone, the most basic element of making a call through a SIP trunk work,'" explains Marc Robins, SIP Forum's managing director. "SIPconnect 1.1 is a progression in terms of filling in some of the gray areas and creating clarity on a number of issues like security and creating a roadmap for other elements."

SIPconnect 1.1, wrote Hartmann, builds on the first iteration of the protocol by, among other things, defining how supplemental services -- call forward, call transfer and others -- work in SIP trunks, clarifying subscriber/PBX addressing issues and laying out internetworking between elements in the system.

SIPconnect is not a specification or protocol itself. Rather, it is a "recommendation" -- a set of guidelines -- designed to enable service providers, including cable operators, to more efficiently implement SIP. SIPconnect 1.1 is a continuation of that process. "I would say that [SIPconnect 1.1] is more on the order of refinements," says Vince Connors, the product line manager for enterprise media gateways and session border controllers for Dialogic. "It is more evolutionary than revolutionary. [Version] 1.0 laid the groundwork for 1.1 and tightens up the 'loopholes.'"

A key element of any technology change is the reality that it will not be implemented in a pristine environment. The end user landscape now is a mix of new IP and legacy TDM PBXes, notes Glenn Russell, CableLabs' vice president of business services. SIPconnect 1.1 can help deal with the confusion. "There are a lot of variants out there," he observes. "We wanted one common standard on how you connect to the network."

Cable operators need to pick and choose their spots in the commercial services game. Despite the fact that they have been serving businesses for years, they haven't established themselves as the equal of the big telco incumbents. Aggressive moves in SIP trunking -- including the adoption of SIPconnect 1.1 -- is a key step in closing the gap, explains Ashish Jain, Genband's director of product marketing.

Cable operators have long offered residential voice services, of course, and a certain level of these services to businesses. SIPconnect 1.1 is a means of increasing the reliability, flexibility and ease of service to businesses. "I think it is very, very important," Jain says.

Carl Weinschenk is the senior editor for Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at

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