Videotron’s new weapon in the war against Bell

Videotron has become the first North American cable company to deploy Nortel’s SIP-based softphone solution, which the telecommunications manufacturer says offers better quality of service than traditional wireline providers can offer.

The Quebec cableco was scheduled to begin its Softphone service Oct. 31, initially to residential customers. However, next week it will start a small test of service tailored for SOHO business users to find out if they want, and are willing to pay for, extra features.

Service for them will start in January.

“We’re not aiming at a very techie crowd,” Isabelle Dessureault, Videotron’s vice-president of corporate affairs, said of the service, built around Nortel’s PC client software.

Initial targets will be the 900,000 Quebecers who subscribe to the company’s cable telephony service.

Among those targeted are snowbirds who have a broadband connection in their Florida homes and want to save on calls back to Quebec (long distance fees apply only to calls outside Montreal), and college students who have a cellphone but don’t have a landline.

It will be priced at $19.95 a month for those who already subscribe to Videotron’s cable telephony service, $26.95 a month for those who subscribe to the provider’s Internet service and either its cable TV or cellphone offerings, or $29.95 for those who subscribe only to cable Internet.

For that users will get the softphone plus access to a Web portal where they can customize their call manager for a range of features, including call display, voicemail, call forwarding, call screening, running a four-person conference call, video calls and the ability to ring multiple phones based on the time of day or the incoming call. However, initially only PCs running WindowsXP and Service Pack 2 can use the service.

Dessureault said that, depending on the results of the test, business users would have the additional ability to send files through the softphone application, instant messaging and online presence detection.

The service is powered by a combination of an upgraded Nortel Communications Server 2000 and Camiant Inc.’s Policy Server, which assures quality of service by meeting the PacketCable MultiMedia protocol.

According to Rob Hughes, Nortel’s senior cable and multiple service offering marketing manager, Videotron has been using the Communications Server 2000 for about a year to run its telephony service. To give it the multimedia capabilities it was upgraded to handle SIP lines. The Videotron installation is the first time a SIP-enabled CS2000 has been gone live in North America, he said. Combined with the Camiant server “that’s really going to help the cable companies compete against telcos by providing superior quality of service to what you get in, say, DSL,” Hughes said.

Nortel configured the Videotron system to give business users many options, he said. “It’s more than just voice,” he said of the Nortel solution. “It’s about adding multimedia to enrich the user experience.”

Amit Kaminer, an analyst with the SeaBoard Group said a softphone product is a great compliment to any service provider’s arsenal of VoIP products. “It better integrates your address book and e-mail. But the main advantage is the ability to cut wireless roaming fees.”

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