Qwest to turn up WiMAX, consumer VOIP

Qwest next year will roll out consumer VOIP nationwide and turn up a WiMAX wireless broadband service, according to CTO Balan Nair.

Nair spoke to Network World at this week’s Telecom ’05 conference in Las Vegas.

Qwest currently offers consumer VOIP in select cities in its 14-state territory. Next year’s nationwide expansion will mirror what the carrier currently offers businesses with its OneFlex hosted and Integrated Access services.

“Once you build a product for business VOIP, VOIP is VOIP – it doesn’t matter if it’s consumer or business,” Nair says.

The number of business VOIP users for Qwest’s service is in the “five figures,” Nair says, and Qwest logs 3 billion VOIP minutes per month across its backbone. He did not know the number of consumer users within Qwest’s 14-state region.

For WiMAX, Qwest is currently conducting a trial in northern Denver but again Nair did not have figures on the number of trial customers. The service runs in the 3.5-GHz band of the radio spectrum.

Qwest is streaming video over the WiMAX network. Real-time video stretches the limits of the shared bandwidth architecture of WiMAX, he says.

“You need much better compression schemes to make real-time video work,” Nair says.

In any event, “If you want to be in the consumer business, you’ve got to have video,” he says. And Qwest does.

Unlike the other RBOCs, Qwest has been quiet on its video and its fiber-to-the-neighborhood/node/premises/curb activities. But the carrier offers Qwest Choice digital TV to 54,000 subscribers on its copper VDSL loops 4,000 feet from its fiber facilities.

The service offers speeds of 26M bit/sec downstream and 3M bit/sec upstream. For homes that are already built, Qwest utilizes FTTN, but for new developments “where the trenches are open,” Qwest will run fiber right to the premises, Nair says.

Qwest Choice also typifies where Qwest is going with its IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) strategy. The service integrates video, Internet access and telephony, enabling, for example, integrated calling features like Caller ID and voicemail.

“We have an IMS strategy, and we’ve started to implement bits and pieces of it,” Nair says. “Your seeing us now building features that Web-enable and control features on your (ordinary) black phone. So your black phone now gets all the features of the Web that looks like VOIP.”

The true voice/data/video/wireless/wireline integration that IMS promises, however, depends on SIP-enabled endpoints, Nair says.

“The first phase of our implementation is really to tie the features that SIP would bring to existing black phones,” he says. “In addition to that, we’re building other features that will also be integrated into our video offering. You’ll be able to go into the call log and just click a name and dial the number back. You’ll be able to check your voicemail.”

Qwest expects to roll out this IMS-based video integration to business customers in the first half of next year.

And though he wouldn’t comment specifically on the pending mergers of SBC and AT&T, and Verizon and MCI, Nair believes Qwest is ready to meet this new level of competition for enterprise customers.

“We certainly feel that the portfolio that we have and the nationwide backbone that we have is a very good value proposition for our customers.”

Nair also would not comment on reports that Qwest is considering acquiring XO Communications to extend that portfolio, but he said the weather in Reston, Va. (where XO is located) is “very good.”

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