By Fred Dawson
April 9, 2012 – Amid worldwide attempts to bring TV Everywhere services to market a Caribbean MSO has launched an initiative that introduces multiscreen voice connectivity as the next phase in the service everywhere paradigm.
The ability to offer subscribers access to their fixed cable voice service and all its features via Wi-Fi connectivity wherever they are could help mitigate the impact of leading MSOs’ decisions to move away from mobile service, given investor concerns over the cord-cutting threat posed by mobile. Caribbean operator Columbus Communications’ preparations to launch what might be called a “Voice Everywhere” service come as Standard & Poor’s Rating Services is warning investors that cable operators are not immune from the erosion wireline operators have experienced with fixed voice.
“We expect cable telephone to soon face the same trends facing traditional wireline companies and its growth rate to decline significantly,” says S&P director Naeen Sarma in a recent video blog. While Sarma predicts that in the near term overall EBIDTA margins will continue to improve in U.S. cable “thanks to the growth of high-margin high-speed data and telephone services,” his assertion that cable is “more susceptible to economic cycles” than in the past with expectations for “continued weakness in residential subscriber growth rates” suggests efforts to enhance the value of voice services to subscribers are a good idea, especially as the industry backs away from entering the mobile business.
“There’s real momentum now around multiscreen voice,” says Gemini Waghmare, CEO of UXP Systems, the Toronto-based supplier of the multiscreen voice platform used by Columbus Communications. “It’s a killer app.”
Columbus, based in Barbados with about 450,000 subscribers in Trinidad, Jamaica, Curacao and Grenada, has implemented the Voice Everywhere service in a trial over its 200,000-subscriber Flow Trinidad system, where it plans full commercial launch by May. Terming the service an “industry first,” Rhea Yaw Ching, vice president of sales and marketing at Columbus, says, “Thus far, our market trial has progressed extremely well as we ready for this market launch.”
Waghmare, in a stateside demonstration of the service, shows how a subscriber to Flow Trinidad VoIP can log in and be authenticated over a Wi-Fi connection anywhere to make calls, check for voice mail and look up numbers in the user’s address records. “Our MINT (Multiscreen Interaction) Platform moves service orchestration away from the device to the cloud,” Waghmare says.
By that he means that the UXP software abstracts the multiple functions performed by voice adapters, cable modems and set-top boxes under direction from various operations support systems, including authentication, rendering of user interfaces and implementation of voice and TV service features, and applies them to subscribers’ connected devices wherever they happen to be. Where the Flow Trinidad service is concerned, the MINT platform is integrating with legacy switching, call records, voice mail and billing systems, he says.
“We wanted to solve the single big problem of how to enable multiscreen distribution of all operators’ services without requiring a switch out of legacy systems,” he adds. By doing so, MINT becomes a trans-service multiscreen platform that allows operators to avoid building separate silo’d apps for different service and device categories.
“Some MSOs have three, four, seven different apps for orchestrating service logic on different devices,” he notes. “It’s confusing to users and makes it difficult to sync everything together. Our platform allows operators to offer any service on any screen, which cuts time to market, costs and ongoing maintenance.” If an operator already has TVE service in operation and wants to add the Voice Everywhere capability, the MINT platform can be integrated with the TVE system to create a unified multiscreen service, he adds.
Columbus Communications will be introducing TVE on the UXP system later in the year, marking another industry first with the implementation of trans-service multiscreen offerings from a single platform. This unification brings with it the ability to bring features from one service to another in the multiscreen domain via what Waghmare calls “multithreading,” much as operators currently do with implementation of caller ID and call control mechanisms on the TV screen in the home network environment.
The MINT platform also allows operators to draw from different sources of features within as well as across service domains, such as happens when the Flow Trinidad service brings voice message notices and call record histories onto the tablet or smartphone user interface. “We also perform the transcoding using a number of utilities to allow voice files from voice mail to play on whatever device the subscriber is using,” Waghmare says.
Along with setting out to build a software system that could perform the abstraction and transfer of processes for multiple services to connected devices, UXP also saw a need for a platform that could work with existing billing systems to create an individualized level of subscriber identification to enable multiple users to share access on a device, each with their own access codes and usage profiles.
“Things really get interesting with shared devices,” he says. “To make it possible to personalize accounts on multiscreen services our platform accesses subscription data from the legacy billing system and does many-to-many mapping of information to create the individual accounts. This was the last frontier for our innovations.”
As a result, for example, each subscriber in the household who wants to watch TV programming on the same iPad can be set up by the account administrator with personalized viewing options, limitations on what can be viewed and other features. “I can limit what my five-year-old sees, or, on the phone service, I can prevent him from being able to dial 911,” Waghmare says.
In a demonstration of the TVE service under development at the Trinidad cable system Waghmare calls up a TV program from the Trinidad EPG on his Wi-Fi connected tablet. “This is a QAM-based service that has been transcoded to IP and is being streamed over Elemental’s IP delivery platform to me as an authenticated subscriber who happens to be in the U.S.,” he says.
While UXP has developed a UI template for the video and voice multiscreen services, operators are free to use their own designs, as most prefer to do. In this case the EPG is the Rovi guide used by Flow Trinidad and is being ported to the tablet “in the same way we pull the voice elements from the MINT system,” Waghmare notes.
Along with supporting greater convenience for on-the-go subscribers, the trans-service multiscreen platform provides operators a way to hold onto subscriber revenues when snowbirds and other vacationers would otherwise suspend service while they’re away. “Now these subscribers can take their phone and video service with them,” he says.
Waghmare, with 20 years’ experience in the cable and telecom industries, including a long stint at Amdocs, characterizes himself as the business architect for the firm. A team of software engineers comprising the majority of the company’s 35-person staff handles the design and modification work for the product portfolio.
“We have MINT running in several pilot tests at MSO labs,” he says. “You can expect more announcements in the months ahead.”