VoIP the default for Optus HFC customers

VoIP the default for Optus HFC customers

Summary: Customers of Optus' hybrid fibre-coax (HFC) network who sign up for new home phone services are being given Voice over IP (VoIP) services rather than conventional circuit-switched land lines, the company has admitted — but prices have not been lowered in line with other commercial VoIP services.

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Customers of Optus' hybrid fibre-coax (HFC) network who sign up for new home phone services are being given Voice over IP (VoIP) services rather than conventional circuit-switched land lines, the company has admitted — but prices have not been lowered in line with other commercial VoIP services.

VoIP, which began replacing conventional circuit-based telephony services last year, has become the default phone service for "limited customer numbers" and will be progressively rolled out to the more than 520,000 customers on Optus' HFC network, an Optus spokesperson confirmed to ZDNet.com.au. "We do still have a large circuit-switched base, but we're focused on growing our product suite around VoIP," the spokesperson added. "It's more in line with our transport strategy, simplifies service delivery, and reduces the total cost of the network."

While Optus' costs for delivering home-phone services may have dropped, the company has not been not passing those savings on to its customers. Its recent Home Starter Cap Plan, for example, provides $50 worth of standard calls — but prices those calls well above market rates. Local calls cost 30c per call, national calls cost 40c per 30 seconds (plus a 35c flagfall), calls to Australian mobiles cost 40c per 30 seconds, and international calls are 18c per minute to the UK, Canada, USA, NZ, and Ireland.

By contrast, Internode, an ISP which like many ISPs offers VoIP services over 'naked' phone services that don't require a separate line rental, also charges $29.95 for its NodeLine Home service but offers 18c local calls, national calls at 15c per minute with no flagfall, and calls to mobiles at 29c per minute with no flagfall. And that's over a conventional landline service.

Internode's NodePhone VoIP service costs from $5 to $20 per month (a hardware-subsidised $0 plan is also available); rates include 18c untimed local and national calls, 29c per minute to mobiles, and international calls to the UK/Canada/USA/NZ/Ireland and other countries from 5c per minute.

Engin, which offers VoIP services that run over other ISPs' connections, charges just $9.95 per month for a 'starter' service that includes 10c untimed local and national calls, 27c per minute calls to mobiles, and international rates starting at 1.9c per minute.

That makes Optus' VoIP service nearly three times as expensive for calls to mobiles, three times as expensive for line rental, and six times more expensive than Internode for national calls, for example. Optus' VoIP customers are even paying more than twice as much as users of Telstra's conventional Homeline service, which offers 18c local calls, $2 capped national calls, and calls to mobiles at 18.5c per 30 seconds on its $29.95 monthly plan.

Telstra has remained adamant that it would not use VoIP to deliver Homeline services. "For years VoIP enthusiasts have been predicting this technology will take off in mainstream Australia, but that claim is still far from reality," a spokesperson told ZDNet.com.au. "Australians know that their home phone is reliable with fewer dropped calls or fuzzy lines; their home phone will know their location in an emergency call to triple zero, and a wall mounted phone will work during a blackout. The reliability and simplicity of the home phone is unmatched by VoIP."

The Optus spokesperson acknowledged these perceived issues but said the solution "is carrier grade" and had been thoroughly tested for reliability, and that 000 functionality worked as on a conventional landline because the VoIP calls are handled entirely on Optus' network and interface with the same call-termination systems as its circuit-switched calls.

While Optus has gone to lengths to hide its use of VoIP — the term does not appear anywhere in the literature for its Home Phone service and Optus spokespeople were surprised that ZDNet.com.au was aware of its use of VoIP — the company has addressed the fact that VoIP requires continuous power and may provide non-continuous service in the small print on its product pages.

"Some customers on the Optus cable network will be supplied with equipment which requires mains and power back up," the company said on its site. "Please let us know if you are a customer with a serious illness or life threatening condition, if you require disability services, if you have a back-to-base home alarm system or if you require an uninterrupted telephone line."

Topics: Telcos, Unified Comms, Optus

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Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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16 comments
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  • The funny thing is its all VoIP behind the scenes anyway. Optus are a disgrace and i'm sure Telstra are jealous they didnt try doing the same thing and get away with it. This is a clear message to people to investigate VoIP if they make any kind of voice calls with the exception of emergency calls. Checkout mynetfone. If you pay more than a few dollars a month for phone calls your probably being ripped off.
    nissy-2f939
  • Optus' HFC has always carried voice calls digitally, hasn't it? I suspect doing it this way, even if it's not "true" VoIP, would be a lot cheaper for them than the Telstra copper used by everyone else; Optus wouldn't do voice over HFC if it wasn't cost effective.
    We've been getting ripped off for years.
    anonymous
  • Try getting Telstra to admit the telephone service on Velocity FTTH is VoIP with a glorified ATA in the ONT. Theres no other way to do it with FTTH....
    mcbridematt
  • Of course there are many cheaper voip providers where you don't pay anything per month and only pay say 8 cents per call. Just visit
    http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum/107 for some ideas.
    pgt2803
  • Optus is playing with VoIP because despite their 1950's telco mentality, they do realise that VoIP is the only option going forward.
    For example 4 Gen mobile networks do not have a voice domain. Meaning they are data only. Any voice traffic will be over IP one way or another.
    They're dabbling with it at the moment. Beta testing on live services if you will.

    You should check out their Totality and IPPremier products too.

    IPPremier:
    http://smb.optus.com.au/web/ocaportal.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=Template_woRHS&FP=/smallbusiness/telephony/phonesystems/optusipphone&site=smallbusiness

    In reality though, voice traffic has been bundled over ISDN and DSL for decades.
    There's no amazing difference between Voice over ATM protocol over DSL signal and Voice over Internet protocol over HFC or DSL signal.

    I suggest you check out the rental costs for a 10 channel ISDN service, or a 6 line DSL service. Line rental charges are about on par with what you'd expect.

    Optus' products for these are called Multiline and Directline. They require a device similar to an ATA - in that it translates packets to POTS, and they also require battery backups. No one has ever worried about their kids school suffering a 000 outage because of a power failure, or misreported location.

    Ultimately VoIP makes sense. But VoDSL and VoISDN also made sense. They're not that different.

    Mcbridematt makes a fair point. Telstra may not be using IP, but as I have described, there's not much difference between ATM, and VoIP anyhow. A protocol is a protocol. It's like talking French and Chinese. It's still talking.
    myne-819b4
  • Poor research effort David: the NodeLine Home service you mention is NOT a VoIP service, it is a normal landline supplied via Telstra Wholesale, and is not something that a naked adsl user would be using.

    Customers using a naked adsl service would instead use the "NodePhone" service, which has callrates of 18c per local or national call (untimed) and 29c per minute to mobiles. Full details are available here: http://www.internode.on.net/residential/home_phone/nodephone
    mcal-dff78
  • Fair crack of the whip mcal. You are right about the mixup between NodeLine and NodePhone (there is also NodeMobile) but with so many Nodes flying around, you shouldnt be too hard on David for getting it wrong. Correctness aside, NodePhone (the VOIP product from Internode) is reliable and fantastic value, and has my extended family support!!
    jeffrey_brenton
  • Hey,

    The reason Optus has switched to VoIP for last mile [it still integrates to the network beyond the switch as a normal call - unlike VoIP only networks usually do] is because of and End Of Life issue. No-one manufactures the Optus CAU [Cable Access Units] anymore. And since the success of Fusion products in reducing churn they have had a dwindling supply or rebirthed units.

    As they had already built the infrastructure for IP telephony for the SMB product then it became and easy fit to switch to eMTA [cable modem and ATA combined] for there next gen cable units.

    They are using it as there next technology generation for voice on cable becuase they needed a new one. It will however, be a great benefit when they move to NBN supplied lines.

    Kent
    kenta-bbfff
  • The VoIP Optus provides is not the same as VoIP from other providers though, it has QOS and is only from the handset to the node, from there it's like a normal telephone call. Comparing it to a VoIP service that runs over the data channel of your internet connection is not a valid comparison.

    The pricing side of the discussion I'll leave alone though.
    Tezmyster
  • I understand why Optus want to share the fibre with an Internet Cable Modem node using a SIP channel, as it saves them money and resources on the cable network. What I don't understand is why they continue to charge a monthly service fee for "line rental" when the line is no longer a dedicated line, as it is shared with the Internet conneciton. The telephone service will only work when you have power, and when your Internet connection is online. In true Optus fashion, the firmware on the modem cannot be reconfigured to use another SIP provider. My advice is, don't sign up to their phone service at their prices... if you want a SIP telephone service, there are many cheaper options.
    phillbo-e06cd
  • People have to understand there is a difference between Voice over internet (Engin and skype) and Voice over IP - Business Grade. I have used this service on Optus XYZ exchanges, it has full QOS between you and exchange and at exchange it connects back into phone network and is as high a quality as ISDN line I have used in the past.
    brucemills
  • Actually Bruce in the article David got it wrong on the product Internode is providing as well. Here's an email I sent to the editor at ZDNet earlier, I'm not expecting a response.

    "Greetings,

    Is it possible David could do a little research before he posted garbage such as this?

    1/ The Optus VoIP service is not a VoIP service in the way he is defining it, it is a VoIP service purely from the handset to the node, over a dedicated channel with QOS, and from there it travels like any other normal phone service via the switched network. And provided support is just like a normal phone service. ie. From the user perspective there is no difference between it and a normal PSTN.

    2/ The Internode VoIP phone service (NodeLine) is not VoIP but rather uses Telstra PSTN. It even says that on the Internode website ( http://www.internode.on.net/residential/home_phone/nodeline/features/ ). As such it has the same support as Telstra's standard fixed line services (except at whatever SLA Internode has with them).

    3/ Engin is purely over your internet connection, has no QOS, no guaranteed service, and suffers from any potential issues across the wider internet including issues outside of your ISP. Support for this service is more restricted due to the external issues that can occur. The trade of course being the cheaper price.

    To put it simply comparing these 3 products as bluntly as David did is completely false and misleading.

    I've been reading David's articles for a while now and this is not the first time hes been so far off the mark, I'm honestly shocked he's still on staff.

    Regards"
    Tezmyster
  • This is old news. I set up an Optus Cable service at my brother in law's house last year and noticed that he was given a VoIP service straight away. The fact that the telephone had to plug in to the cable modem and the cable modem had a battery gave it away.
    anon2010-f059d
  • If they provide 000 calls, localised number support and work in a blackout who cares? (I dont know the optus product to say if they do or dont, just saying). Telcos all around the world are looking into replacing switched networks with IP networks. And if/when they do it, whether or not they will reduce pricing in line with savings is a commercial matter. If competition is sufficient, someone always lowers prices when they can.
    xBeanie
  • Hello Mcal,

    Thanks for pointing that out. David has now referred to the NodePhone service.

    Regards,

    Suzanne Tindal
    News Editor, ZDNet.com.au
    stindal
  • Total garbage article.
    Optus have been supplying phone services over HFC since the day they rolled out the cable. The change to connecting the handset directly to the modem did occur due to the outside boxes being no longer available but all it means is it is now VOIP from the handset instead of VOIP from the box on the wall of your house. It actually works worse than it used to as the call quality and QOS is now handled by the modem and most of the cheap crap supplied by Optus struggles to do the job. An upload speed test will now cause my phone to go silent on the upstream and I can no longer send faxes using the services as it simply cannot handle it. Aggree with the part about outrageous call costs but the rest of the article is un-researched bull.
    Ninja-1064f