ntl:Telewest plans next-generation services

The cable operator has signed a long-term deal with Ericsson, but is curiously reluctant to discuss its plans

Telecoms equipment maker Ericsson has been chosen to work with cable company ntl:Telewest to deliver next-generation services to its customers.

The five-year agreement is centred on ntl:Telewest's residential services — the company's business division launched an IP multimedia service with Nortel in May, providing features such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and instant messaging (IM).

According to Jacqueline Hey, Ericsson's UK managing director, "[ntl:Telewest] is already seeing the benefits from its investment in its network [and Ericsson is] delighted to have concluded this agreement which will see Ericsson technology introduced that will provide gains in both network running costs and efficiency."

This technology will include Ericsson's IP Softswitch and IMS (IP Multimedia System) products, which will allow ntl:Telewest to "create new IP-based services for its wide range of business and residential customers", Hey added. Softswitches form an integral part of any large-scale VoIP system.

But ntl:Telewest itself appeared reluctant to comment on its VoIP plans on Monday. A spokesperson would confirm only that "VoIP is being considered internally" as one of "many projects" for the residential market.

"We're still working on a lot of integration projects at the moment," the ntl:Telewest spokesperson added on Monday, referring to this year's merger between ntl and Telewest and, more recently, with Virgin Mobile.

Mark Main, a senior broadband analyst for Ovum, told ZDNet UK that he was surprised ntl:Telewest had not made any announcements about VoIP yet, as it already trialled the service a year ago.

"Most traditional voice providers have either introduced [VoIP] or would be expected to," Main said on Monday, adding: "The market is there and growing… to ignore it doesn't change the issue".

Main also suggested that while it was inevitable that VoIP would begin to "cannibalise" the voice revenues of the cable company, a potential lack of support for older components (such as those provided by companies including Nortel and Marconi, which sold up to Ericsson last year) in the existing system means "they can’t afford not to look to the future".

Many large telecoms companies are currently working on next-generation networks (NGN), which will use Internet technologies rather than the traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) to deliver voice, data and video. The largest such project in the UK is BT's 21st Century Network (21CN).