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Multi-Play Service Bundling will be Challenging

Triple play services � bundled offerings of TV, phone and Internet � have proven effective for operators and service providers in reducing customer churn and delivering operational economies. According to a new study from ABI Research, some operators believe that adding a fourth element, wireless, will improve the equation still further.

In the United States, Sprint Nextel has announced that it will partner with several of the big North American MSOs to offer this "quadruple play." In the UK, cable operator NTL is buying Virgin Mobile. Verizon is rolling out its FIOS (Fiber Optic Services) and expects that, with a wireless division already part of the company, consolidation of services and networks will be that much easier.

Michael Arden, Principal Analyst, Broadband and Multimedia at ABI Research, says that in many cases "the marketing of triple or quadruple-play services to customers will precede integration of the networks and their equipment. True network integration takes time. Our study examines the networks themselves, not services." So far only British Telecom among the major operators has committed to complete integration of all its networks into one IP-based system.

Network consolidation for the sake of triple and quadruple-play services can reduce operational costs, but brings new challenges as well. Its three layers of management � traffic control, equipment control, and administration/billing � all have to work together and be interoperable, which means that some standards will need to be developed.

Other challenges include QoS issues and network "policy control". Some operators expect to be compensated for the extra bandwidth required to support hosted VoIP services run by their partners. Billing is complicated in these multimode arrangements too, and there are questions of privacy: in order to prioritize network traffic the IP packets must be examined in some detail, identifying what individuals are doing online.

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