Cable operators eyeing hosted VoIP for small biz

Faced with near-saturation of residential markets, cable operators are starting to go after a slice of the market in hosted VoIP services for small businesses.

This is according to a new study from ABI Research, which said that the global market for hosted services will exceed $34 billion in 2012. North America, where most of the cable operators pursuing the small business option are located, will account $11.6 billion of that figure.

'Cable companies have a lot of fiber capacity available in their urban and suburban networks,' said principal analyst Michael Arden. 'The cores of these networks are fairly free of bottlenecks, and operators have realized that they can target small businesses largely using existing resources, and at relatively little added expense.'

Virtually all cable operators in North America, even smaller regional players, have plans to move in this direction, the report said. Voice service is usually bundled with Internet access, and sometimes with storage network or VPN services.

'Offering VoIP and related services to small businesses is one way for the cable operators to undercut the telecom companies,' added Arden.

'To serve small businesses, they are devising solutions that scale down easily, unlike telcos which must offer solutions which scale so large that they're often inefficient and uneconomical at the small end.'

However, Arden cautioned that equipment vendors can expect limited windfalls from this trend: much of the core infrastructure is already in place, and added deployments will mainly be restricted to connecting new business customers to the fiber that passes through their neighborhoods.