In announcing the move Wednesday, Comcast noted that it will continue testing the Internet-telephone service in three markets this year. Initial tests with VoIP in Boston and Minneapolis were successful, the firm said, and influenced its decision to forge ahead with Web phoning. To work efficiently, VoIP must travel over broadband, and Comcast has several million broadband subscribers, placing it in a strong position to take advantage of the nascent Web-phoning technology.
"We're hopeful voice telephony will allow our industry, yet again, to have another growth product," Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts told The Wall Street Journal. The VoIP announcement came just days after the cable company abandoned its campaign to take over the Walt Disney Co.
Other cable companies have a substantial head start on Comcast in the VoIP market. After completing a successful trial in Portland, Maine, last year, Time Warner's cable unit began offering VoIP to all of its customers across the country. Cablevision Systems Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. are also offering VoIP to customers in some selected markets.
Most cable companies must upgrade their aging circuit-switch gear to accommodate VoIP. Cable VoIP providers still have some hurdles to overcome: first, the VoIP telephone system goes down when the broadband connection fails; second, VoIP usually can't operate when there is a power failure; third, 911 emergency capability has thus far been difficult to implement in many regions.