Giving VoIP a firm vote of confidence, Time Warner Cable has launched packet-based voice services in Portland, Maine.

Time Warner is selling the service, dubbed "Digital Phone," for $39.95, offering unlimited long distance calls in the continental U.S. The MSO has signed on about 1,300 customers since it first went live in February, but that number should scale higher as the operator starts to market the service much more aggressively. Time Warner Cable serves north of 100,000 basic cable subs in the Portland area.

The launch marks a new approach to voice services for the MSO, which initially dabbled in so-called "second-line" VoIP services in Portland and in Rochester, N.Y. That service, marketed under the "LineRunner" brand, carried a base price of $9.95 per month and billed higher based on usage.

This time around, Time Warner is offering an "all-you-can-eat" voice plan, alongside call features such as caller ID and call waiting, and support for regulatory requirements such as 911 and the Communication Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).

Time Warner Cable initially has opted not to provide backup power for the Portland VoIP service. Although the MSO is discussing possible powering options for the future, the reliability of the current network and the high concentration of cell phones will still make Digital Phone a compelling product to consumers, said Gerry Campbell, senior vice president, voice, for Time Warner Cable.

Cisco Systems is Time Warner's primary technology partner and integrator for the service. Taking a PacketCable approach, the operator is using Cisco's BTS 10200 softswitch/call management server, uBR7246VXR cable modem termination system and MGX 8850 voice gateway. All of those components have received PacketCable 1.0 qualification from CableLabs.

On the home side of the network, Time Warner Cable is using embedded multimedia terminal adapters (eMTAs) from Motorola Broadband.

Time Warner Cable's VoIP architecture in Portland also supports dynamic quality-of-service (DQoS), an important step for an operator that wants to offer IP data and voice services on the same network, noted Mark Bakies, director of marketing for Cisco's voice technology group.

Although Cisco's softswitch will handle the Class 5 phone features and the system's overall call control, Time Warner Cable has tapped local CLEC Pine Tree Networks to take care of the trunk-side interconnections.

Campbell said Time Warner Cable plans to replicate the model in at least two other markets this year. Taking a page from a bundling strategy that has worked well for Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable expects to offer IP voice service alongside its high-speed data and video offerings.