A handful of operators took the wraps off their VoIP plans this summer, with many signing on partners rather than building the service from scratch.

Mediacom Communications Corp. joined the VoIP chorus by striking a deal with Sprint Corp. to provide telephony services to most of its markets in 23 states during the first half of 2005.

Under the partnership, Mediacom will use its coax cable connections in the house to offer service via an integrated telephony cable modem with a battery backup. Calls will be routed through the cable plant to interconnections with Sprint's IP voice network. Sprint will supply the network provisioning, switching and interconnections to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), as well as enhanced 911 emergency service, local number portability and directory assistance. The service will offer customers caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding and voice mail, among other features.

The MSO is also planning to offer a voice-only service to customers, to further widen the subscriber net.

"We're looking at the 2.7 million homes that we potentially could serve with any of our products," notes John Pascarelli, Mediacom's executive vice president of operations. "Now, we will price things to reward consumers that buy multiple products from us—there is no doubt we plan on doing that. But we still think we'll be able to provide a voice product to a non-subscribing video household at a compelling price point compared to what they are paying today."

Pricing for the service has not been set as yet, but it will likely fall in the $40 range to make it competitive with telco operators, Pascarelli says.

Charter Communications, meanwhile, will use the help of a trio of partners to get into the VoIP business.

The St. Louis-based MSO struck agreements with Sprint and Level 3 Communications Inc. to provide the core connectivity for VoIP service, and it inked a deal with Accenture to provide the provisioning services.

Charter already has 31,000 telephony customers in multiple markets. Banking on Sprint and Level 3's IP networks, Charter plans to expand telephony deployments in each of its divisions by 2005, according to Tom Cullen, Charter's executive vice president of advanced services and business development.

"Our objective was to significantly improve our cost structure over our current position and decrease the time required to deploy telephony services," Cullen says.

The provisioning services deal with Accenture, meanwhile, will also speed time to market for VoIP products, according to Charter.

Charter and Mediacom mark the second and third major MSOs to forge VoIP deals with Sprint. In December, Time Warner Cable announced it would partner with Sprint to extend VoIP service in 17 markets. Nebraska-based MSO USA Companies has also tapped Sprint to support a VoIP service that will go out to about 62,000 subs. Sunflower Broadband, meanwhile, has a deal to bundle in Sprint PCS services.

Adelphia Communications Corp. took a different VoIP tack, striking a marketing deal with AT&T Corp. to offer Ma Bell's CallVantage service to cable modem customers.

Under the agreement, Adelphia will become AT&T's preferred broadband provider for customers wanting to sign up for CallVantage, which requires a high-speed connection. Terms of the deal, including the revenue sharing arrangement, were not released.

AT&T's cable partnerships didn't stop there. The company also closed a deal to obtain access to CableLabs' Go2Broadband messaging service. The agreement will give consumers the ability to sign up for CallVantage service when they use the Go2Broadband system to see if cable modem service is available in their neighborhood.