A lot of telcos and cable companies talk about their triple play -- Internet, telephone, and entertainment -- but there are very few that can nail the combination for consumers, let alone professionals. The bandwidth required for perfectly executing all of the elements of triple play is enormous. The Internet service has to be competitive with DSL and cable in speed and reliability. The VoIP phone must have the sound quality and reliability of a landline, but with online features like voice mail via e-mail and Web-based management. And the entertainment has to rival the channel selection of satellite services, including a fast-growing range of HD channels.
I once sampled the cable triple play, the only option at the time, and discovered that piling IP services on an infrastructure with too little headroom made all three services unacceptable. It might have been OK for a home user who finds the frequent need to reset the cable box merely annoying. But in professional use, dropping a call or losing Internet access costs money. I quickly learned that the last place you want to call when you don't have dial tone is cable company tech support.
[ Tom Yager takes another look at telcos and broadband in "The incredible shrinking Internet" ]
When I ordered VoIP, the cable company was keen on full-building service to "kick out the telephone company." I wanted to trial it through a single dedicated jack. The tech said he understood, gave me the VoIP box to configure as I pleased, and departed. I hooked it to the cable coax, powered it up, and had immediate dial tone and incoming calls. He returned several hours later, opened my telco network interface, and moved my phone, DSL, ISDN, and cable VoIP to my building's central wiring, sending the overlapping signals throughout the building's RJ-11 phone jacks. This left me with a most interesting dial tone.
Understandably, I fired the cable company as my phone provider and made rewiring my telco interface my problem. It was lucky that I knew how to do that, but I still lost hours of work and went without phone and Internet for most of a day. The same cable company offers what it calls business-class service, which adds static IP addresses. I shudder to think what that's like. It took me four hours to reestablish telco and DSL. Before firing them, I did trial the cable company's VoIP service and found it to be stereotypically awful: noisy, lagging, echoing, half-duplex much of the time, and plagued by dropped calls.