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Software promises painless VoIP set-up

Tools automate home installation of Net-based phone calls and video broadcasts. It could give some English to broadband triple-plays.

As cable and phone companies jostle to sell voice, video and data bundles over broadband connections, tools are needed to get those services running as quickly as possible.

On Monday, SupportSoft, a company that develops automation software for telephone and cable operators, introduced a product that it claims will help ease the pain of setting up VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and IP-based video connections in homes.

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The ServiceVerify software is designed to check that Internet-based services are working properly at the time of installation. At the moment, technicians manually tweak signal and latency settings, and once a service is set up, there's no way to check that it will actually work. By automating the process, ServiceVerify simplifies set-up and could reduce house calls for follow-up--factors that could cut costs for service operators.

"Three years ago, carriers were sending technicians to install broadband," SupportSoft CEO Radha Basu said. "That really slowed down deployment. We're at a similar point with VoIP and IP video. I think once it's more automated, it will really take off."

Nearly every major telephone company and cable operator in North America is looking at bundling voice, video and data services over a single broadband connection. Making the installation of these bundles quick and hassle-free could help boost service subscriptions by improving customer satisfaction.

The delivery of all three services through a single pipeline simplifies billing and network management for phone carriers and cable operators, which in turn helps those companies provide advanced services more efficiently. In addition, they can price voice calls, broadcast programming and broadband competitively, if they can bundle them.

Two weeks ago, phone company Verizon Communications announced a new fiber-based broadband service called Fios, which provides connection speeds of up to 30 megabits per second. Verizon says it will offer television service over these connections starting in 2005. It has also launched a VoIP service over its traditional DSL (digital subscriber line) broadband, which runs at a maximum of 1.5mbps.

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Rival carrier BellSouth announced plans in June to offer a bundled voice, video and data package over a DSL connection. AT&T is abandoning its marketing campaigns for traditional long-distance phone plans to focus on signing up more VoIP customers.

Cable companies such as Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Cablevision Systems are extending their triple-play bundles with more locations and aggressive pricing.