BY ANTHONY CRUPI Now that operators are able to offer their customers at least some form of converged service (digital cable, high-speed Internet, VoIP telephony, etc.), the field technicians in their employ have become indispensable. These guys don’t just run coax through the wall anymore; today’s field tech has to be able to check the operability of every piece of equipment in the plant, from the head-end to the tap. To meet the needs of the front-line techs, several test equipment manufacturers have begun to develop digital management gear that is at once eminently portable (many new devices are about the size of a cell phone), relatively cheap (the cable industry is nothing if not sensitive to price issues) and easy to use. A forerunner in the test equipment field is Acterna, a multinational firm perhaps best known for its work in the optical transport arena. According to James Pritchett, VP of engineering in Acterna’s cable networks division, the company’s line of test equipment — ranging from a brace of home installation signal level meters to a full suite of HFC network test and sweep tools — was developed to give operators a quicker and more complete understanding of troubles lying in wait at any single point within the network. “The tools we provide allow operators to get more out of their investment,” Pritchett said. “By leveraging the information provided by our equipment, the MSOs can take action in real time.” Not only does that make the field tech’s life a little easier, it also helps smooth over the bumps in the road to developing a mutually satisfying customer service rapport. For instance, should a surfeit of noise develop in a plant’s return path, two-way services such as video-on-demand may be delayed or aborted altogether. That in turn can engender frustration and user impatience, the sorts of things that cost MSOs customers and dollars. An operator using an Acterna monitoring application — in this case, the Vision360 OSS (operational support systems) software platform — can avoid this kind of dreary scenario, Pritchett said. Ops running Vision360 can analyze and resolve multiple alarm signals in their plant related to two-way services, and thereby work toward resolving a delivery glitch in real time. “It’s a pretty complex arena,” Pritchett said. “You’ve got all these systems interacting and a huge amount of data coming through the network. The value lies in our being able to take all that available information and provide a clear picture of what’s happening.” Thus far, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable have kicked the tires on the OSS platform. Neither MSO offered comment on Acterna’s service. Acterna has also kept field techs equipped to handle the increasing demand for cable modem installs. The DSAM-2500 is a handheld device that Pritchett says acts as a “portable work station.” “We’re targeting QoS levels, aiming at the convergence in the plant,” Pritchett said. “We understand what the operator needs.”

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