The ongoing complexity of modern networks causes daily headaches for technicians who have to monitor, repair and maintain them ahead of any subscriber inconvenience. Sessions at next week’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo will address network testing, and attendees will have a chance to see and demo the best and brightest gear on the show floor. Koji Okamoto, a director in JDSU’s Communications Test and Measurement business unit, gives Communications Technology+Business his take on the cableco testing scene.
 
What are the major issues facing cable providers?
With the increased demand for high-bandwidth services, cable providers have a higher need to gain deeper visibility into the critical components of their networks. This includes monitoring of the physical network and their workgroups. By obtaining such visibility, providers are then able to address service issues rapidly, before customer experience problems arise, improving the overall quality of their network and increasing their profitability.
 
What impact are the new content providers such as Verizon’s FiOS, AT&T’s U-verse and Hulu having on the sector?
The largest impact the new content providers are having on the sector revolves around the speed of new service rollouts and its overall quality. Such new operators also are having an impact on the video sector as more and more consumers elect to stream programming to their handheld devices. However, cable operators in North America especially remain focused on building relationships with content providers, which helps them remain competitive in the industry. Verizon’s new partnership with cable companies, for example, shows how challenging the video business is to grow profits if you do not own content.
 
What are three steps cable providers should take to ensure network quality and the most positive customer experience?
First, and most critical, is for cable providers to control quality service and infrastructure issues throughout the entire network. Service quality can only be as good as the weakest part of the system, hence, operators need to focus on adopting better, controlled network installation procedures, and increase attention on service job practices when it comes to home wiring testing, which is the weakest and often times the least tested part of the network. Second, network technicians need to do the job right the first time, even when it may require slightly more time. This would decrease the number of service calls and increase customer retention. Third, providers must invest in the right tools—not just test and monitoring equipment, but in their own portal, workforce appliances and training—to maximize the effectiveness of their network.

With growing demand for faster speeds facing cable providers, what end-to-end testing and monitoring solutions should they adopt to ensure they are maintaining an infrastructure capable of delivering the most bandwidth-rich services/applications?
End-to-end testing solutions not only need to gain visibility into the source (i.e., video packets from the content providers) but also to the service delivery into the consumers’ homes. Cable providers also need visibility into each workgroup’s performance and their test data. Their workgroup performance and interactions between those workgroups are critical to know how well their overall service delivery systems, including their technicians, are working. We now see more than ever before providers focusing a tremendous amount of resources on maintaining a high-quality network in order to retain their existing customers.  

What will the next five years bring to the cable provider’s landscape?
One of the most critical decisions MSOs will make in the next 12 to 24 months is how they will increase the upstream bandwidth to support more symmetrical services, such as online gaming, home security and health monitoring, and cloud-based services that are coming on the horizon. Will they increase the upstream to 85 megahertz or will they even go higher? Will they go more with fiber? These decisions could differ regionally, but they will change the landscape significantly.

I also believe IPTV services, which allow users to move from screen to screen, say, from a television set to a smart tablet, will become more commonplace in the next three to five years. It will also be interesting to see how much momentum 3D video will gain in the next five years.
 
Lastly, I believe we will witness significant change in the next five years among the wireless and fixed-line sectors. Will the latest wireless providers offer sufficient broadband needs to their customers? How will MSOs continue to partner with wireless carriers to provide services to wireless handsets? How will the content be shared and/or owned across the network? All these elements could dramatically change the current landscape.

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