As communication service providers deploy more complex technologies to support such bandwidth-guzzling offerings as business, triple-play and over-the-top video services, these companies are witnessing a growing amount of strain — not only on their networks, but also on their field-technician workforces and their ability to control operating costs in an increasingly competitive environment.

To help ensure service providers — whether they are cable operators, telcos, satellite companies or wireless providers — are delivering high-quality services to end users, these companies must execute a comprehensive test-and-measurement regimen, now more stringent with the availability of advanced services and networks. They also need service-verification solutions that help maintain an ever-sharper eye on operating costs and workflow productivity as well as the stress impacting the network.

These demands require service providers to equip their technician workforces with test-and-service-verification tools that are simple to use and that improve workflow productivity and management. These solutions also leverage technology advances that enable such productivity-enhancing capabilities as remote testing, the ability to view the entire network and the consolidation of several communications technologies into one test device.

The Six Considerations

When they study the test-and-measurement options, service providers and cable operators should take into account a variety of considerations when equipping their tech workforces for maximum effectiveness and productivity:

On-board productivity tools: A number of next-generation technologies found in test-and-measurement devices aim to improve productivity in the field. Built-in wireless interfaces allow technicians to send test results to a central server for analysis and storage. Instant messaging, email and other built-in communications interfaces give technicians instant access to other employees or offices, minimizing the need for laptops, mobile phones or other communications gadgets. Some test and measurement devices also have “signature capture” capabilities, allowing technicians to have customers electronically sign off on work completed in the field instead of having to collect, shuffle and return a large amount of paperwork. Test devices with mapping technology delivers a macro view of a street and neighborhood, offering visibility of the network right down to the home and permitting a technician to assess impairments quickly. Also, with Web access capabilities, technicians can have instant access to real-time and historical data detailing network performance on company servers.

Easy-to-use testing solutions: Current communications networks are carrying such advanced, bandwidth-intensive traffic as business services, high-speed Internet access, digital voice and video. Although these services are growing in complexity, test devices should remain simple to use. Technicians of varying skill and experience need solutions that are intuitive, that require minimal training and that help them effectively navigate the testing of sophisticated communications networks and services. These solutions contain high-resolution touch screens, an uncomplicated user interface that aims to simplify the test-and-measurement process, and onboard training software to speed the learning curve for the mobile workforce tasked with learning how to test a variety of new and quickly evolving technologies.

Speeding up training advances the deployment of new test sets into the field, hastening the network operator’s ability to detect, analyze and troubleshoot potential problems. Remote access also allows field technicians to enlist the aid of more experienced technicians at the headend or back office if they run into an issue they cannot resolve themselves by enabling both techs to view in real time the results of the field test.

Workflow management: To better manage their service-verification workflow, service providers and cable operators can deploy a centralized server platform that communicates with technicians and test equipment in the field. These platforms help a service provider administer and review test-and-measurement systems, work orders, test results and the workforce that’s verifying network capabilities. Centralized workflow-management platforms allow supervisors to analyze such metrics as time spent at test sites, types of tests performed, “signature capture” information and end-of-testing timestamps. A centralized system also can deliver such information as work assignments directly to mobile test devices, cutting the need for truck rolls. When using a workflow-management platform, service providers and cablecos can evaluate the time required to repair network issues. Supervisors also can identify a technician who is struggling with certain assignments and who may need additional training. They also can deliver positive reinforcement to technicians who consistently complete tasks correctly and on time.

End-to-end network visibility: Solutions providing a full picture of network capabilities enable techs to rapidly identify issues and to decrease time spent fixing impairments. In addition, end-to-end visibility of the network permits technicians to isolate problems before they escalate into major headaches. Supervisors, in consultation with technicians in the field, can determine what impairments require immediate attention and if other smaller impairments can wait for repairs — a time and energy saver. With end-to-end network visibility, service providers can manage their workforce resources more effectively by prioritizing problem areas. End-to-end network visibility also helps mobile techs to pinpoint whether an issue resides within a service provider’s network or with a third-party network connection. Complete network visibility also has its cost advantages. After one service provider instituted a policy of certifying every outlet in a customer’s house, post-installation truck rolls dropped by more than 60 percent.

Remote testing: Remote access capabilities for test-and-measurement devices permit technicians to send data to an office for review in close to real time. A less-experienced technician can send test information to a supervisor or to a more experienced technician for further assessment, eliminating service delays and/or a costly second truck roll. Remote test capabilities allow a service provider to troubleshoot issues in remote locations or during off hours, often allowing the dispatched technician to proceed directly to the site where the source of the problem is located.

Consolidating test-and-measurement cap-abilities into a single solution: To support such advanced services as mobile video and broadband Internet access, a service provider may have deployed several iterations or varieties of a technology across its network. xDSL providers, for example, may operate ADSL2 and VDSL connections concurrently in different parts of the same market. It’s essential that test-and-measurement gear consolidate test sets for multiple relevant technologies when possible, enabling a single mobile tech worker to handle different flavors of the same technology without having to lug myriad devices for testing different technologies. This also enables the service provider to control capex. Consolidating several test-and-measurement capabilities into a single solution also speeds the test-and-measurement process, further boosting productivity in the field.

The End Game

If service providers and cable operators want to get the most productivity out of their mobile technician forces, they need to supply technicians with test-and-measurement solutions that are simple to use, that contain such features as remote testing and that deliver visibility of the entire network. Service providers also need to build back-office capabilities that improve workflow management. These attributes will save money and time spent in the field.

Service verification is critical if these companies want to keep a laser-sharp focus on capex and opex along with maximizing productivity. More importantly, service verification helps ensure customers get the services they demand. If carriers and service providers meet their promises, customers likely will stay with the company well-into the future.

Bahaa Moukadam is CEO at Sunrise Telecom Incorporated. Contact him at bmoukadam@sunrisetelecom.com.

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