Cable-modem users abhor installation hassles that delay their gratification. But while self-install kits are a vast improvement over the old days, the process remains clunky, with MSOs often walking the customer through the process by phone or online. Such hand-holding ties up CSRs and adds to subscriber acquisition costs. Of course, installation problems can lead to expensive truck rolls or, worse, lost customers. The solution could be smart back-end technology that smooths installation for the consumer. The problem is making it work. Enter Washington, D.C.-based Next Generation Broadband, whose Auto Install software promises to automate service activation. That way, a consumer can buy a non-provisioned DOCSIS cable modem from any retailer (or get one from the MSO), bring it home and hook it up (ignoring the enclosed installation CD). Any modem automatically recognizes the local MSO using NGB’s patent-pending "SmartBridge" system and then walks the user through the Web-based installation in about 10 minutes. No CSRs, no truck rolls, nothing. Founded in 2001, NGB spent years trying to get the technology right. Now, Australian MSO Telstra uses NGB’s software; in the U.S., Cox Communications plans to roll it out commercially in the fall in hopes of improving operational efficiencies. "We are looking forward to positive impacts on the bottom line and customer satisfaction," says Jean Mallory, Cox’s director of customer care. NGB officials won’t discuss costs, but EVP Tiffany Norwood says, "The payback is usually six months." Not a bad ROI. In addition, NGB says it can get a system up and running in two to four months from the time an MSO signs a deal. It’s even designed to run parallel with an MSO’s existing architecture—so major upgrades can be shelved. And NGB’s system aims to automatically manage any IP-enabled device, including next-generation set-tops. "Whatever device is connected to the network, we want to provide control," says NGB president and CEO Martin Hannes. NGB also offers Auto Install software for VoIP phones and gaming consoles. Of course, cable operators can be a skeptical bunch—mainly because so many vendors fail to deliver. It’s an open question whether NGB will win them over. An extensive demo at the National Show worked well, but the true test of NGB’s technology will come as it rolls out in the field. "The system looks very simple," says Hannes, "but it’s actually very complicated to make it work." Norwood says NGB is "very close" to deals with major MSOs. With Cox already on board, it may be only a matter of time before others follow. Michael Grebb is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in technology and media trends. He can be reached at Cablegrebb@aol.com.