Cable is blind inside subscribers’ homes

Fri, 06/12/2009 - 9:59pm
Brian Santo

In the last year or so, the cable industry has started talking about anytime/anywhere communications. Cable either has a blind spot when it comes to the subject, or maybe it’s just drawing attention away from a weak spot.

Anytime/anywhere requires allowing subscribers to connect away from home, so the industry has various wireless pursuits (Clearwire, Wi-Fi networks, becoming wireless carriers).

Anytime/anywhere also necessitates connections within the home. The priority here tends to be whole-home DVR.

But to do anytime/anywhere correctly, operators need to identify and monitor (and perhaps even gain temporary control of) all sorts of other devices dangling beyond the set-top box, cable modem or router: PCs, netbooks, handsets, handhelds, game consoles, wireless routers, refrigerators, energy monitors, security systems – the list is getting longer by the day.

Whenever I’ve inquired about an operator’s visibility beyond the STB or cable modem, the response is typically something along the lines of “yeah, we’ve got that covered.”

Well, apparently not.

Affinegy CEO Melissa Simpler says few operators are providing home networking as a service, and of the few that are, only one is really taking full advantage of what’s possible. “Operators have been afraid of home networks. The demarc ” – the demarcation line – “has always been the router,” she said, and there is no universal management solution available.

One thing that is available is Affinegy’s software, which providers can give to their new subscribers that enables the subs to perform service self-installs, including home networks. The company specializes on setting up via Wi-Fi routers. Home networking via MoCA or HPNA, for example, is more manageable, though HN management standards are still lacking (she dismissed CableHome as a failure).

Affinegy customers include Cox, Time Warner Cable, Virgin Broadband, Charter, Clearwire, and several prominent router and modem manufacturers. Affinegy’s home data networking technology has now been deployed within 2 million consumer households.

The market for service provider home data network management is still in a nascent state, Simpler says. Wi-Fi routers may be easier to set up now than they were six years ago, when Affinegy was founded, but there are still problems, everything from failed initial setups to subscribers not realizing that their old 802.11b/g routers won’t keep up with the fastest speeds made possible by DOCSIS 3.0.

The key is what happens after the network is set up. Can you discover what a problem might be if the customer calls, because you know the customer is going to call you? Can you tell if an Xbox is hooked up? Can you tell if the home’s second PC, the one on the other side of the house, is getting the same QoS as the primary? Can you monitor signal-to-noise, or upstream or downstream data rates?

That allows providers to react to potential problems, but they can use the same data to detect usage patterns and respond with products or services.

Who’s taking best advantage of those capabilities? Virgin Broadband really gets it, Simpler said. In the U.S., Charter reports that 20 percent of its installs now include a home network, for which the company charges an additional $10 a month. TWC’s efforts in the area are “spotty,” Simpler said. 

Affinegy says it can accomplish much of that with its DigiDo product, an updated and expanded version of its old InstaLAN product. Data can be viewed through a Web browser; it can be made available even in call centers. The software can layer on top of management solutions such as Arris’ ServAssure, for example.

For a different take on improving service and customer satisfaction during installs, see the next edition of CED, to be published at the beginning of July 2009. Exfo Electro-Optical Engineering will discuss baselining VoIP service during the installation process.

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