Tools, Tools and More Tools


More than a decade ago, an MSO executive halted a staff meeting to make this exasperated observation: “Tools, tools, tools - can we just have one meeting where I’m not being asked for more tools? How many tools do we really need?”

At the time, Comcast was AT&T Broadband, and the tool in question related to the monitoring of an “open access” (remember that?) trial.

But the question - how many tools do we really need? - is decidedly evergreen.

The latest case in point is the home network, itself an extension of the HFC plant, with gadgets and screens that live better with signal. And they’re all cross-linked.

Today’s home networks make mixed use of MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance), Ethernet, and Wi-Fi to move stuff around. On top of that, there’s DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), poised to let us share component resources - tuners, hard drives - among screens. And that’s just the IP (Internet protocol) side of the equation.

Here’s how one engine-room guy put it over a fish taco last week: “So in the home you have a QAM set-top that’s pulling video into the home network. And an advanced wireless gateway, handling data and voice. And let’s throw in an IP set-top.

“The IP set-top gets video from the QAM box, but it gets its user interface through the data side.

“A customer calls: Something’s wrong with my set-top. We say, is it a video problem, or a data problem?” (At which point he made the “d’oh!” face.)

Which brings us back to tools. And silos of people - video people, data people, voice people.

One answer getting a lot of play in tech circles is TR-069, where the “TR” stands for “Technical Report.” It’s an outgrowth of what’s now called the Broadband Forum (formerly the DSL Forum; DSL is a telco thing, which might explain why cable’s coming around to it only now).

TR-69 is sort of like an IP-based SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), in that it provides ways to move data back and forth, for purposes of troubleshooting, say, a home network. Or, as the Broadband Forum puts it: “The TR-069 standard was developed for automatic configuration of modems, routers, gateways, settop boxes and VoIP phones.”

Great, right? Yes, if you’re OK with devils and details. While TR-69 can fetch data from different networked devices - assuming they’re plumbed with the right client profile - it lacks the job-specific tools to make diagnostic sense of that data.

What tools are needed? One for bridging into workforce management. One for customer-care reps. Engineering tools, to see what’s going on. And some kind of blended video/data tool, because how things work for QAM-based video are vastly different than how they work on IP-based video.

How many tools? I’d go with “lots.” (And good luck with that.)

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