Laptops Bring Gains for Time Warner System


Time Warner Cable's Raleigh, N.C., system has swapped
radios for cellular-connected laptop computers, which resulted in a 32 percent increase in
productivity for its service fleet and moved its techs into the paperless world.

The cable system hasn't given up radios, which the
operator owned and maintained -- it still uses them as backups and for installations. But
IBM Corp. laptops are the wave of the future for tech trucks.

"Radios require a human on each end. There's
greater need for repetition and more opportunity for error," said Bob Herman, the
system's plant manager. With cellular-digital-packet-data technology, "we keep
our phone lines open for customers."

"Quality-assurance vehicles" in Raleigh are now
equipped with IBM ThinkPads and wireless software, which link to the system's AS/400
computer system via the CDPD technology that Time Warner licenses from GTE Corp.'s
GTE MobileNet unit. It links the trucks via the cable operator's Internet-protocol

As a service tech goes through his call, the software
caches data sent to and from the job site. Only information different from the data on
file is returned to the technician, cutting down on traffic in the system.

Herman said the company focused on cellular technology, and
it looked at several vendors, settling on GTE because it required only a single port into
the AS/400. Other vendors, including the one that did a beta-test in the system, needed
one port per unit.

The technological change-out did not come cheap: Herman
said it costs $4,200 per tech for the laptop and modem, plus a $60-per-month payment to
GTE for unlimited hours of usage of the cellular network. That's more than double the
cost of radios, and the new technology is still supplemented with pagers.

Nonetheless, Herman projected a nine-month payback period
on the technology, due to productivity gains. During Time Warner's test in the
75,000-subscriber system, from December to February, 12 technicians completed 2,721
service calls. During the same period the previous year, the techs completed 1,998 calls.

Time Warner has equipped 25 service personnel with CDPD. A
number of direct-sales personnel carry the units during their cold installs, and auditors
can access fresh data for plant sweeps, he said.

The MSO's Charlotte, N.C., system has also begun
deployment of CDPD.

The Raleigh system has not expanded its use of CDPD
technology into neighboring ex-Cablevision Industries systems that Time Warner acquired
because those properties use different billing technology.