Rogers Finds Tech Support Is Key Home-Network Link

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Boulder, Colo.— Faced with an unruly, adolescent home-networking market filled with incompatible devices and confusing software, broadband consumers are looking for an easier way to knit together their high-speed homes — without having to get a degree in IT administration.

That's what Canadian MSO Rogers Cable found during a recent nine-month managed home networking service trial, according to Michael Lee, the MSO's vice president of product development.

He outlined the trial results, as well as Rogers' future service plans, to a group of journalists at a briefing hosted by Cable Television Laboratories Inc. last week.

Armed with the new CableHome specifications developed at CableLabs, Rogers offered 100 customers a home-networking service with multiple connections to PCs and printers; audio and video streaming to devices and the TV; Web access to PCs and the TV; and a controller interface on the TV.

Rogers learned that the mainstream users now starting to look for a home-networking product don't think they can handle setting it up or maintaining it themselves.

That may be one reason 13 percent of those who buy products for home networking end up returning them, according to research from the Consumer Electronics Association.

"I think that speaks volumes," said Lee. "It says that customers are moving toward home networking, but more than 10 percent of the customers are coming back."

Drives CableHome

That complexity is part of the drive behind the CableHome initiative, which provides a blueprint for home-networking gateway devices attached to a cable broadband connection.

Released last year, CableHome 1.0 sets the ground rules for how these gateways automatically configure devices, assign IP addresses or download and transfer files between devices, among other things.

Even with a more orderly technology platform, service support is still a key issue. During the early days of the trial, Lee noted, a typical home-networking truck roll could take up to four hours.

"The thought of spending four hours in a home while customers watch you install it is not an appealing prospect," Lee said. "It also turned out often it was all members of the family sitting in the living room peppering us with questions for four hours: What is this, what does it do?"

Overall, Rogers found that customers did want to use the network to gain better access to content and devices, but they didn't really want to know how it all worked or to fix it when things went wrong. That was an important lesson for Rogers in shaping its future home-networking service plans.

"Our customer is this customer that just wants it maintained for them," Lee said. To get to a wider-scale home networking business, "you are going to have to get to a greater level of support than we have now."

The technical-support demands involved with home networking are good reasons to go with a managed offering for a monthly fee, although Rogers has not yet decided what it will charge for its service.

Lee said customers recognize the value of letting the cable operator set up and oversee the home network, "and they are willing to pay you for that."

With the trial now completed, Rogers plans this year to roll out a residential gateway networked service. Based on what it has learned, the MSO plans to include full installation and around-the-clock technical support.

"We think the managed residential service is the key to home networking service," Lee said.

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