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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