Trends in Cable for 2020 – Hint, it’s not 10G!

I arrived early in New Orleans, host of the 2019 SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo, before the exhibition started. I was filled with excitement and anticipation. This was my first visit back to New Orleans post-Katrina. Cable-Tec Expo is the biggest cable operator show of the year, a showcase of innovation.

When I first entered the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to setup our exhibition booth, I couldn’t help but see the draw
of the show with the host city. Before me stood an alluring and soon to become vibrant exhibition hall. The dominant theme was 10G and its promising future of higher speeds and new applications.

Figure 1. The calm before the storm: the SCTE exhibition hall before opening

Once the exhibition opened, traffic to our booth was crazy busy. Non-stop. We were backlogged with back-to-back customer demos all day. Every size operator imaginable stopped by – from the big gorillas to the dogs and cats. We met with Vice Presidents, Directors, Managers, Supervisors, and Field Techs – personnel that represent almost every facet of the front-line business of cable.

Figure 2. Constant demos and discussions at the Nrby booth

We listened as they engaged us. What they told us was equally important with what they did not tell us. They did not ask about 10G.

Survey Says….

The show promised to be informative and insightful. And we were not disappointed. In advance of the exhibition hall opening, we handed out hundreds of survey cards, asking the attendees what areas of business was most important to them over the next 12 months. Overwhelmingly they voted and narrowed in on 3 broad areas:

 

  1. Mobile Field Operations;
  2. Customer Experience;
  3. Human Resources.

Mobile Field Operations

The top concern was how could they become more proactive in communicating and tracking issues from the field in order to improve key performance metrics of faster response and repair times. As we spoke with attendees, we captured more details about what they needed to achieve with mobile field service solutions:

 

  • They do not want to compromise accuracy or quality of information and results.
  • They want the ability to share information in real-time from their mobile workforce to operational dashboards.
  • They want their mobile workforce to have access to digital service logs in their device.
  • They want mobile workforce employees and supervisors to be able to track progress in real-time.
  • They want to reduce operating expenses by eliminating service calls.
  • They want to streamline how issues with the outside cable plant get reported.
  • They want to reduce the cycle time to repair.
  • They want to cut costs and streamline cross-department workflows.
  • They want operational systems to be automated end-to-end, to and from the mobile device.

Customer Experience

They view customer experience as the ultimate measure of their mobile workforce effectiveness. Moreover, they believe they need to get to a point where customer transparency is considered best practices. A well-informed customer is a happy customer.

They envision being able to proactively notify and update customers based on what field teams are achieving – such as when a service maintenance or repair deeper in the network eliminates a scheduled service call. They know customers would rejoice if a scheduled service call was no longer necessary. And when service calls are necessary, a faster response and repair time is win-win. Ultimately, they intuitively know that quality service drives renewals and referrals, which is good for the business.

Human Resources

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed where they need to make continual investments:  in their mobile workforce and tools. Consumerization of almost all services into lifestyle mobile apps has conditioned the workforce to prefer, if not demand, simplified mobile experiences.

Safety is often over-looked yet it is a critical factor for field service technicians. They work alone. And often they are working in less than safe conditions, whether it is situational or weather-related. Solo workers are happy to know their company invests in their safety. The company has their back.

And mobile apps can be dual purpose. Moving to more and more mobile apps has the added benefit of providing quantifiable data supporting employee retention, promotion, training, performance metrics, and hiring decisions.

As the SCTE-ISBE promotes: “a well-trained workforce that, ultimately, means a more efficient system, economic benefits and an improved customer experience.

Proactive, not Reactive

On the first full day of the show, Sara Winegarden’s article in the Cablefax SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo Daily discussed proactive network management and how “every operator is trying to do two things: maintain high customer satisfaction and cut service costs.” See the full article here.

It sounds like a paradox. Cut service costs. And improve customer satisfaction.

Yet it must have been these exact conflicting demands that: 1) influenced our survey results; and 2) drove so much traffic and interest at our booth.

Coincidentally, earlier in the week, we had put out an email distribution highlighting that one of our mid-tier customers eliminated 825 truck rolls in a single month, saving $47,000 using Nrby’s Preventative Maintenance solution. Using Nrby, our customer was able to get out of reactive mode and into proactive mode. Moving to proactive maintenance, a seemingly simple operational change, transformed their business and operations. Not only did customer satisfaction skyrocket (who wouldn’t be happy they didn’t have to wait for an in-home service visit!), but field techs became more productive, felt empowered, and got control back into their daily lives. And they were more efficient. Just by shifting to a proactive mindset and commitment. And a tool that enables mobile collaboration across organizational boundaries, eliminating silos and inaccessible information.

It’s a Broadband Future

Later that opening day, the General Session proved to be equally insightful, but in a much different way. Tony Werner, President, Technology, Product, Experience, Comcast Cable and Bob Ferreira, General Manager, Connected Home Division, Intel participated in a panel-style discussion about the future of broadband. Tony Werner discussed how critical broadband is to everything Comcast does. And Bob Ferreira discussed how important the in-home customer experience is. I couldn’t agree more. However, I’ll add a point of clarification: to deliver that broadband and in-home customer experience requires an ecosystem of players that continuously innovate, along with technical operations and field service teams that work tirelessly and efficiently to deliver high quality white glove services. The field service technicians are the unsung heroes of delivering that high-quality broadband service consumers expect.

Again, the broader discussion topics were helping to explain why our booth was so jammed with traffic and interest. It was our best exhibition show ever. And this year was our best business year ever – with increasing customer success stories, huge ROIs for cable operators, and extraordinarily happy mobile users.

The Ah-ha Moment

All of the critical areas discussed at our show booth centered around technical operations and field service. It got me wondering. Why? Here was a show that was dominated by messaging about 10G and our survey results showed nothing about 10G concerns. Then I had an ah-ha moment.

The host city, known as the “Big Easy” is vibrant and alluring from afar, but up close it is seems to be struggling for survival. Its infrastructure needs care and feeding; and the overall “user experience” is dated and waning of an era gone by. By contrast, the cable industry promises a vibrant and alluring broadband future. They too have their own infrastructure challenges:  how to get more from existing infrastructure and technical teams while trying to dramatically improve customer experience and lower costs.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallelism with this show. While 10G is alluring and promises a vibrant future of broadband experiences, cable operators have the constant care and feeding of the outside plant and infrastructure –often exposed to unpredictable natural and human elements – to deliver and fulfill the promise of broadband. Regardless of whether it is 1G, 5G or 10G. The quality of the outside plant determines the quality of the service and the customer experience. The outside plant is maintained by a limited supply of the most experienced cable technicians in the organization. These field technicians are in constant demand to make repairs and service adjustments. They are in constant reactive mode. Who knows what the day and their assigned tasks will bring them.

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