Installing an Internet information service (also known as High-Speed Data or HSD) has become one of uppermost priorities of todays multiple subscriber organizations (MSOs). Unfortunately, installation of HSD services rank among the Internet industrys highest in terms of install times and complexity and calls for individuals with a combination of cabling, software, hardware, basic computer networking, radio frequency (RF) or broadband, and interpersonal skills. Although efforts are underway to augment MSO employee driven efforts with customer self-service options to speed the development of installed customer base, the installation of HSD will for some time remain a long manual process. Regardless of the improvements in technology, advent of self-service options, and the rapid standardization of this industry, providing in-home installation and support of broadband services is the cornerstone of the cable television (CATV) industry. It is this personal touch that differentiates broadband-based Internet service from that of dial-up Internet service. The installation is also the point where product superiority is established and customer loyalty is recognized.
Installation of HSD services is an expansion of a traditional video install with the following differences:
- Need for customer to agree to a different installation, service contract
- Need to qualify customer premise equipment (CPE)
- Need to install a network interface card (NIC) in the CPE if applicable
- Need to configure NIC and network software on CPE
- Need to use remote access software along with a laptop to access subscriber management system (SMS)
- Need to provision and troubleshoot remotely from customers house
A majority of these differences relate to the addition of personal computer related tasks that each installer must accomplish in order to complete the installation. The focus of this article will be to further explain these differences and describe their importance in contributing to the success of each install.
Each installation represents an "attempt" that the MSO makes to bring aboard a new customer. The installation activity is truly an "attempt" because there are several risks that could possibly effect the outcome of the installation. These risks could range from obvious reasons (i.e. the customer is not home) to ones much less obvious reasons (i.e. the CPE cannot support HSD service). Consequences resulting from "attempting" to install HSD services are covered by a contract. The HSD contract contains similar items to that of a normal video contract but with an Internet focus. The HSD contract ensures that CPEs work properly prior to the installation (marking any discrepancies) and after the installation to ensure that nothing done by the installer adversely affected the previous operating condition of the CPE. The contract also defines the scope of intended use for the HSD service that the customer agrees to -- which is much more diverse than video use contracts. Prior to the install, it is best to send a copy of the contract to the customer encouraging them to read and hopefully sign it prior to the install date. One should also include contact information with the contract to enable the customer can call or email any questions they might have about the contract. When the installer arrives, s/he may be asked questions about the contract - thus it is best if they are armed with a basic understanding of the various contract sections. When the install is complete, one should leave a copy of the contract with the customer or include a copy within the welcome kit. Note that these contracts often only cover a single service. So when the installer is connecting multiple services (i.e. video, HSD, telephony) some consolidation may be necessary to prevent overwhelming the customer with multiple contracts.
The extent that a given CPE is receptive to installing HSD services and how well HSD performs on a given CPE is directly dependent on its hardware and software qualifications. Establishing and enforcing minimum qualifications for CPEs can significantly improve HSD installation success rates and the resulting customer perceptions of the service. It also eliminates the need to perform costly software and/or hardware updates on CPEs that are outdated. As a result, installations should not be attempted on CPEs that do not meet minimum qualifications (which include a visual inspection of the CPE for an available expansion slot). Qualification is becoming more automated for installers with an increasing number of tools being developed that will sense required resources and provide feedback as to the CPE readiness/capability of supporting HSD service. Installers use qualification tools to quickly determine whether to proceed with the install. If the CPE does not meet minimum qualifications the installer can provide a list of discrepancies in the form of a print out which the customer must meet before an install can be rescheduled. This activity should be part of the normal checks for service performed at every customer residence near the beginning of the installation.
The source of a majority of the risks associated with HSD installations is the NIC installation phase. During this critical phase, it is often necessary to open the CPE enclosure and install the NIC into an available expansion slot. Opening the CPE requires the CPE to be completely disconnected from all peripherals and moved to a location convenient for service. Disconnection of cables must be done with care to avoid damaging the connectors or their sockets. Labeling of cables may also be necessary in cases where there are multiple cables of similar type. The location, which the CPE is serviced, is closely related to the quality of service performed. In other words, when an installer has room to spread out they are much more conscious about what screw goes where and installing the NIC in a professional manner. Once the CPE is open, installers should attach a wrist-ground to the enclosure and plug the CPE into a wall outlet to ensure the work performed is protected against static-shock. One should then prepare the desired location (expansion slot) to receive the NIC. This includes removing the expansion slot cover and shoring up any wires that may get in the way of the installation. The NIC is installed by removing it from its protective cover and gently seating into its correct expansion slot. One should always follow manufacturers instructions for handling and seating for highest degree of success. Lastly, the NIC is secured with the screw from the expansion slot cover and the removed enclosure portion is re-attached. Note that some installers prefer to leave the cover off until they have successfully configured the NIC. The only problem with this is that you run the risk of further damage to the connectors and increase the possibility of breakage. If at all possible, keeping down the number of times you touch any one piece of equipment will greatly reduce the possibility for breakage and or failure. This combined with the fact that very few NICs fail right out of the package provides a solid reason to seal up the enclosure after the NIC installation.
The configuration of NICs in the CPE can be one of the most time consuming steps in the installation. This step greatly benefits from proper qualification measures that can weed out a majority of potential conflicts. Without proper qualification, the installer may need to manually edit automatic driver or operating system (OS) configurations, swap out existing hardware, or back out of all changes (cancel install) which can be time consuming and may impact the operation of other software/hardware on the CPE. The manual configurations necessary to complete these installs depend on the type of OS and NIC in use. Installers should always follow manufacturers instructions on NIC configurations. If the customer provides the NIC, installers should write down the configuration steps for the customer. If the NIC is provided by the MSO, the customer should be left with manufacturers instructions and a driver diskette to avoid future truck roll in the event the customer has to re-install their OS.
Giving installers a laptop and remote access to the SMS closes the loop between the call center and field operations. Installers can then obtain their work from home, close out jobs on-site, and receive updates on work throughout the day. During the HSD install, this capability is most useful as it allows the installers to provision active components of HSD service (NIC and cable modem (CM)) from the customers home by submitting their Ethernet addresses to the SMS. Virtual private networking (VPN) software allows this to happen quickly, efficiently, and securely over a CM while at the same time providing customers with an example of the capability of service they are about to receive.