November 2007 | Volume 10/ Number 11
Co-Developing Test Equipment Brings Triple Play Services to Telco Customers, Quickly and Inexpensively
By Bob Sutherlin, Raj Wallace, and Mark Mellinger
Collaborative effort can speed the deployment of new communications technologies. Collaborative effort can speed the deployment of new communications technologies.
Successful triple play service deployments demand solid construction and a test strategy that ensures connectivity and uninterrupted service delivery. Because delivering these brand new services presents a completely new set of challenges with unheard-of test scenarios, Sunrise Telecom and a major service provider worked together to develop the Home Test Toolkit (HTT), a test tool specifically designed for triple play (voice, video and data) services. This partnership was forged to reduce the risks the telecommunications service provider faced in providing new, untested services; increase the speed of deployment; improve the reliability and performance of newly installed services, and save money, both during installation and subsequently by reducing expensive truck rolls due to customer service calls.
Do We Really Need Another Test Set?
Anyone following the technology developments in the telecommunications industry can understand that new in-demand technology, never widely deployed until now, requires new types of testing. The development of intelligent, “self-testing” and “self-repairing” networks causes most telcos to ask, “Do we really need new equipment?” When in reality, self-testing networks are still years away, so telcos are forced to move forward deploying new services to remain competitive and retain their installed customer base. Alternatively, many companies may try to utilize existing equipment, only to realize that this approach at most offers a partial solution, and, over the long-term costs more and reduces customer satisfaction.
Advanced triple play services require new test tools, tools that are sophisticated enough to perform highly complex tests and measurements, yet simple enough so that novice field technicians can use them with minimal training.
Customers purchasing triple play services from their telecommunications provider have high expectations: every feature and service must perform at the same level or better than their previous provider delivered. If not, chances are the customer will take their business elsewhere.
With triple play, telcos for the first time are combining voice, video and data in one network, pushing the existing copper infrastructure to its physical limits. Test sets designed for voice services or legacy DSL services do not have the functionality needed to fully qualify local loop and in-home networks for triple play services. A new test set with complete end-to-end network verification capability is needed to ensure the network is functioning properly at all points, and that it meets the rigorous requirements required for triple play services.
“Ease of use” while always a consideration in this industry, has never been more important as veteran field technicians are opting for early retirement, and younger, less experienced workers are being sent into the field. At the same time, the deployment of new services, such as video, presents new test and service verification challenges. To counter this, test sets today must be smarter and more intuitive to allow service personnel to efficiently conduct sophisticated tests without the knowledge and intuition that comes with 30 years of experience. At the same time, size and weight must be kept to a minimum, enabling technicians to perform tests in tight spaces.
Co-Developing to Meet the Need
Co-developing test equipment, while not a new idea, rarely occurs in this industry. It’s a good approach to take when service providers need a new test set specifically designed to meet their requirements, including cost targets. Co-development obliges both the service provider and test set manufacturer to adapt to new ways of working: the service provider plays a much stronger role in the design process and the test set vendor must learn to listen more closely to the customer’s input. Equally important, the service provider must provide personnel with sufficient time and expertise to provide detailed information about their emerging test needs. While the example in this article focuses on the development of a test set for triple play service installation, the same principles hold true for any co-development project.
After selecting a co-development team, a critical first step is to define the economic model. In this case, Sunrise Telecom worked with its customer to identify the following factors:
1. The maximum cost/unit in the budget
2. Non-negotiable features
3. “Wish list” of all desired features
This model became the benchmark for the project and enabled the team not only to stay focused on the end-result, but also allowed room for discussion: everything from expendable features to assessing wiggle room in the unit cost. Through give and take, the final product stayed true to the original economic model.
The second step was to clearly define the feature set. As a test equipment manufacturer, it was Sunrise Telecom’s role to act as an advisor - not to dictate the design as the “test equipment experts.” While bringing expertise, it was essential to internalize the service provider’s requirements, extrapolate and visualize what a test tool might look like, what it could do, its form factor, and what kind of tests were needed. From these requirements and modifications made during monthly design reviews, a conceptual design emerged. Active listening and unrestricted communication were key factors in this process. For this project, the requirements included a form factor that would appeal to younger, less experienced technicians, an intuitive interface that was essentially self-teaching, and easily upgradeable software that completed sophisticated tests, captured, stored and transmitted the data.
Once an initial concept emerged, the teams met monthly for design reviews. Initially, the entire project was reviewed using PowerPoint slides with artist renderings of the unit. The process moved slowly at first, with spirited discussion that led to the development of a molded plastic sample. While a good representation of the overall concept, the model facilitated additional modification to ensure the final product would be durable under rugged field conditions. During each monthly meeting, requirements became better defined and progress improved, enabling subsequent milestones to be met on time.
The Result: a Triple Play Test Set
Not only is the new HTT an exciting new product for the triple play market, but the service provider has seen an immediate return on its investment in the co-development process. The HTT eases installation, speeds deployment and decreases cost of ownership while ensuring the latest triple play services meet users’ high expectations. The HTT is specifically tailored for mass market FTTN deployment and combines an unprecedented range of test functions to validate high-speed broadband services in and outside the subscriber’s home. Technicians can test key interfaces and signals at the customer premise, including VDSL, HPNA networks, RF video, Ethernet, 802.11x wireless, copper loop fault identification, POTS, and in-home wiring identification and testing.
What makes the unit unique, aside from its technical performance, is the form factor and user interface. Anyone familiar with Game Boy® could easily recognize the similarity, a strategic design decision to appeal to younger service technicians. The system is simple to use, and new hires can be up and testing immediately after completing basic field training. The auto-test feature which is programmed directly from the telco’s methods and procedures (M&P) instructs the technician to connect the right cables, push a button and watch as tests are run, results logged, and next steps indicated. A Bluetooth interface allows technicians to transmit stored results to the service provider’s database as well as upgrade the test set software when pass/fail testing thresholds of M&Ps change via a laptop. The service provider recently standardized on the HTT test set for all of its triple play installations, and has already reported increased speed of deployment.
Overall, the teams learned that with new technology it is better to start with a blank slate. This enables the vendor to deliver precisely what the customer wants. In addition, as the process evolved, several critical success factors emerged:
1. Start with a solid economic model.
2. Be sure there are strong leaders on both teams who work well together and can manage their respective organization’s internal politics.
3. Secure long-term executive support.
4. Develop a plan of execution with key milestones and stick to it.
5. Don’t guess; listen, gather requirements and deliver; only make changes in design review meetings.
6. Give and take - keep in mind it’s an evolutionary process.
A strong portfolio of FTTN test equipment and more than 25,000 DSL test sets sold gave Sunrise Telecom the technical experience and foundation needed for this project, but it was their ability to adapt to new a design process and work seamlessly with the customer that drove success. Applying a 100% customer focus resulted in a successful co-development process. For companies facing new test challenges, starting from scratch, working hand-in-hand with a vendor, and keeping the critical success factors in mind can result in a low-cost solution specifically tailored to maximize their market potential and ease the task of deploying new technologies as they emerge. IT
Bob Sutherlin is Vice President of Sales Western Area for Sunrise Telecom (http://www.sunrisetelecom.com) for the past two years. He has worked in the data and telecommunications field since 1973 with companies such as Texas Instruments, 3Com and Nortel.
Raj Wallace is a Technical Sales Director with Sunrise Telecom. He has been with Sunrise for over 11 years, working as a Product Manager, Product Marketing Engineer, and National Sales Engineer for over 7 of those years, as a National/Regional Sales Director for 2 years, and now as a Technical Sales Director for 2 years. One of his key initiatives for many of those years was providing training and technical field support for DSL installation, copper testing, and troubleshooting in the field and inside the home.
Mark Mellinger is Vice President of Strategic Account Development for Sunrise Telecom with primary responsibility for building and maintaining high-level relationships with Sunrise’s key customers including the top telecommunications companies in the country. A 37-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, Mr. Mellinger has held numerous management positions in training, maintenance, provisioning, and transport with large regional operating bell companies.
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