Friday, 11 July 2014

Training the Cable TV Technician

Cable TV Technician, in the Indian context, constitutes the most important link in general and DAS implementation in particular because he installs the service, collects subscription in most networks, personally knows the end user and has social contacts with competitors also. He has picked up technical skills on the job and knows the amplifier to house drop route subjectively remembering even the installed picture quality.
All this the technician does without having all the tools and instruments. He has NOT had any recognized formal training in wireline broadcast engineering or cabled communications. He is, perhaps, not aware of TRAI regulations on QoS (Quality of Service) and implied QoE (Quality of Experience). The only way for him to improve his compensation package is either by changing the network or by threatening to do so.
So the social status of a Cable TV Technicians is semi-skilled with no certification of a formal qualification. Even the cable operators do not demand skills accreditation and he is only recognized as a CABLE WALLA.
Probable causes for such apathy are:-
  • Cable TV networking is not accorded the status of infrastructure highway or service industry.
  • Cable TV networking is not treated as multi program multi-channel wireline broadcast.
  • Being wireline broadcast, a Central Govt subject, is left to State Govts to administer.
  • Wireline broadcasting is NOT taught in India.
  • Engagement in this service is treated as an occupation, NOT a profession.
  • Regulations, standards and acts enacted without insistence on verbatim implementation.
  • RoW (Right of Way) has been enacted in Cable Act but NOT covered in Rules (procedures, norms, formalities, undertakings, uniform rates etc)
  • Headend Service Providers (popularly called MSOs) depend on vendors to upgrade headends without insisting upon ‘as built’ drawings with test points. In most Headends, laid down drills for daily maintenance checks are non-existent.
  • The need for upgrade to bi-directionality, with secured RoW, to enhance ARPUs by adding ‘On Demand’ services has not been realized.
Expectations from Cable TV technicians
Cable TV networks, if digitized fully by end of 2014, would involve about 60000 crores of total private investment over 30000 crores of revenue. For DAS implementation the technician would be expected to :-
  • Understand SAF (Subscriber Application Form) and its terms and conditions fully to get the form filled up correctly and help in its integration in to the SMS with a unique customer ID.
  • Install and get STB (Set top Box) integrated in the SMS.
  • Learn attributes of the STB installed to brief the subscriber on usage.
  • Explain all aspects of DAS to subscriber.
  • Complete installation report.
  • Attend trouble tickets generated by customer care and feedback the SMS
To improve the situation, there is a need to imbibe proper training to the Cable TV Technician. Cable TV technicians being the practical customer interface needs to be elevated in social status from CABLE WALLA to Network Engineer. As a legacy, degrees and diplomas are deemed indices of professional acceptance. Efforts in this direction by the BES (Broadcast Engineering Society) in 1997-98 by introducing correspondence courses did NOT invoke interest. IETE has nothing to offer in this domain as yet. ITIs have not introduced formal Cable TV Technician Diploma/Certificate courses.
SCTE (The Society for Cable Telecommunication Engineers) is an established training and certification agency across the world. They have now opened the Indian Chapter. The highlights of this facility are :-
  • For existing technicians, on line as well as printed literature is available for a fee.
  • Technicians can register as students to access the literature.
  • Studying in their own time, technicians can appear for an examination. On passing the examination their membership can be upgraded to ‘Associate Member’ and with an experience gap to ‘Member’.
  • The training schedule shall include three distinct modules:-
(a) Installer module dealing with coaxial cable drop starting from point of entry into the dwelling unit to wall outlet, set top box and TV receiver. Contains details of state-of-the art installation.
(b) Network engineer dealing with erection of HFC plant from Headend to optical node and coaxial copper route to the dwelling unit.  Contains details of optical transport calculations, overhead and underground routing both for copper and optical fiber.
(c) NOC(Network Operation Centre) i.e. the Headend operations covering entire design encryption and subscriber management, layout, power budgeting including captive power and redundancy and meeting audit obligations, including but NOT limited to TV PAY broadcaster’s audit
  • AMSCTE or MSCTE can be suffixed to their names as accredited qualifications. These are internationally recognized. They however involve payment of annual membership.
  • Names of Associates and Members are published in the directory published annually.
  • Access to standards, white papers and updates on technology are made available to members.
  • Other grades of membership are FELLOWS, LIFE FELLOWS and CORPORATE Members (generally for headend service providers, broadcasters, and training institutions). Fellowship is generally conferred upon individuals for their outstanding individual contribution to the industry.  
Students of state run ITIs in electronics stream too can join SCTE as students, acquire membership and enter this service as professionals. SCTE being a society for broadband professionals would open accredited avenue for employment with TELCOs too. It is expected that other institutions too may start training for Cable TV technicians.
Deliverables by Up-skilled Cable TV Technicians

The training will train the technician in the following skills:-
  • Understanding importance of EoL (End of Line) parameters like C/N, MER and BER.
  • Difference between RG-59 and RG-6 as drops.
  • Importance and insistence of good quality connectorization.
  • Understanding ‘Skin-effect’ in coaxial cables needing equalization.
  • Understanding pixelization, frame freezes and latency in digital television transport.
  • Filling up installation reports.
  • Understanding aspects of 18X365 customer care and appraising users on complaint redressal.
  • Understanding EPG to educate end users.
  • Understanding upstream communications in bi-directional networking.
  • Understanding Cable Modem configurations.
  • Trouble shooting basic PC operations to help broadband delivery.
  • Understanding billing issues and resolving customer queries.
  • Understanding and promoting marketing campaigns,
  • Any other requirements from the service providers.

Cable TV technician is the upfront service provider interface which creates the good, bad or indifferent impression on the subscriber. They are all self-made assets who created the network connectivity scaled to over 100 million subscribers. In spite of being an indispensable entity in the service, have not attracted organized effort on skills upgrade.
In the Indian environment, recognized qualifications add value to employment and associated compensation. Hence this entity too needs to suffix recognized qualifications to their names. The employers may be reluctant to invest in up skilling the technicians. They will have to avail the needful themselves. This will also help in corporatization of Cable TV Networks. It is high time, this work force gets their due recognition.



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