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Digital Home Complexity: an Avoidable Cost

As broadband service providers look to in-home local area networks as a means of enhancing productivity, communications, and entertainment, a new report from Parks Associates warns that their customer service costs will escalate dramatically.

The report entitled "Digital Home Services: Carriers, Retailers, and the Consumer" projects that consumer technical support costs for home networks alone could exceed $200 million annually for U.S. broadband providers. I believe that this is a very conservative estimate, given the facts.

"Assuming that few enhancements are made in monitoring broadband and in-home networks between now and 2011, customer support costs will escalate significantly as subscribers turn in growing numbers to their broadband service providers to solve in-home networking issues," said Kurt Scherf, Parks Associates vice president and principal analyst.

"Given the pressure on service providers to boost not only revenue but also profit margins, we're urging them to take proactive steps to assuage these costs." Scherf has identified eight elements critical to enhancing customer support capabilities and reducing support costs for broadband service providers.

These key requirements for building enhanced customer support include developing robust solutions to simplify CPE and hardware installation, improving service provision, automating troubleshooting services, building metrics-gathering solutions, and enhancing help desk support systems, which could include the development of dynamic knowledge databases and other operation support system (OSS) features.

The Parks report provides insight on the drivers for digital home support solutions. It profiles more than 40 companies in the digital home support value-chain and offers more than 60 primary consumer data points. The report provides U.S. forecasts for digital home support services, including remote and on-site troubleshooting and in-home PC installation and setup through 2011.

Based upon my own experience directly advising broadband service providers (BSPs) on this very topic, I still believe that the BSPs typically do not invest the time and effort to guide their equipment vendors -- with requirements to fully arm the service provider operations team with the tools they need to contain these escalating support costs.

You would think that most integrated router/AP or gateway CPE that's designed as "carrier class" would inherently be much more managable, but that's not always the case. You might anticipate that a device designed for the BSP channel was at least as user-friendly to configure and operate as a leading retail "consumer grade" product, but that's rarely the case.

My point: if BSPs were better prepared to anticipate the support needs of their mainstream consumer customers, then they would be able to mandate design specifications for their customer premise equipment. Simplicity, by design, should be an essential mandate for the BSP consumer product procurement agenda, but it isn't.

The vast majority of inherent digital home complexity is an avoidable cost, if it's appropriately addressed at the beginning of the product life-cycle process -- long before the service offering is launched, and certainly before the first customer must scratch their head in disbelief.

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