It’s often the giant telecom providers serving large urban markets that grab the headlines about the skyrocketing demand for broadband services in the US. But smaller providers serving the slice of the population living in less densely populated areas have a different set of challenges and opportunities. They also often have different business models and are structured differently, with electric cooperatives often playing a key role.
That all translates into a very different set of requirements for their field service operations and objectives. And while the federal government’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program is top of mind for many of the service providers, “each state has a different approach to selecting broadband projects and administering funds” as noted in a recent Fierce Telecom article.
At the recent TechAdvantage expo and conference in Nashville, Zinier’s Steve Yazell talked to broadband operators, electric cooperatives, and other key stakeholders to take the pulse of what their priorities were, for their customers and for their field service operations. Many operators are aiming to capitalize on current funding opportunities to build the right infrastructure for the long term. (Indeed, some have already completed their initial build-outs.) But translating those goals into concrete plans that can be sustained for the long haul is easier said than done.
Steve spent a few days absorbing the presentations and talking with dozens of attendees (often at some of Nashville’s dynamic venues, like the TechAdvantage reception at Nashville's FGL House, seen in the photo – it’s a rough life, but somebody’s gotta do it).
Here are some of Steve’s key takeaways:
- Leveraging technology to boost efficiency is a constant and high priority for many of these operators. And, of course, the technologies that make the most difference for many of these operators can be very different from what matters most to their counterparts in dense urban areas. For example, in a primarily rural service area, tools that can help them improve scheduling and routing to reduce drive time can make a big difference.
- Likewise, the penalty for an inventory glitch that necessitates a return visit with the right part can be much higher when the distances involved are much larger. And providing immediate feedback – for example, by streamlining the process for dynamic audits – can drive significant efficiency boosts.
- Many co-ops are weighing the tradeoffs between partnering with an existing broadband operator to build out a network for them vs. building their own operation using internal resources. Ideally, their field service operations management solution should accommodate whatever approach winds up making the most sense for the business. These decisions -- along with many other factors, such as regulatory changes -- can dramatically affect requirements for internal resources, so a robust capacity management solution will offer the flexibility to quickly scale up or down.
- Likewise, if they wind up needing to manage a combined workforce for both electric and fiber networks, their software should be able to properly coordinate a hybrid combination of resources – providing visibility across both functions while separating personnel, parts, and resources appropriately.
- Two perennial priorities – managing outages and bolstering safety for their workforce – remain top of mind.
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