Software Revolution of Field Meters Using a Field-Capable Measurement Device (2020)

By Anthony Curran & Andy Martushev, Comcast

Field meters have been on the first line of defense when determining if a cable plant is sufficient for installs, in need of repair, and for determining the quality of service. The original meters were expensive, heavy, and required a large amount of training. Contemporary meters are still relatively high-cost and in some cases require even more training to use than their predecessors. In order to get a tool in every technician’s hands, the device needs to be light, lower cost, and use contemporary software to display and interpret the relevant data to help reduce the amount of training required.

In the past 20 years, improvements in cable technology have occurred often and at a larger scale. From the late 1940s through the mid-1990s, most cable plant was used to retransmit analog TV signals. This represents 45+ years of similar technology, with most advancements involving increasing the upper spectral boundary of the infrastructure to support a greater channel capacity. By contrast, and with the adoption of DOCSIS 1.0 (1997), 2.0 (2002), 3.0 (2006), and 3.1 (2013), the cable industry has experienced a major technology upgrade approximately every five years. With each upgrade in cable technology, testing devices needed to evolve in parallel, to keep technicians current and to provide more relevant information to perform their duties.

With the onset of COVID-19, which impacted both field upgrades and social guidelines, tools needed to evolve even more rapidly. New safety protocols for cable install and repair technicians resulted in new signal verification and testing processes. Recent increases in service bandwidth needs are forcing quicker deployments of multiple orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) and orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) channels. By developing a software-first, cloud-connected device, the operator can adapt to the current situation, access more technology and evolve it more quickly.

This paper discusses how cable modem technology was used to fulfill this role, evolving to be part of the operator’s ecosystem and bringing tremendous value. The device we developed and characterize in this paper is referred to as a “field-capable measurement device,” or “FCMD.”

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