Workforce shifting with speed, variety of services
MORE THAN MAINSTREAM: Jamie Griffin, Full Channel's director of technology, shows Jodi Kopecky, a Full Channel customer from Warren, how to stream video on a tablet with Full Channel's TV Everywhere platform at the firm's office in Warren. Video streaming has contributed to a consumer demand for higher Internet speeds.
"Appointment TV" is being replaced by streaming video and "TV on the go," and the telecommunications workforce that manages and troubleshoots the change has also evolved as a result.
Jamie Griffin, 34, of Barrington, joined Full Channel Inc., a telecommunications provider covering Barrington, Warren and Bristol, as a field technician in 2005. Two years later, with a background in computer science, he was promoted to director of technology.
He now oversees the Network Operations Center and all technological upgrades for Internet service.
"Everything is shifting," Griffin said. "There is less time spent on traditional telecom and radio-frequency engineering, which is the foundation of how we deliver our signals. Much more time is being spent on the network side. Everything we do is now based on a data network or Internet protocol network."
Verizon Inc. and Cox Communications, which provide TV, Internet and phone service, report similar transitions, evolving at first slowly over the past 20 years but then barreling ahead in the past 12-18 months, company spokesmen say.
Video streaming in particular, which can be accomplished with high-speed Internet connections, Web-based Apple TV and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, has contributed to the demand for higher speeds. Not so much for the business client, who often already had a need for higher-end networks, but for the consumer, said Levi Maaia, president of Full Channel Labs, a division focused on strategy, research and development for new technologies.
"We were a TV company that happened to sell Internet, and now we're an Internet company that happens to sell TV," Maaia said. "Our focus has become the Internet; more and more it has become the most important part of our business and the thing we dedicate the most resources to."
Michael Murphy, public relations manager for Verizon, echoes that sentiment, noting in an email, "Verizon is no longer a telecom company: We are a technology company that connects millions of people, companies and communities."
Network technicians that had focused primarily on installing and maintaining "plain old telephone service" over traditional copper wires "are now fully engaged with fiber – and all the services, tools and capabilities that come with it," Murphy said.
Griffin notes that that upgrade in skills requires continuous training, something he and his four technicians get through the Exton, Pa.-based Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.
The scope of broadband skills required of technicians has widened dramatically, adds Murphy.
"Our technicians need to know how to install and troubleshoot all that's involved with [Verizon's] Fios-TV," he said. "They need to know how to set up computers, routers and the many broadband applications delivered via fiber. They need to know how to fix all of this when something isn't operating."
At Cox, internal training is provided for technicians, as the demands for the job have become more technical, said Eric Wagner, Cox public relations manager. But a big change is enhancing their customer-service skills, he said.
"We know we can keep them up to date on the technical side," he said, "but because of the increasing complexity of what our customers get in our homes, we know that's where those customer-service skills come into play," because customers have to interact with the technology as well.
Jeff Abney, Cox's vice president of marketing, points out that video streaming on devices is only part of the reason for the explosion in bandwidth and high-speed Internet-access demand. Also fueling the change is consumer desire for mobility, the proliferation of Internet-connected devices (including things like home-security networks and wireless printers) and the diversity of mobile and wireless devices.
"We are making it easier for people to access content," Abney said.
In 2014, Cox doubled speed on two of its most popular tiers. The "preferred" tier went from 25 to 50 megabits per second and "premier" jumped from 50 to 100 megabits per second, Abney said.
"Eighty percent of customers in Rhode Island subscribe to one of these [services]," he said, with two more basic services offering either 5 to 10 or 15 mbps. (Cox's "ultimate" high-end speeds for most consumers are 200 mbps, Wagner said.)
At Full Channel, Internet speeds range from 10 mbps to 60 mbps, which is standard, and a high end of 110 mbps for both residential and business customers, Maaia said.
"The company … [has] plans to substantially increase those top-end offerings in the coming year," he added.
At Verizon, services range from 50 mbps to 100 mbps and, at the high end, 150 mbps for most users, Murphy said, although the highest speeds are up to 500 mbps.
In 2014 in Rhode Island, Verizon invested more than $71 million across its fiber-optic and wireline networks.
"These networks require significant and continued investment to stay ahead of rising demand," said Murphy. •