Cable Tech

ATX CEO on bridging the labor gap and what's next in cable tech

Whether it's upgrading existing hybrid fiber/coax (HFC), extending service to adjacent areas or bringing fiber and gigabit speeds to rural locations, the pace of network building has picked up among many US cable operators.

That means access to fiber, coax, electronics and other components that make up the network is on the rise, despite ongoing supply chain constraints. But it also means the demand for labor, a limited resource these days, is reaching all-time highs.

ATX Networks is a long-time network tech supplier to cable operators and telcos alike. But it is now putting a lot more focus on the labor side of the equation following its expansion into the world of professional services and the launch of a Field Personnel Replenishment Program that aims to address today's labor shortage by training and deploying network builders.

"As a company that lives and breathes cable broadband and video, over the years, we've seen our customers struggle at times with finding enough labor for initiatives, whether at times it was fiber companies drawing away construction crews … or luring away engineering talent from legacy tech," Dan Whalen, ATX's CEO, explained on the Light Reading Podcast. "They've had challenges at times, but post-COVID, it just feels exacerbated."

But how dire is the situation? "I would say that people have been pulling the fire alarm on this for a while," said Whalen, an industry vet who has held exec posts at Cisco Systems, Arris, CommScope and Adtran and today has a seat on the Harmonic board of directors. "I can't really go into an executive meeting without hearing about the need for more labor in this space. It's somewhere maybe short of massive, but north of significant."

Whalen also discusses how cable network upgrade activity is perking up as operators pursue "mid-split" and "high-split" upgrades, set a migration path to a distributed access architecture (DAA) and prep the plant for an eventual jump to DOCSIS 4.0.

You can download a lightly edited transcript of the podcast here. If you want to skip around and listen, here are a few topics discussed during this podcast:

  • Whalen discusses the origins of the Field Personnel Replenishment Program and the status of the initiative (1:30)
  • How ATX's program provides not just training, but also seeks out talent at vocational schools and community colleges as operators move ahead with network upgrades or rural broadband projects stemming from government subsidy programs (3:50)
  • On how acute the labor shortage is today (6:00)
  • How ATX is building curriculum for the field tech program and how those workers will be deployed to network-building projects (8:30)
  • An update on upgrade activity as cable operators pursue distributed access network architectures, look to introduce 1.8GHz technology and prepare for a future jump to DOCSIS 4.0 (16:00)
  • When 1.8GHz technology is expected to be ready for prime time (20:00)
  • How GAP (Generic Access Platform) nodes will fit into ATX's roadmap (25:00)

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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