Comcast cuts truck rolls with open source AI software


Comcast claims to have saved tens of millions of dollars through avoiding the need for truck rolls, by using a machine learning program that can predict with 90% accuracy whether or not it will need to send a technician to a customer’s home to fix connectivity problems. Every operator would love to reduce truck rolls. Estimates of the average costs vary, but tend to be somewhere between $50 and $100 per truck roll. Even if a company is using the most efficient vehicles possible, those costs are increasing as fuel and labour costs rise.

Every operator is well aware that they end up sending people out on the road more often than is really needed, because many problems could be solved easily if only the operator’s staff could diagnose them remotely, or if they had a clear view of what was happening inside the customer’s home.

It makes more sense to work on software which will tell you what the WiFi in the home is up to, rather than ask an AI to work it out for you. If they say the WiFi is not working chances are the AI will say, can you reboot the router.

Anyway it doesn’t seem very likely that anyone will develop entirely foolproof, or 100% reliable on-premise equipment at any point in the near future, so the best way to attack this problem seems to be to increase the operator’s ability to diagnose and solve problems when customers contact them. Operators have been experimenting with different ways of using data analytics to do this for several years, and it is beginning to look as if those technologies, combined both with methods for diagnosing problems remotely, might soon be saving more operators a great deal of time and money. So is there any real need for machine learning here?

The Comcast AI solution was developed internally and is based in part on open source technology, including the H20 open source AI platform. The key question it can answer is whether the problem is indeed inside the customer’s home, or if it is actually located somewhere else in Comcast’s network. Adam Hertz, vice-president of engineering at Comcast’s Innovation Center in Silicon Valley, told an audience at the Mobile Future Forward event that the company developed the application by assembling and analyzing a wide range of datasets covering many different aspects of its operations, including data related to calls to its customer service center, as well as network operations data.

Reviewing the customer services call data revealed that many problems could be solved with very simple fixes, including changing a customer’s subscription details or preferences, resetting a modem, or even just replacing the batteries in a remote control. Surely then this is about deskilling the helpdesk staff, because it would take mere weeks for them to know that stuff.

Other operators and service providers have used different methods to try to reduce truck rolls. In 2016 Swisscom announced it was using Network Function Virtualization (NFV) technology from Hewlett Packard Enterprise to provide virtual customer premise equipment in the cloud for its business customers, removing the need for any truck rolls related to on-premise equipment.

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Peter has been involved in technology for 35 years, and is now the Lead Analyst at Faultline, a digital media research service offered by Rethink Technology Research. In his work at Faultline Peter has built an understanding of wired and wireless Triple Play and Quad Play models including multiscreen video delivery, taking in all aspects of delivering video files including IPTV. This includes all the various content protection, conditional access and digital rights management, encoding, set tops and VoD server technologies. Peter writes about all forms of video delivery is fascinated with the impact IP is having on all of the entertainment fields, and calls his service Faultline because of the deep faults which can devastate large established companies operating in the fields of consumer electronics, broadcasting, content delivery, content creation, and all forms of telecommunications operators, as content begins to be delivered digitally. Peter is currently advising major players and start up ventures in this field, and has both written and validated business plans in the area.


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