Control4 has identified a major problem within our industry: a broad deficit of networking skills.
During its dealer event at CEDIA last fall, the company stated that 30 percent of its support issues are network related, and nearly half of the time Control4 sends specialists out to field escalation projects, the network is at fault. And it’s not really too surprising; many of us got into this industry around installing AV systems or programming advanced control systems, and our core competencies generally lie a layer below the network infrastructure. But as systems and devices increasingly become part of the smart home, and solid network, stable Wi-Fi, and 100 percent access to the internet becomes the customer expected norm, our industry needs to become networking experts.
Traditionally, the routes to gaining network knowledge having really fit our needs. One is trial and error, which results in repeated callbacks, extra time on the job, and customer frustration. Another is vendor webinars which are often ineffective and don’t fit the learning style of many. And the final is something like Cisco training, which is costly, complicated, and enterprise focused.
Control4’s solution was to launch the Pakedge Certified Network Administrator (PCNA) curriculum. This is designed to give installers the skills and knowledge needed to–as the first course so elegantly puts it–“help us to make networks that don’t suck.” These six-part classes are specialized to give custom installers the tools, knowledge, and hands-on skills needed to design, implement, and manage the network needs of a modern connected home.
The broader goal is a trifecta of self-serving win for Control4, the dealer, and the technician, as all benefit in real ways. Control4 benefits by having fewer network-related service calls and more reliable systems installed, the dealer with better trained technicians on staff capable of completing and troubleshooting more advanced jobs, and the technician by improving his/her personal skillset and getting an awesome network for their own home.
The only way to truly experience PCNA is to take it, which is what I did. In fact, the entire process took me more than 73 hours! To be fair, my experience took far longer than typical, as I reviewed the classes multiple times to take notes for blog posts, one covering each class (available at residentialsystems.com). The classes feature a total run time of roughly 14.5 hours.
Any employee of an authorized Control4, Pakedge, or Triad dealer company can sign-up for PCNA training. Registration is $1,250, which covers the cost of all the hardware included with the training, as well as the final proctored exam. The kicker is that if the technician passes the online exam within 60 days of registration, the dealer’s account is credited back $600.
After registering, the trainee is shipped a training kit that includes not only the hardware needed to take the course, but the makings of a kick-ass network. The kit includes a Pakedge RK-1 router, SX-8P managed PoE switch, WK-1 wireless access point, P2 power distribution unit, and a variety of Cat6 interconnect cables. The trainee need only provide a modem.
The first course walks the tech through setting up the new network hardware, including logging into the router and switch to make necessary changes. There’s no question that the Pakedge gear is top notch. The RK-1 router handles up to 900 Mbps speeds, has VLANs, and offers dual WAN ports for redundancy. The SX-8P managed switch has 125 watts of PoE, an enterprise-grade processor, a SFP (fiber) port, and offers advanced features like IGMP snooping, QoS, link aggregation, and more. The WK-1 WAP is dual-band 802.11ac, with a 2x2 MIMO internal antenna array offering up to 1.2 Gbps (300 Mbps 2.4GHz/867 Mbps 5GHz), handles up to 16 SSIDs and two guest networks, and can power over Ethernet. The P2 is a dual-outlet power distribution unit with both self-healing and timer modes to automatically cycle outlets to hopefully restore operation to a locked component.
I’ve lived with the gear for nearly three months now and have had no issues. My network is solid, stable, and, most importantly, reliable. Whether it’s Kaleidescape movie playback, 4K Amazon streaming, or my family simultaneously viewing different YouTube content, it just works. In fact, even though I only pay Spectrum for 60 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up–and received that with my previous Wi-Fi router–after installing the Pakedge gear, I regularly get speeds of 120 down and 12 up. Bonus! I’ve also noticed that Wi-Fi signals are much stronger throughout my 2,200-square-foot home. In fact, I have three bars of 5G in virtually every room, and can get a solid 2.4G signal well into my back and front yard.
The only minor issue we faced was with an HP printer that uses AirPrint to print wireless from an iOS device. After installing the new WAP, this stopped working. A quick call to Pakedge tech support resolved the problem (something to do with multicast enhancements), and the fix has been implemented in the latest firmware update, which also addresses the KRACK vulnerability.
The six classes are divided into Essentials - Build Your First Network, Switches, Routers, Wireless Access Points, Remote Monitoring and Management, and Network Design. Besides the fifth class, which covers using Pakedge’s BakPak for remote access, the PCNA curriculum is designed to teach networking skills and fundamentals that work with any brand of hardware. Obviously PCNA graduates will be more familiar with navigating Pakedge hardware, but the training will be beneficial across any brand.
Prior to taking the PCNA course, I had a general knowledge of networking. I knew how to open a command prompt, how to setup and configure a router and access point, how to set static IP addresses, etc. But after the training, I have an immensely better understanding of not only how networks work, but what different settings are for, and the best practices for designing a solid network. Things like selecting the subnet mask to properly size the network, why using reserved IP addresses is a better practice, adjusting Wi-Fi channels and broadcast signal strength for best roaming, measuring actual network throughput with iPerf, and using BakPak to monitor and access a project remotely are concepts that will stick with me going forward on jobs.
There is no question that you continue to gain knowledge by living with and using something, and one of the great things about PCNA is that with the Pakedge gear in the tech’s own system, they are “forced” to use it and interact with it frequently, even long after the class concludes.
To see if PCNA is right for your company, ask yourself this simple question: Is having a totally trained up network expert worth $650 (the price after rebate)? If yes, then register them today!
• PCNA course includes six online classes totaling approximately 14.5 hours course time
• Proctored online final exam must be completed within 60 days for dealer to receive rebate; first test is included in initial registration, subsequent tests (if needed) cost is approximately $30
• Includes RK-1 router, SX-8P managed PoE switch, WK-1 WAP, P2 power distribution unit and Cat-6 interconnect cables
• Class includes BakPak account for remote network management