There is home-network training, and then there is the Pakedge Certified Network Administrator (PCNA) program from Control4 (Nasdaq: CTRL), a leader in home automation.
Introduced at CEDIA 2017, PCNA appears to be the most ambitious program yet to boost competency in designing, installing and managing high-performance networks – not just for Control4 dealers, but for the smart-home industry in general.
The six-part, expertly produced online training series is reportedly the best in the business. But that’s just the start of it. The key to the program is that it forces students to set up, maintain and live with their own networking gear. It’s a hands-on element that no other program seems to offer.
“We surveyed the state of industry training,” says Ted Haeger, Control4 senior director of training and support. “People won awards for putting things online. Most talk about networking as if everyone knows what networking is.”
Clearly, that is not the case.
“So many integrators come from security or A/V and they don’t have in-depth experience in networking,” says Brad Hintze, Control4 senior director of product marketing. “It reflects poorly on our industry and it reflects poorly on the dealer’s business.”
A solid network is the foundation of any worthwhile smart-home system, he adds. A bad one can sabotage a job, hurt the business, and damage the credibility of an entire industry.
Control4’s challenge was “how to create a dealer community well versed in deep networking topics,” Hintze explains, “how to make sure they can set up a network the first time, and quickly and easily troubleshoot issues without having to call tech support.”
Haeger, whose team created the program, says the training is 95% generic because “it’s first about the industry and second about Pakedge.”
Any PCNA-certified dealer should be able to have a “meaningful conversation” with any CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Association), says Haeger.
New Paradigm in Network Training
Control4 has always provided training at no charge, through seven training centers in the world. The core curriculum may be free, but it’s still an investment of time and money to send someone out of town for a week.
For that reason, few people from any company attend, usually key employees.
“We wanted to lower the bar,” Hintze says. “We’re trying to democratize network service and training because everyone needs it.”
Any integration company that does business with Control4 and/or its Pakedge and Triad groups, is eligible to participate.
For dual-band routers, steer users to the “better” channel by naming them “primary” (5 GHz) and “secondary” (2.4 GHz). Consumers won't know the difference between “router-5” and “router-2.4”.
The company pays $1,250 (in the U.S.) for each enrollee. The students receive $2,300 (retail) worth of Pakedge gear, which is theirs to keep. When the student passes the certification, the company gets a $600 rebate from Control4, so the final cost is just $650 per technician. The dealer cost of the “free” Pakedge gear amounts to much more than that, so the training actually “pays” the dealer several hundred dollars.
Of course, the financial gains are much more significant than a few hundred dollars. In theory, dealers gain qualified networking technicians who live with and work on the products they sell and install.
Integrator Joe Whitaker of The Thoughtful Home, who will review the training program for CE Pro, calls it one of the highlights of CEDIA 2017, where it was announced to dealers.
“The thought of having a training course that provides the equipment needed for hands-on training at lower-than-dealer cost is amazing,” he tells CE Pro. “Pair that with the fact that this puts the gear in the hands and homes of the technicians is brilliant. Now certified techs will live with the same gear they deploy.”
The hands-on experience extends not just to programming, but to category cabling, as well. The kit includes a selection of category cable, carefully stripped to reveal shielding and other characteristics of each type.
“So many times they tell you to use Cat 7,” Hintze says, “but you really don’t understand why.”
Illustrations like this will help dealers build better networks, but also justify to customers why their approach might cost more than other solutions.
Control4 hired a strong team of curriculum developers to produce the training. Haeger notes that even the white-board-style visualizations (“laced with humor,” by the way) are produced by an experienced illustrator.
Clearly, he explains, the venture is not for profit: “The primary thing is, even if you’re not using Control4, the network is going to make or break the experience.”
- RK-1 Router with BakPak
- SX-8P Managed PoE Switch
- WK-1 802.11ac WAP with 2×2 MIMO array and 1.3 Gbps aggregate throughput
- P2 Power Distribution Unit, and
- Necessary cables
- Course 1: Networking Essentials – available today
- Course 2: Switches – available today
- Course 3: Routers – available September 26, 2017
- Course 4: Wireless Access Points – available October 3, 2017
- Course 5: Remote Monitoring & Management – available October 10, 2017
- Course 6: Network Planning – available October 17, 2017
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