NETGEAR and Signals AV: ‘Almost Like an Extension of Us’
May 29, 2023
By partnering with NETGEAR, Signals Audio Video leverages the benefits of its technical differentiators, 24/7 support and constant industry engagement.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on April 18, 2023. It has since been updated with additional photos.
Just as individual components must work together effectively to create a functional audiovisual system, integrators and vendors must collaborate productively to deliver outstanding client outcomes. Sometimes, that means respected integration firms must look beyond their existing vendor partners as they search for just the right mix of technical capabilities and customer support. Signals Audio Video’s burgeoning relationship with networking specialist NETGEAR is the perfect example, and it’s clear that this relatively new vendor partnership is empowering the integrator to deliver exceptional value to its clients.
Here, Commercial Integrator chats with David Arellano, director of operations with El Segundo, Calif-based Signals AV, to learn not only about the NETGEAR relationship but also about the integrator’s core differentiators. And Arellano is the perfect person to ask, given that he’s been with the company since September 2011. The integrator, with branch offices in La Quinta, Calif., Las Vegas and Maui, Hawaii, primarily focuses on residential projects whose dollar size rivals most commercial work. Although the majority of Signals AV’s projects are near its California base, the firm will travel with key clients to outfit their ancillary properties; indeed, you can find the company’s handiwork in Idaho, New York, Cabo San Lucas, the Bahamas and elsewhere.
Signals AV is very much in growth mode — its staff ballooned from 14 in 2011 to about 60 now — but leadership works hard to retain the firm’s small-business feel. Indeed, according to Arellano, “Our company culture is one of the big things that drives a lot of people toward us.” That applies to attracting job candidates and retaining existing associates, some of whom have been with the company more than 25 years; it likewise applies to clients. “Most of our business is driven by word-of-mouth referral,” he declares, adding that Signals AV enjoys a great deal of repeat business. It also considers itself something of a boutique firm, choosing projects very selectively. “We don’t just say yes to everybody,” Arellano attests, adding that, for Signals AV, it’s increasingly about deciding which relationships make the most sense.
That sentiment applies not only to clients but also to vendor partners. When Arellano joined the company in 2011, Signals AV relied on numerous disparate networking solutions: a Cisco switch here; gear from Ruckus there; devices from Araknis Networks elsewhere. In early 2020, with his ascension to a leadership role and the simultaneous advent of AV-over-IP, Arellano found himself at an inflection point. “I was finding that [our existing platforms] didn’t really have all the things we needed for it to be a successful deployment,” he observed. Amid extensive research, Arellano stumbled across a Facebook group post that described an AV-specific line of NETGEAR switches. He quickly realized that NETGEAR checked all the boxes for what he expected a network-switch deployment to do; thus, Arellano decided to “dip his toe in the water” by trying the NETGEAR M4250 Series switches on just a couple of deployments.
If Arellano had any hesitation, the initial NETGEAR deployments erased them instantly. “I immediately started finding all the tremendous benefits,” he enthuses. “From the design steps, to the commissioning and the support from NETGEAR, to the constant updates they’re doing.” Arellano recalled an incident when one switch was having problems before he got onsite; to his delight, NETGEAR tackled the problem immediately, arranging for next-day replacement. “You’re not alone,” Arellano says with a smile, reflecting on NETGEAR’s 24/7 support.
“Fire off an email and somebody will be available for you.” He continues, “It’s comforting that we have someone able to support us when we get into situations where we get stuck.” It’s probably unsurprising, then, that Arellano attests to using NETGEAR components on virtually all his projects and deployments these days. What’s more, two other Signals AV project managers have shifted to using NETGEAR switches.
For Arellano, one of the most rewarding aspects of working with NETGEAR is the ongoing consultative relationship the vendor fosters. It started with email discussions, which helped him clarify his vision and expectations for future systems. NETGEAR offered suggestions and made helpful hardware recommendations. Once he acquired the hardware, NETGEAR volunteered to walk Arellano through deployment steps and make sure the equipment worked properly. “Then, they actually started to help me set up other third-party equipment, which mostly no other manufacturer is going to bother to even look at,” he said incredulously but with delight. Other vendors, Arellano attested, might say something like, “We don’t know anything about what you’re trying to do” and end the conversation; by contrast, NETGEAR is “…almost like an extension of us.”
Every integrator wants dedicated, helpful vendor partners, but, ultimately, we judge manufacturers on their products’ key differentiators. On that score, Arellano says, NETGEAR likewise excels. He highlights several distinguishing characteristics, starting with aesthetics. The switches, Arellano says, have an unobtrusive form factor, black faceplates, rear ports, and the capacity to be forward mounted and reverse mounted. “It blends in with my racks as I expect visually,” he remarks, adding, “We take a lot of pride in our rack deployments.” Another key benefit centers on ease of use. According to Arellano, it doesn’t require much technical knowledge to do a simple profile. As he describes it, “You’re using NVX with QSC? Hit that button, apply it — boom! — you’re done. All of three or four button clicks, and you’re up and running.”
Arellano says NETGEAR further distinguishes itself by offering switches with higher PoE budgets per port. For example, he explains, it’s possible to go up to 90W when dealing with larger devices that require that, without having to use a midspan or separate power supply. “That immediately became an important thing,” Arellano emphasizes. Moreover, he praises NETGEAR’s PoE budgets in general, commending them for not adhering to more typical limits of 375W. “I can go up to 1440W, or I can go to even more,” Arellano enthuses. “Having a singular switch that can power all my endpoints, and not having to break that up, is a huge benefit for us.” Plus, he adds, some NETGEAR switches have 10Gb SFP+ interfaces. “When I’m trying to do larger deployments beyond what one switch can support, I now have that,” Arellano declares, “whereas I didn’t have that with some of the other manufacturers we typically use.”
We’ve already underscored NETGEAR’s commitment to consultative relationships; its Advisory Council buttresses that point…and offers Arellano, who is a member, a chance to give back. It started when NETGEAR team members solicited his input on Wi-Fi-related topics — specifically, what Signals AV had been doing with Wi-Fi calling and Bonjour gateways. Based on that conversation, as well as how the firm uses the NETGEAR platform, the vendor decided Arellano would be a great candidate for its Advisory Council. NETGEAR also pointed to Arellano’s extensive email threads, his high expectations and the fact that Signals AV uses the company’s products in a more advanced, more application-specific way as compared to ordinary deployments. “I have a lot of information,” Arellano reflects. “I’ve documented a lot of things about what it does well and what I would like to see it do better. So, I think that’s what they were looking for.”
Although NETGEAR presented the Advisory Council slot to Arellano only recently, he intends to make the most of the opportunity. Indeed, he mentions conveying to NETGEAR his desire for a non-PoE version of the M4250 because, in his view, not every switchport needs to be PoE. This engagement aligns perfectly with how Arellano describes the council’s raison d’être: “Let’s put all these people in a room together and get raw, honest feedback from those who’ve been using the platform.”
Lots of vendors have great products. Fewer have found a way to combine technical excellence with outstanding service and support. Fewer still actively seek constructive criticism and guidance from the channel. For Arellano and Signals AV, NETGEAR has set itself apart across all these metrics.
“It makes me feel stronger about the brand,” Arellano concludes. “Because I know they’re actively pursuing it and working on it and making it better.”
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Dan Ferrisi has been covering the commercial AV industry as an editor, reporter and writer since 2004. He is the former editor of Sound & Communications, and he joined Commercial Integrator as editor-in-chief in November 2021.
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ΔEditor’s Note:Exploring Signals AVAn Auspicious BeginningNETGEAR Technical DifferentiatorsNETGEAR Advisory Council