The Industry

Comcast and Real Competition

comcast-truck-cmcsa-cmcsk_largeIt’s really interesting to see how Comcast is reacting to Google Fiber in Atlanta. The company has had competition from fiber in the past in the form of Verizon FiOS. But the footprint for that competition hasn’t changed for years. Comcast and Verizon have competed with very similar data speeds and there was not a lot to distinguish one from the other from a product standpoint. Each company has bested the other in some markets, although Verizon seems to have gotten the upper hand in more places.

But now Comcast is facing Google Fiber for the first time and their reaction is interesting. From what I can see they are doing the following:

  • Comcast is offering a gigabit of speed for $70 per month. But it comes with a very ugly 3-year contract. For those that don’t take the 3-year contract the price will be $139.95 per month, plus Comcast will impose a 3 gigabit monthly data cap that could add up to $35 per month to anybody that actually uses the data.
  • Comcast is using negative advertising against Google’s WiFi router and says that Google’s Wifi’s speeds are 30 Mbps while their own is 725 Mbps.
  • And Comcast is widely distributing flyers that tell people in Atlanta not to fall for the Google hype.

So how do these claims stack up and will they be effective?

I think Comcast’s speed comparison is quite silly and that the public will see through it. The general public has been trained for a decade that fiber is better. Not that upload speeds matter to most people, but Google’s speeds are symmetrical while Comcast will have a relatively slow, perhaps 35 Mbps upload. On a fiber network it’s not too hard to engineer to deliver a true gigabit download almost all of the time. But Comcast is going to have the same issues it’s always had with its HFC network. If it sells too many gigabit customers, then its nodes will slow down for everybody on the node. I don’t believe that there are many homes today that really need a gigabit, but once Google is up and running it ought to win the speed test battle in the market.

There is some truth to Comcast’s claim about WiFi, although their numbers are quite skewed. For some reason Google Fiber is still using an 802.11n WiFi router. At best their WiFi routers are going to deliver about 300 Mbps – but in Kansas City the Google routers are reported on consumer websites to deliver about 80 Mbps on average. Comcast is offering 802.11ac routers, and while they are theoretically capable of the speeds they tout, in real life use they deliver between 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps.

The fact is that both companies (and most ISPs) are doing a very poor job with WiFi. Almost all of them offer a one-WiFi router solution which is not acceptable in today’s big bandwidth homes. I have a Comcast WiFi router and it delivers really low speeds to our offices which are opposite ends of the house from the central router. Until a carrier is willing to cross the threshold and install a WiFi network with multiple linked WiFi routers in a home, then all of their solutions are going to be poor in real life practice.

It appears that Comcast is relying on negative advertising against Google, and I seriously doubt this is going to work. Comcast has one of the most hated customer service experiences in the country and Google has been touted – so far – for offering outstanding customer service. It seems like a bad tactic to advertise negatively about somebody that will have a better network product and a better customer experience.

I think Comcast is really missing the point. It seems like they are spending their energy advertising against Google’s gigabit product. But Google announced that it is entering Atlanta with two data products – the gigabit at $70 and a 100 Mbps product at $50. My bet is that the slower product is likely to most cut into Comcast’s penetration rate unless they decide to scrap the 300 gigabit month data cap. Where Comcast says that only a small percentage of customers use more data than that per month, my clients tell me otherwise. Once any customer has been charged extra for a data cap overage on Comcast they most likely will change to Google and they are likely to never come back.

The Industry

Google Fiber and the Triple Play

There is some interesting news from Google Fiber lately about new product offerings. It was reported at the end of January that Google is testing a voice product for its fiber customers. And in early February Google announced that it was adding a 100 Mbps data product in the Atlanta roll-out.

News leaked out that Google is experimenting with Fiber Phone with members of its Trusted Tester Program. Google offered phone service to those customers and wrote the following:

With Fiber Phone, you can use the right phone for your needs, whether it’s your mobile device on the go or your landline at home. No more worrying about cell reception or your battery life when you’re home… Spam filtering, call screening and do-not-disturb make sure the right people can get in touch with you at the right time.

Google is installing the needed equipment for test customers and is at the beta stage of testing. There has been news about possible pricing or when this might be made available to all customers.

In early February Google announced it is now offering a 100 Mbps data product for $50 to go along with the $70 gigabit offering. In Atlanta the company has eliminated the ‘free’ Internet product where customers paid a one-time fee of $300 and got a 5 Mbps product for 7 years with no additional fees.

With these changes Google is looking more and more like a typical triple-play provider. It’s not hard to understand why they would make these changes. It’s very expensive to build a fiber network and the best way to pay for it is to get as many high-margin customers as possible on the network to pay for it.

As exciting as the $70 gigabit product is there are a huge number of households that just can’t afford that price. So by adding a $50 product that is still blazingly fast Google will make their broadband affordable to a lot more people in each market.

There is one interesting market dynamic that Google is probably going to soon see. In looking at the customer penetration rates for many of my client ISPs I’ve almost always seen that the fastest Internet product (assuming it isn’t priced too high) will get 10% to 15% of the customers in a given market. Given a choice, the rest of the customers will take something slower if it saves them money. This is not something that’s true only for fast fiber networks, but I’ve seen this same relationship hold true for cable companies with HFC networks and for DSL networks. There are only a few markets where a higher percentage of customers buy the premium data product.

If Google goes back and introduces the 100 Mbps product in their older markets they will probably see two things. First, they will add customers who find the $50 price affordable. But they are also going to see gigabit customers downgrade to 100 Mbps to save $20 per month. Overall I would guess this change will produce a significant net change upward in total revenues in Google’s older markets. In Atlanta I predict they will get a lot more 100 Mbps customers than gigabit customers.

And Google ought to do okay with voice. My experience is that they will have a hard time selling voice to existing customers but that they will do okay with new customers as they add them. The FCC reported that voice just fell under a 50% nationwide penetration, and that is still a lot of potential customers. I see clients still doing surprisingly well with residential voice and still doing extremely well with business voice.

It’s interesting to see that after a few years in the market that Google is morphing into a more normal triple play provider. I’ve expected this from the start because my take is that a large majority of the households still wants the double play or triple play and if you want to get a lot of customers you have to provide what customers want to buy. Anybody that expects customers to buy from more than one vendor to get what they want is going to drive away a lot of potential customers.

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