Broadband Communities

MAY-JUN 2014

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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8 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | MAY/JUNE 2014 PROVIDER PERSPECTIVE M any years ago, a mattress manufacturer achieved success with a bed that could be set to a specifc "sleep number." A customer could pick any number between 5 and 100. A sleep number of 30 meant a very soft bed; an 80 meant a very frm mattress. Te company recently told me that most of its customers choose sleep numbers in the middle range of 45 to 65. Users tend to brag about their numbers: "I'm a 45, but my wife is a 90. She likes to sleep like the Flintstones, on a bed of rock!" Couldn't this approach work in the broadband business, too? Wouldn't it be great if every broadband subscriber could choose a "speed number"? Tat would make it much easier to build a mattress – I mean a broadband connection – to suit each customer's needs and preferences. A young apartment dweller moving into his frst place might be a 30. An older empty-nester could be a 15. A retiree could be a 10. A college student might be a 50. All could set their speed numbers with a remote control just as mattress customers set their sleep numbers. It's a great idea, but the problem with speed numbers is that they change all the time. Unlike the mattress market, the broadband market is very dynamic and constantly changing. What was acceptable last year may no longer work today. At the most recent BroadBand Communities conference, I enjoyed watching panelists debate speed numbers. One speaker noted that broadband quality should be measured by more than just one number. "Tings like bufering, jittering and reliability should also matter." However, today's typical broadband subscribers don't consider all these factors when they choose their providers. Tey want their Internet connections to support their online lifestyles: streaming movies, using social media, gaming and doing schoolwork. Tey focus on speed numbers because it's impossible to gauge bufering and jittering from a move-in brochure. Tat's why the speed number has become a cocktail party bragging right: "I was a 75, but I'm now upgrading to 100 Mbps." Te reality is that many consumers focus on speed only when they make buying decisions and then quickly forget what they signed up for. I contend that there are really only two speed levels anyway – fast enough and not fast enough. In the MDU market, marketing is a key component of the broadband business because broadband is the most desired amenity for residents today. Speed numbers really do matter, whether a provider is marketing to an owner, a leasing agent or an end user. Just watch how fast speed numbers are changing. Several years ago, Comcast touted 1.5 Mbps as its preferred speed. Today, that fgure is about to jump to 50 Mbps. Charter, too, has increased its base broadband speeds from 15 Mbps to 20 Mbps, then to 30 Mbps last year. It has now begun introducing 60 Mbps as its base – even 100 Mbps in select areas. Why does this matter? Comparing broadband services on the basis of jittering and bufering is very difcult for most consumers. Have you ever seen a leasing agent tell a prospective move-in that her property's 15 Mbps is actually a better service than another property's 100 Mbps connection? Tat's a hard sell. As much as private cable operators and Internet service providers may protest, the business has become all about speed numbers. And the market continues to evolve. AT&T U-verse will launch its GigaPower service in 21 markets over the next two years, ofering speeds between 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps). CenturyLink is doing the same. And Google Fiber – well, we know what it is doing: driving awareness of its speed number to the masses. Tis is the world we live in today, a world in which MDU providers seek speed numbers that are faster than those of their competitors across the street. Yes, I know consumers may not need it. But they want it. And they make buying decisions based on it. And so will MDU owners and property managers. Face it: Speed numbers are important. Providers need to get to know what their customers' speed numbers are and be sure to provide them if they want to sleep well at night. v Bryan Rader is CEO of Bandwidth Consulting LLC, which assists providers in the multifamily market. You can reach Bryan at or at 636-536-0011. Learn more at Don't Sleep on Your Speed Number Broadband speed is only one measure of quality, but it's the metric that providers are forced to compete on – customers can't judge jitter and latency until they sign up. By Bryan Rader / Bandwidth Consulting LLC BBC_May14.indd 8 5/29/14 6:46 PM

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