110Mbps Broadband Rollout

WOW!

Thinking about WOW!’s phased rollout of 110 Mbps service to residential and business customers, which began early in Q1, got me wondering about the nature of speed. Namely, how fast is fast?

I asked a friend who’d flown often across the Atlantic on the Concorde, whose top speed was 1,354 miles per hour, if it felt fast inside the cabin. My friend responded that a Concorde flight always was luxurious, smooth and offered great giveaways, including a gold Cross pen. Yet the ride itself seemed like any other airplane flight. Of course, the trip across the Atlantic, which takes about seven hours on a 747-400 at 570 mph, took 3 hours and change on the Concorde, whose last flight was in November 2003.

I asked Karl Ossentjuk, VP of marketing and product management at WOW!, if the user would be able to notice the speed of 110 Mbps. A single user, alone in a household, using one device “probably would not” see the difference between 110 and 50, WOW!’s previous top speed, he said. Yet if that single user were running several devices simultaneously, the difference in service would be noticeable. In addition, Ossentjuk said, certain things will seem faster, for example, “downloading the newest game off your PS4,” or a film. My last download, a 45-minute television show, took about 10 minutes using the WiFi service in my apartment building, which usually seems fast. Ossentjuk assured me under good conditions it likely would have been “noticeably faster” with 110 Mbps service, depending “on the time of day.”

A better example, Ossentjuk said, is a household with several people using multiple devices—laptops, iPads, PS4s—simultaneously. “Each user certainly would appreciate the performance, the lack of buffering [during streaming]… it’s more about numbers of simultaneous users across multiple devices, this is where [110] comes into play.” Similarly, with business customers, 110 Mbps is advantageous in offices where multiple users are engaged on a wireless system.

While WOW! wants to wow customers with this new capability, and the phased rollout over several weeks was smooth, the company realizes “[110 Mbps] may be more capacity than many of our customers want, [although] it will be a great option for heavier Internet users,” said Debra Schmidt, who manages Lawrence, KS, which was 110’s first market. Accordingly, it has been marketed largely by inserting verbiage mentioning a top speed of 110 Mbps where 50 Mbps used to be. “We want customers to know about it, but it hasn’t been the center point of all of our marketing because it’s not something that everyone needs at this point,” Ossentjuk said. WOW! has used normal digital tactics, including paid search and display, and direct mail.

WOW! has yet to poll customers about the service, Ossentjuk said, yet “we haven’t heard anything negative either… at some point we will do a survey.” In terms of take rates, WOW! has seen “a quicker uptake on the business side than on the residential side because the demand for it is greater, but we expected that.” The take rates themselves also have been “about what WOW! expected.”

As for future plans, WOW! said in a 2014 statement it will “continue to raise the speed limit throughout 2015.” Ossentjuk said, “We will assess [110] and continue to think about our Internet strategy.”

–          Seth Arenstein

–  Fast Facts

– WOW! charges residential customers $115/month for 110 Mbps, although there also are promotional specials.

–  WOW! has 40K miles of local fiber-optic cable networks across its 10-state footprint.

–  110 Mbps service is available in nearly all its markets, passing 2.5mln WOW! homes.

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