What can you learn from Google Fiber?

Some aspects of Google Fiber would only work for Google.  But there are some lessons others can apply to their own FTTH plans.

by Stephen Hardy

Google originally pitched Google Fiber as a testbed. But that pitch has changed; company Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt revealed in December that Google likely will expand its fiber to the home (FTTH) efforts to other markets. And given the company's early success, why not? Google Fiber attained initial take rates in Kansas City of about 30%, a level most other new service providers would take years to reach.

It's true some of Google Fiber's success can be attributed to the fact that, well, it's Google. But Google's name recognition only gave it a headstart. Other providers of FTTH-based services can learn a lot from the way Google built momentum around its new service.

Because it's Google

Let's acknowledge the advantages Google had that other alternative communications service providers likely do not. Name recognition equal to that of the incumbents comes to mind first. Just about anybody who uses the Internet has at least heard of the company; most use its search engine. And people think of the brand positively. It's likely the delivery of Internet service didn't seem like a stretch for a company synonymous with the Internet. That's why 1,100 communities responded to its request for information (RFI).

The frenzy surrounding that RFI provided a second advantage other alternative carriers would struggle to recreate -- full investment within Kansas City in Google Fiber's success. Emotional investors included local authorities -- who weren't likely to offer too much resistance to the acquisition of the necessary rights of way and permitting, regardless of how much incumbent providers might complain -- as well as Google's prospective customers. Google capitalized on its customer investment via its "fiberhood" concept, which created a success-based deployment model that minimized stranded investment.

Google or not

Yet it may be that Google's built-in advantages are more a question of degree than truly unique. Certainly few companies could create the nationwide hoopla Google achieved. But Google demonstrated that at least 1,100 communities in the U.S. want a fiber-based alternative to the services their local carriers provide. That's a lot of demand. With the right opportunity analysis, new entrants may uncover a level of customer interest that will put adequate pressure on local authorities to not let the interests of incumbent providers stand in the way of a new alternative.

Meanwhile, media and technology marketing consultancy Ideas & Solutions! Inc. has published a study that describes Google's marketing campaign in Kansas City. The campaign focused strongly on community outreach in a way other service providers could easily emulate. The campaign included social media; local promotional events planned by neighborhood organizers; the Google Fiber store, where many of those promotional events took place; a Google ice cream truck; and yard signs.

Other service providers might not buy an ice cream truck. But they should note that each of these elements created direct engagement with potential customers and enabled Google to publicize what its service would entail and how different it would be from what others currently provided.

Whether Google will become a national force or a regional player remains unknown. But its early success in Kansas City provides plenty of lessons worth emulating.

Stephen Hardy is editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave.

More LW Articles
Past Lightwave Articles
More in Mergers & Acquisitions