TMCnet Feature
April 05, 2013

Will 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps Change ISP Competitive Positions?

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

As U.S. government officials continue to talk about 100 million U.S. residents having access to 100 Mbps Internet access service by about 2020, and others talk about the 1-Gbps future, not every ISP will view those goals as particularly helpful.



In fact, it is reasonable to argue that such speeds will be positively damaging for the market positions of some providers.

Ignoring for the moment how retail prices might affect uptake or profit margins, service providers that already have fiber to the home deployed might have the clearest advantage. But cable operators will also have advantages in terms of overhead and operating costs, whatever decisions they make about the technology used to achieve such high speeds.

Fixed terrestrial wireless and satellite providers will be at a huge disadvantage, barring significant new measures to boost available wireless bandwidth.

Mobile service providers are likely to fall somewhere in between, as the primary value of mobile access offsets some of the raw speed limitations.

One might argue that Google (News - Alert) Fiber and Verizon FiOS are “profit margin challenged,” and for that reason doubt the viability of reaching 1-Gbps levels of service at retail prices consumers can live with, and which still allow ISPs to make a reasonable profit.

But one might also argue that providers of fiber to home services can also use their speed advantages to great effect against satellite and fixed wireless providers who will have severe challenges remaining competitive.

With that in mind, it’s no easy matter to build a fiber-to-home network and make enough profit to justify the effort.

Some eight or so years ago, Verizon (News - Alert) launched FIOS, suggesting Verizon would spend $23 billion to reach 17 million homes. That implies a total of about $1,350 per home passed. Of course, Verizon has since suspended its FiOS (News - Alert) program for new areas, and has seen a lower cost per home passed.

The key issue is the suspension of further builds not already underway. And some might argue FiOS revenue has not kept pace with FiOS cost. Operating margin for Verizon fixed network operations has not been positive.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, operating margin was over 6 percent. By the fourth quarter of 2010, operating margin had declined to about 2.5 percent. By the fourth quarter of 2012 the operating margin was negative.

To be sure, one might cite the declining number of customers and the decline of voice service as key drivers of that performance. But the fact remains that FiOS has not produced the upsurge of revenue some might have expected.

To be sure, Google Fiber, building a 1-Gbps network, will have some advantages, notably lower overhead. Some think that will translate into 30 percent lower capital investment costs. But digging holes and hanging cable “costs what it costs,” and Google will probably not have much of an advantage on such contract work.

Instead, Google Fiber will have to rely on savings in marketing and operations to shave cost from its operations, compared to Verizon Communications. Aside from that, Google Fiber will have to assume unusually high adoption rates for its $120/month video plus Internet service.

The point is that strategic advantage does not mean either Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS necessarily can make a reasonable profit. On the other hand, such contestants might someday be able to use their networks to seriously undermine the competitive position of whole industry segments, such as satellite and fixed wireless.




Edited by Braden Becker
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