Sunday, September 06, 2009

Service innnovation on FTTH: institutions need help migrating online

Today I visited the Glasdag 2009 conference put together by Glasvezel.nu (the website devoted to community and other efforts towards FTTH in the Netherlands) and SBNA (the non-profit behind a number of such initiatives in the city of Amersfoort). The conference was aimed at volunteers interested in launching FTTH initiatives in their home towns. Speakers included Kees Rovers (the driving force behind the Nuenen and Eindhoven FTTH networks built by OnsNet) and Jan Griffioen (Reggefiber).

The conference was opened by an Amersfoort city council member, who hailed the social and economic benefits of these networks. He also hinted at the 'option value', quoting history: when the telephone was first invented, its main purpose was to inform people that a telegram was on its way.

Kees Rovers first gave his 7 key elements to successful network deployment:
  1. Business case. Make sure you have one, including funding. A high take rate is essential. Remember that fiber is cheap; it costs only EUR 1,000, which is negligible when compared to your home's value.
  2. Community sense. Everybody needs to be in.
  3. Triple play. This will make the network finance itself.
  4. Communication. Forget fiber speak. Keep that 75 year old granny in mind when talking about your plans. Focus on telephone and television services.
  5. Local services. This is something the cableco can't replicate. Think of the local soccer club, even marriages taking place in the local church.
  6. Customer service. Remember that people hate call centers.
  7. Reliable network.
Jan Griffioen outlined Reggefiber's long-term strategy. Connecting every Dutch home in the next 10-15 years is core to that strategy. The consumer-facing brand is Glashart. Today, he was able to add one more network to Reggefiber current c. 35 projects: the Kattenbroek area in Amersfoort.

A few things stood out. First, if any demographic needs to converted to the Fiber Religion, it's .... women. It was practically a men-only conference.

Second, Kees Rovers conspicuously de-emphasised fiber in order to put services in the spotlight. This is all fine and dandy, but it must be kept in mind that he is now involved with KPN's 2x5 trial towns, and that half of these are around VDSL, not FTTH. But obviously, on the whole he is quite right. If the end-user is to be converted (remember: a high take-up rate is needed for the business model to work), then it must be basic and understandable services to convince them to sign up. Many city workers and departments come to mind here: doctors, soccer clubs, church, library, school, hospitals, local broadcasters, city hall, etc.

What really stood out was that all these grassroots initiatives really appear to grasp this issue. But was even more striking, was Kees Rover's observation on how to get it done. Don't count on any organisation here to take care of this issue and migrate their services online themselves. It will never happen this way. That's just not how people are. They need to be forced, one way or another.

One final word: this movement is behind taking a lot of traffic off the internet. It's all local traffic. It has been reported before that local traffic can make up as much as 50% of traffic on FTTH networks.