16 Dec Upload strength a ‘huge differentiator,’ Google Fiber exec says | Light Reading
Fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks have long held a technological advantage over cable with respect to upstream speeds. But that message has been an easier one to relay and explain to consumers during the pandemic as they worked and schooled from home and took fuller advantage of upstream-intensive apps such as video conferencing, a Google Fiber exec said today at the 2020 Virtual Fiber Connect event.
Those upload capabilities are a “huge differentiator” for Google Fiber and other ISPs that run service on fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks, Melani Griffith, VP of customer engagement at Google Fiber, said today during a keynote discussion.
“COVID, in many ways, has helped tell that story for us … People didn’t get it,” said Griffith, an industry exec late of Penthera (a software company that specializes in video downloading apps) as well as Canada’s Rogers Communications and Insight Communications (a cable op acquired by Time Warner Cable in 2012). “It’s a challenge. If you can’t explain it in six seconds, you’ve lost people.”
That, she added, is changing as consumers continue to download and stream content from OTT services from apps such as Netflix and Hulu but are also becoming regular users of more upstream-intensive videoconferencing apps and services.
“Now people understand that,” Griffith said while urging other FTTP service providers to speak up about this technological advantage. “Leaning into that [advantage] is a key differentiator … We think it’s a great opportunity for all of us to continue telling the story and why fiber is so much better for things like upload in particular.”
Google Fiber’s flagship, uncapped broadband service delivers a symmetrical 1 Gbit/s. The ISP is also testing a service that pairs a 2Gbit/s downstream with a 1Gbit/s upstream, along with a Wi-Fi 6 router, for $100 per month.
Cable not sitting idle
Rising demand for upstream capacity has been clearly evident during the pandemic. According to the NCTA’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which tabulates and presents network usage data from several US cable operators, peak upstream usage has risen 51.2% since March 2020. Downstream peak usage has climbed 30% during that same timeframe.
Although most DOCSIS-based broadband services are asymmetrical in nature, with a heavy emphasis on download speeds, operators aren’t sitting idle about improving the upstream.
MSOs have begun to deploy “mid-split” and “high-split” upgrades that greatly expand the amount of spectrum dedicated to the upstream. The DOCSIS 3.1 specs already support high-splits that raise the upstream to a range of 5MHz to 204MHz (versus a range of 5MHz to 42MHz in many legacy cable networks in North America), but spectrum expansion in both the upstream and the downstream is expected to be a keystone of the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs.
Comcast recently announced a trial of symmetrical 1.25Gbit/s speeds on an HFC network employing a high-split in Jacksonville, Florida. Mediacom Communications also used a high-split for its “10G Smart Home” demo in Ames, Iowa, with CableLabs and NCTA that enabled the network to deliver about 5 Gbit/s down and 1.2 Gbit/s up to the back of a DOCSIS 3.1 modem.
Vendors are also getting into the act. Just this week, CommScope introduced a new set of transmitters and receivers for hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks that can support a 204MHz high-split.
Beyond speeds and feeds
Much of the discussion with Griffith did not focus on sheer speeds and technological capabilities, but rather on what Google Fiber has been doing to improve the overall customer experience.
Griffith, who recently took the reins of the customer service side of Google Fiber’s business, said it’s a long-term and continual process to improve that overall experience from the marketing of the service, to the onboarding, and in the months and years that follow that original install.
“It’s not a quick hit. You’re not buying a toy from us and going away,” she said. “You pay us every single month, so that is an ongoing relationship.”
She said Google Fiber has also strived to simplify the ordering and installation process and to ensure that customers can quickly get to a live person when they call in for support.
“It’s actually very hard to make things simple,” she said.
Although Google Fiber leans on self-install kits, it does try to sharply pinpoint the times when customers require an in-home visit. The ISP shoots for a 95% on-time arrival within 10 minutes of the scheduled start time, she said.
Another goal is to answer at least 90% of all customers calls with a live person in 30 seconds or less. Griffith said the average speed over the past 30 days has been about 11 seconds.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading