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Service and pricing strategy
Internet access has been the main service provided over WiMAX networks to date. Downlink throughput is as high as 4Mbps but can be reduced to 128Kbps for basic “broadband” plans, which are rolled out in an effort to expand the addressable market. Interestingly, most of the operators shy away from promoting actual data speeds; instead they try to guide customers to the right package based on their needs. Scarlet of Curacao, for example, offers six service plans for the residential market, but doesn’t readily disclose the data rates for any of them. Two of the plans are targeted at students and travelers, and the remaining four are simply named Fastest, Faster, Fast and Basic. Sri Lank an WiMAX operator Dialog Broadband Networks reports that it retracted its claims of prov iding faster data speeds than the incumbent’s network not long after its launch in 2007 when customers — possibly unaware of the implications of shared bandwidth — began to complain about not experiencing the advertised speeds.
Some of the interviewed operators have already de ployed VoIP; others have plans to do so as early as later in 2009 but first want to ensure that they can provide it with QoS, since voice services could carve out a significant amount of network capacity if the network design is not optimal. Operators expect to see an increase of 40-50% in ARPU and lower churn rates for customers of voice and broadband services. In emerging markets, where PC penetration remains low, VoIP will likely strengthen the va lue proposition of WiMAX networks and attract more subscribers.
Depending on the extent of their focus on th e business market, WiMAX operators have rolled out a slew of corporate applications, from IP VPN services and mobility to IP Centrex, backup connections, custom systems integration services and video calling as well as conferencing. Moreover, operators are providing SLAs to guarantee network reliability and performance over WiMAX networks; these are very attractive to business users. Wateen Telecom reports strong uptake for its IP Centrex services in Pakistan. Jordanian operator Umniah offers three levels of QoS — platinum, gold and silver — supported by SLAs. Digicel’s enterprise service, which consolidates voice, Internet and data services on a single platform under an SLA, has helped the operator acquire 80% of the large-business market in Jamaica within the first 15 months of service.
As new entrants in the broadband market, WiMAX operators should at least match the incumbents’ prices and speeds where they compete head-to-head. If the WiMAX operator provides subsidies for CPEs, however, prices for WiMAX services tend to be higher than for DSL at similar or equal download speeds. Take Max Telecom: compared with the Bulgarian incumbent BTC’s DSL service, Max’s WiMAX connectivity offers almost four times higher uplink throughput, but its monthly fee under a 12-month contract is nearly twice as high. Price competitiveness is a key catalyst for WiMAX adop tion in the residential market in particular. While WiMAX operators try to play the value-for-money card by highlighting faster uplinks, more generous download limits, free on-net calls and the fact that customers don’t have to pay for a phone line or a line rental, they have also had to roll out more affordable service plans with lower speeds and download limits. We believe the most powerful pricing proposition is
service bundling: operators can significantly improve the perceived value of their services through bundles.
CPE and distribution strategy
The number and variety of WiMAX Forum-certified CPEs are on the rise; at the end of May 2009, there were 58 subscriber units certified by the Forum, including outdoor antennas, desktop modems, PC cards, USB dongles and laptops with WiMAX embedded. To ensure the best coverage, most of the WiMAX operators we have interviewed have employed a mix of outdoor and indoor antennas for business users. Some use outdoor CPEs for residential customers as well because of a more limited selection of CPEs for the 802.16d standard.
Most of the WiMAX operators offer subsidies for CPEs in return for a one-, two- or three-year contract. Xanadoo sells PC cards at US$49.95 after a rebate of $50 if the customer opts for a one-year contract, or for free in return for a two-year contract. Scarlet Curacao, which doesn’t currently provide CPE subsidies, explains that it sells CPEs at cost to generate cash flow.
The wider use of plug-and-play devices — desktop modems, PC cards, USB dongles, laptops with embedded modems and other upcoming devices — should help drive WiMAX adoption but will also deliver significant cost savings for the operators. Given that customers can generally install these devices and activate service onli ne by themselves, operators will save on CPE
installation expenses. Scarlet Curacao, for instance, claims only about 5% of its customers require a truck roll, since the op erator doesn’t offer outdoor an tennas at all. Online service activation separates the hardware sale and service provisioning and allows the operator to maintain its control over the presentation of services, rather than rely on distribution partners. Moreover, some of these devices may allow operators to significantly reduce or do away with CPE subsidies, which currently account for as much as two-thirds of subscriber acquisition costs.
WiMAX operators use their own channels as well as retailers to distribute products and services. Xanadoo reports that more than 60% of its cu stomers are acquired through direct channels.
Those with existing distribution networks, such as Zain in Bahrain, Digicel in Central America and Dialog in Sri Lanka, undoubtedly enjoy operational leverage and some savings. Nonetheless, the generally longer sales cycles of WiMAX compared with mobile voice products have required adjustments in the distribution process and in traditional sales commissions and
incentive schemes, as well as an investment in employee training.
Elements for successful broadband deployments:
• The most successful operators have not always been “first to market”: they have been “best to market.”
• Broadband product launches that happen befo re the network is ready and the coverage adequate often lead to a backlash from early adopters — those most likely to have higher ARPU profiles.
• Successful operators have not necessarily priced their broadband packages as the lowest on the market, but have focused in stead on other value-added elements to add to their value proposition: from unlimited voice plans to higher throughput and quicker installations.
• End users are not interested in broadband in and of itself; rather, they are interested in the applications and services that broadband enables. Successful operators pay as much attention to the breadth and depth of their library of content and applications as they do to the quality and speed of their network.
• Successful operators work hand-in-hand wi th manufacturers to ensure that their customers get the most out of their user ex perience. Operators are even teaming with notebook makers like Hewlett-Packard an d Lenovo to make PC-broadband bundles
available to their clients.
• Wide-scale adoption of mobile broadband offerings goes hand in hand with the introduction of flat-rate pricing. Often voice becomes the value-added service, in the form of an all-you-can eat plan layered on top of a broadband offering. Users remain reluctant to sign up for pay-per-usage models.
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