Like MSO rivals Comcast and CenturyLink, tier-three provider Arvig invests in fiber and vies for enterprise business' contracts. With a far smaller budget and team, Arvig uses its investment strategy, service offerings and customer satisfaction scores to woo both subscribers and relationships with larger operators.
The employee-owned broadband provider, whose roots date back to 1950, recently extended its fiber network by more than 350 fiber route miles and directly connected the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area to Omaha, Neb. The goal was to increase diversity and redundancy, and move beyond its Minnesota roots, said David Arvig, vice president and chief operating officer, earlier this month. This was part of a larger deal between Arvig and Windstream in 2018. (See Arvig Extends Fiber Network Throughout Omaha Area.)
Different Speeds for Different Needs
City-based enterprises need fiber-based gigabit broadband, but most rural subscribers garner more than adequate speeds from copper-based infrastructure, says Arvig's Ben Wiechman.
Buying up hundreds of miles of urban fiber places Arvig squarely in competitors' metropolitan territory and further from rural customers, whom Arvig sometimes has to itself. Competition can benefit the smaller operator, Ben Wiechman, director of network strategy and engineering, told Broadband World News.
"It's interesting, when we do market studies of customer satisfaction -- with the same support teams and the same customer-care teams -- we tend to score statistically significantly better in competitive markets where customers have experienced our competition versus non-competitive markets where they feel like we're a monopoly. It's a customer impression, but it's an interesting note," he said. "We focused on hiring experienced sales people who can compare Arvig capabilities to those of typically much larger companies they worked with. We got a lot of good continuity there and that helps us maintain a good relationship with customers, versus Darth Vader companies where sales staff are rotating."
Internal cross-training on products and services, on enhancing existing sales' skills and being selective about the provider's service offerings are also important, said Wiechman. And Arvig also aggressively seeks relationships with large providers that cannot always reach Arvig's rural footprint, for example, he noted.
"If they're looking at carrier Ethernet connectivity for a customer in a metro area, we tried to position ourselves with fiber acquisitions and fiber construction and otherwise to deliver those services on their behalf and actively use them to deliver services to customers that we otherwise would not be able to reach," Wiechman said.
An eye on tech (and budget)
Arvig is heavily investing in fiber, but that does not mean it is -- or plans to soon be -- 100% fiber, Wiechman said. The provider uses a mix of fixed-access broadband solutions, including coax-based VDSL, as well as fiber-based DOCSIS and fixed wireless, he said. Residential subscribers don't need gigabit speeds to use broadband and Arvig can defray capex infrastructure investments over a much longer timeframe, noted Wiechman.
"When we look overall at overall utilization and typical utilization, we feel strongly that customer needs today are met in that 50 to 100-meg tier of service. They will continue to drive that need for bandwidth for consumers, but for the next three to five to potentially seven years, that takes the copper services and pushes fiber deeper to serve copper nodes… and allows us to spread our capital spending for a longer period while continuing to provide a good level of service to customers," he said.
DOCSIS, Wiechman noted, allows Arvig to provide residential subs with high-speed Internet. Full-duplex DOCSIS is not yet part of the operator's plans, but it is "aggressively" deploying D3.1 as a cost-effective way to scale services, he said.
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