Thursday, March 30, 2017

Would you pay £30,000 per month for your broadband?

That might seem a ridiculous question, but 17 years ago this week people were queueing up to pay the equivalent.

March 31, 2000 was the day we finally launched the first broadband connection in the UK to a consumer in Kent who was quite happy to be paying £50 for their 0.5Mb broadband connection – the equivalent of £30k per month for the new top tier of 300Mb that Virgin Media has this week started selling.

It was originally due to launch on April 1, but after a number of stop/start deployment years of cable modem based broadband (or “hi-speed Internet” as we then called it), those of us launching thought it was wise to bring it forward a day :)

It was all powered by the Motorola Surfboard 3100 cable modem, which looked like this:

A few years later we found out that it couldn’t achieve even higher speeds (so they needed swapping out), and I do wonder if there are any of them still out there on the cable network.

It wasn’t as chunky as some of the modems that were trialled though, this one being particularly memorable for its size, noise and power consumption:

… not to mention it’s beautiful form factor!

Customers were lining up to ditch dialup despite the success of the unmetered SurfUnlimited dialup we’d launched 6 weeks earlier – which was so successful that we were all doing 2 jobs, rolling out broadband while at the same time chasing the capacity bottlenecks around the modem racks and telco switches that the huge sales (at £10 per month) had caused.

It really marked Telewest’s (as they were then) commitment to the Internet that they had made the decision to launch either in the first place to augment the fixed line telephony and analogue TV products that the company already had then (even though it was going to cannibalise telephony revenues), and it was time to mark a step change with a new brand too.

blueyonder was a great brand that really took the industry and the business forward, and at the time I was responsible for building and maintaining the co-branded MSN website:

I’m not sure I ever grasped why some marketeer chose a whale to represent a “hi-speed” Internet service though.

I also picked up all the customer facing activity to launch broadband (sorry, “hi-speed internet”) including getting all the marketing messaging right – and the time being 8x faster than dialup and not tying up your phone line when someone wanted to use the Internet were the key USPs.

In addition I got to ensure that the business was ready to both sell and support the service, so it was the early days of Customer Experience – a discipline that has kept me in a job ever since.

We put in place a dedicated Sales function in Gillingham focused on cross selling to existing cable customers, a technical support team in Liverpool and the rest of us ran about everywhere to get to market and run broadband in the early days before competitors launched.

Thinking back it’s easy to forget what a hassle dialup was (anyone else remember spending half their life configuring Trumpet Winsock on early Windows variants or the annoying “Digital Dorothy” automated voice you used to hear down your modem when the telephony switch hit capacity?) and how much broadband has changed everyone’s lives – and those were the most exciting days of my career.

It was a brilliant team to work with who’ve gone onto great things since – including Gavin Patterson and Howard Watson at BT and cable industry marketing legend Chad Raube, who brought his expertise on cable broadband with the MediaOne team in the US with him (so he got to break new ground for a second time) and many others who have become lifelong friends since working on a great product that consumers loved.

And as I tell anyone who listens (and those who don’t), we launched the first broadband connection in the UK.  Not a bad claim to fame.

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