Lessons from the land of cheap broadband in Hong Kong
City Telecom's 400,000 customers pay $13 a month for 100 megabit synchronous broadband. And they get a money-back guarantee: If they don't clock 80% of the promised speed, the company pays them twice their monthly fee.
If you live within coverage area of Verizon's FiOS
), you pay as much as $150 a month for up to 50 megs downstream and 20 upstream.
How can City Telecom possibly offer service that's more than twice as fast at less than 10% of the price?
Density is a blessing
It's partly geography and partly vision. While Hong Kong has 7 million inhabitants, only a small fraction of the island's mountainous terrain is developed, which means everyone basically lives on top of each other. The population density is 16,380 people per square mile – versus 640 in Japan and 80 in the US. That makes every customer far cheaper to serve. "We have a phenomenal network built at $200 per home. Verizon is talking about a cost of north of $1,000 per home,"
Lai says. "We built ours at one-fifth the cost."
Of course building the network in the first place required vision.
City Telecom was founded 17 years ago as an international calling-card company by two cousins who plowed in 100,000 Canadian dollars to get started. They could have leased lines to get into Internet-service business the way many carriers do, but that would have meant encountering the same last-mile bottleneck. So, they built their own $400 million network over a decade.
And now the company is on a tear. The largest IP service provider on Hong Kong, PCCW
Innovation trumps incumbency
Lai insists the company already has. "The network is cash flow positive since 07. We're debt free with 10% revenue growth and 30% EBITDA growth," he says. "Our stock is up 200% in 12 months, and the market is starting to realize what we're doing."
All that success, Lia adds, is a result of having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and doing everything possible to achieve it. "The telecom industry tends to commoditize people. Our strategy is to commoditize bandwidth, to make 100 megabits the industry norm in Hong Kong," he says. "Our plan is to win by offering the best service at the lowest possible cost structure. Thirteen dollars is not a lot, but if you scale it and drive your cost base down, it's a beautiful business to be in."
If only some US telecom executives felt likewise.