Quad Play 2.0

Giving households more choices—or splitting them up?

With Comcast announcing new mobile-inclusive bundles and Verizon targeting Charter’s cable TV operations, the holy grail of communications, the 4-service Quad Play, is reaching the United States after earlier launches in Spain, Singapore and elsewhere. The talk has intensified after the recent Incentive Auction with potential Quad players like T-Mobile, Dish and Comcast picking up sizeable spectrum.

Call it convergence or unified communications, “quad play” has been the Holy Grail of cable TV operators for decades.  Only Quad Play 1.0 never materialized. Its early pioneer was Spain’s broadband operator Ono, which started offering a video-broadband-fixed line-mobile bundle more than a decade ago, with the help of its MVNO. Then came Vodafone buying fixed operators in Germany and elsewhere, Orange in France and Poland, and others, all converging. 

The results? In Ono’s case, it took a decade, including its acquisition by Vodafone, before 10% of its subscribers bought the full Quad Play package. Other operators like Rogers in Canada and Star Hub in Singapore, who owned both cable TV and mobile networks, better understood the challenges. They cross-marketed their cable/broadband and mobile packages but did not push the full bundle, though Star Hub now makes one available. The essential challenge, stated bluntly, is that households buy cable TV and fixed broadband while individuals buy mobile.  

Getting households—apart from households of one or two—to commit to a collective mobile service has been a Sisyphean task. Individuals usually prefer the mobile operators they have. They also prefer the mobile plans they have, which may be linked to purchase of handsets that expire at different times. In short, needs vary, making household coordination Quad Play consensus virtually impossible, unless divorce is an option and the older teenagers have left home. 

So now Quad Play 2.0. It still looks like the old Quad Play. Yet the aim is not to get everyone to buy a 4-service bundle but to offer more choices (double play, triple play) for different segments of the market. The reality of this approach was evident a decade ago for those who looked carefully at the numbers. Ono in Spain had cable TV/mobile subscribers, Internet/fixed subscribers, and Internet/mobile subscribers, yet believed it could get every subscriber to buy the full bundle—all four services. Did not happen.

Not that Quad 2.0 is challenge-free. Sorting the marketing priorities takes some effort. Market demographics, service coverage areas, household size, competing offers, and regulation need to be considered, not to mention pricing. Calibrating the technology and operations, with network and customer care layers in sync, is essential. But Quad Play 2.0—really Double Plays (and some Triple ones) to subscribers hearts’ content—can help an operator grow and reduce churn.

Verizon may be the 2.0 pioneer in this new phase of Quad Play in the U.S., using Fios  over 5G (even as it’s website still calls Fios 100% fiber) and indirectly through MVNO arrangements with Charter Cable and Comcast, which hosts 16 million WiFi hotspots. 

We may also see Quad Play appear in emerging markets, especially in places where households have gotten smaller and older, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Russia, Thailand and Eastern Europe.

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