“At Fastweb, we like to keep innovating and disrupting the market. With the first combined router and smart speaker, we are setting new standards in customer experience and technology innovation.”
- Davide Cuman, Senior Manager Product Design and Delivery at Fastweb
With 2.7 million customers in the consumer sector, Italian telecommunications company Fastweb is among the primary European broadband providers. Part of the Swisscom group, Fastweb has been bringing internet and mobile access to Italy for more than twenty years.
From the beginning, however, Fastweb’s search for innovative new solutions has influenced the telecommunications industry way beyond the Italian market. True to its core values of “courage, care and responsibility”, it was the first internet provider to install fiber optics in 1999 – the gold standard for fast connections even today. With its latest product line-up, “NeXXt”, the telecommunications provider is again breaking new ground: NeXXt, the first WI-FI 6 fixed broadband router and Wi-Fi repeater with smart speaker and Alexa built-in, sets out to revolutionize and customize broadband use at home.
Be it for work, school, or leisure, a stable and reliable internet connection has become a primary commodity for most Europe- an households. But more often than not, users have very little control over how their bandwidth is used or allocated – if they are not technology experts, they have little choice but to set up their router and hope for the best. “Usually, people don’t interact with their internet routers,” says Davide Cuman, Senior Manager Product Design and Delivery at Fastweb. “Once they have activated the device, they are happy to hide it away and ideally never see it again.”
Fastweb was looking for a way to change that: “Our goal was to give customers more flexibility and control over how they use their internet connection,” explains Davide Cuman. A way, no less, that was easily accessible without going through complex configurations in the router settings. With this goal in mind, Fastweb started looking for easy and fun ways to interact with technological devices – and voice technology soon emerged as a promising solution.
While websites and apps can be great solutions for digital natives, they still involve an extra step and can be especially challenging for children, the elderly, or people who are visually impaired. Using voice to communicate, on the other hand, feels natural for most people. “We wanted to create a customer experience that is as intuitive and convenient as possible. Ideally, just saying what you want to happen actually will make it happen,” says Davide Cuman
Once the decision to use voice technology was made, the Fast- web team quickly had a clear picture of the product they want- ed to make in mind: a router and a full-fledged smart speaker wrapped up in one. “We wrote a press release on the device we wanted to accomplish the very first day – and it is astonishingly similar to the one we sent out later on,” remembers Davide Cuman. Getting there, however, turned out to be no mean feat.
First, there was the question of the voice technology itself. While Fastweb considered developing their own voice assistant, they eventually decided that it would be more efficient to work with existing technology, Davide Cuman explains. “The time and money we would have had to invest in developing something that could match the likes of Alexa would have delayed the project for several years. So we decided that, if we could not be the best in voice technology, we wanted to partner with the best.” The choice fell on Alexa. Besides market share, Fastweb was pleased with the degree of flexibility and customi- zation that the system offered, as well as a shared focus on cus- tomer experience. And last but not least, Davide Cuman adds, Fastweb felt a shared passion to innovate and create something completely new. “Some providers simply told us it could not be done. They were wrong. Alexa was transparent about the risks and challenges, but they were fully on board from the beginning. Alexa supported Fastweb during the end- to-end development process of the NeXXt devices, helping with the product design definition, the certification process and the commercial launch. The level of quality of the NeXXt devices is a reflection of the great collaboration between the Alexa and the Fastweb team, combined with a special attention to the customer experience.”
In the end, Fastweb succeeded in accomplishing exactly the product they had envisioned. The NeXXt router and Wi-Fi repeater set themselves apart from any other router. Equipped with far-field audio front end and speakers, these Wi-Fi 6 de- vices feature the full AVS SDK integration, providing access to all Alexa functionalities that customers love (such as Smart Home, Skills, Music – TuneIn, A.M.U.). Users can ask NeXXt for the weather forecast or to play a song and they can control and personalize their internet use to their specific needs.
For example, customers can tell NeXXt to give broadband priority to smart working applications – no more dropped video calls because the kids are on the PlayStation or streaming a movie in the next room. NeXXt can also establish a direct connection to customer service, make a call, or update users on their mobile service plan. The NeXXt router is also the first AVS device in Italy to feature native calling, allowing Fastweb customers to make and receive hands-free calls to any landline or mobile number. Thanks to Alexa technology, customers are able to con- trol their router and Wi-Fi extender by saying “Alexa, ask Fastweb how fast I am navigating” or “Alexa, ask Fastweb to set up the guest Wi-Fi”. Moreover, the NeXXt devices will be the first in the world to feature the Amazon privacy chipset, providing addition- al security to customers.
Because it combines two devices in one, the router also cuts down on the number of electronics in the living room. Fastweb put a lot of effort into designing an aesthetically pleasing de- vice that customers are happy to display, not hide away. And as new Alexa skills and functionalities evolve, the range of what users can do with their NeXXt devices keeps expanding, as well.
The NeXXt router and smart speaker offers users a uniquely simple and convenient way to take control over their own internet connection – a feature that will add true value to the customer experience. This, Davide Cuman hopes, will not only help Fastweb attract new customers but also increase customer loyalty and satisfaction. “Users can interact directly with NeXXt, and great pains were taken to make this interaction as easy and seamless as possible. We expect there to be less need for technical support and customer service.” And loyal and happy customers, of course, also mean more word-of-mouth recommendations and an increased net promotion score.
Being innovative and courageously disruptive is a core part of Fastweb’s brand identity. With the first ever combined router and smart speaker, the company stays true to this ideal and strengthens its industry position as an innovation leader. “Investing in a pioneering product like NeXXt was certainly a risk, but it paid off and helps us stay one step ahead of the competition,” explains Davide Cuman
Fastweb launched a NeXXt router and Wi-Fi extender – but this is only the beginning. “For us, these two products are the cornerstones of a new product field we are planning. It is the first step in a new and exciting direction for Fastweb,” says Davide Cuman. And voice technology, he is certain, will be a key asset and economic driver on the road ahead.
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