Google Fiber attracts over 1,100 communities with 1Gbps

Monday 29 March 2010 | 16:06 CET | Market Commentary

Google announced that over 1,100 towns, cities, counties and even states have responded to its call for broadband projects, launched in February. The deadline for responses was 26 March. Google i slooking to test FTTH services at up to 1 Gbpa with 50,000 to half a million people in the US, via open networks developed with local governments. Google hopes the experiment will give more insight into what kinds of applications will be used on such networks and what's the best way to deploy faster networks.

Google did not disclose which communities responded to the request for information. In the coming months, Google representatives such as the Google Fiber project managers James Kelly en Minnie Ingersoll will travel to these places to meet with local governments and advisers on the proposals. Google aims to announce the chosen locations for the networks by the end of this year.

While no details on the network are available yet, two important characteristics have already been disclosed: the network will be open and it will offer 1Gbps. We discussed Google's fibre plan already in February when it was first disclosed, and it can be considered the most important announcement in the still very dynamic fibre sector. Other recent headlines include Verizon's announcement on 10 March that for the moment it's holding off on deploying its Fios network to new areas, and on 17 March Deutsche Telekom's plan to cover 4 million homes with FTTH by 2014. The Google plan sets itself apart not only for its ambition (open, 1Gbps) but also because it's a newcomer on the market.

Let's look first at the open character. Google is clearly convinced by the study from Harvard's Berkman Center, which showed last year that open networks lead to higher penetration, lower prices, more capacity and faster speeds. More recently in the Netherlands, the government's NGN task force advised local governments to stimulate the roll-out of faster networks, but only if it leads to open networks. For the incumbents, this creates a new playing field to which they are finding it difficult to adapt. So far only KPN and the smaller cable networks have embraced the change.

Offering 1 Gbps is also a new perspective. Sceptics will say there are no applications that require these kind of speeds, and innovation in services is not needed: new services are already available and offered 'over the top'. Still, Google is not alone. Various networks are moving from 100Mbps to 1 Gbps, not least Reggefiber. In the US, the Case Western Reserve University is taking the step of connecting homes around the university to a network based on the architecture developed with the Amsterdam Citynet. The university aims to eventually connect 25,000 people, and similar to Google, the research project is looking beyond the triple-play to figure out how people will use the new speeds. Netherlands-based Genexis is supplying the fibre termination unit, the in-building connection device.

The Cleveland-based university and Google also share a vision about broadband: the goal is not to make money from the network as ISPs do by keeping bandwidth scarce in order to avoid becoming dumb pipes. By developing near limitless bandwidth, the university and Google are aiming to find new uses for the network and also new services. This is in line with a recent OECD report from December 2009, 'Network developments in support of innovation and user needs', which was also used by the Dutch task force. The point here is the spill-over effect: deployment of such a super-fast network is only justified by the positive effects on other sectors, effects which for a pure ISP are not interesting. For the university mentioned above, it's a research project, with the task of finding of what people do with such a network. For Google the bottom line is as always new services that don't directly earn money but do support more information, more usage and more advertising.

The question remains where will Google deploy its test. If its aiming for new services, best to try an audience of 'early adopters': Silicon Valley, a university town, places with a strong creative sector such as New York. The large interest in Google Fiber suggests that comeptition among existing broadband operators is not optimal - a fundamental assumption also in the Dutch task force's report. The chosen towns and cities will need to show not only what you can do with a 1Gbps network but also that a services provider with a broader vision than a pure ISP is the player chosen to get the most out of a faster broadband network. That's all still to be revealed - story to be continued.

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