'Here's how you build a superfast network.'
As some broadband providers grumble about the cost of network upgrades and threaten data caps on subscribers, Google shows them, through its Kansas City Google Fiber project, how to offer subscribers 1Gbps broadband service at an affordable price.
The company took the wraps off its new Google Fiber
On Thursday the company took the wraps off its new Google Fiber and Google Fiber TV services, which through a fiber connection directly to the home, delivers broadband speeds of 1Gbps on both the upload and download links. It as well announced its new Google Fiber TV service that offers a vast array of high quality HD video content broadcast to TVs and is as well available on demand.
The services that Google is delivering lucky residents of Kansas City, Mo and Kansas City, Kansas is leaps and bounds above what they can get currently through providers, just as AT&T's U-verse service or Time Warner Cable. Nevertheless it's as well much more advanced than what the average American is able to access from any cable operator or telco broadband provider in the country. And Google is offering it at prices that beat the local and even national competition.
In fact, Google will be delivering speeds that are more than 100 times faster than most broadband users get today. And on the TV side, the company has included enhancements, just as doubling the number of TV shows that can be recorded by a DVR at one time, plus it offers more than 500 hours of storage for very high quality HD video.
Google hasn't said but whether it will deploy a fiber network in any other cities. The company is focused on Kansas right now. Nevertheless it's clear that the deployment is strategic for Google. Although most users today don't need Internet access at 1Gbps, Google is showing what's possible. And the company hopes that applications and uses for the ultra fast network will evolve to fill the pipe.
But the network itself is as well a way to show the rest of the broadband industry how they should be building their own networks to offer much faster speeds, which in the end benefits Google's advertising and search businesses. And it offers Google data that it can use to nudge cable operators and phone companies to be more aggressive in upgrading networks and offering services at lower prices.
Strategic business for Google
"This is a strategic business for Google," Kevin Lo, general manager for Google Access, said in a phone interview from Kansas City. "And on a national level, this is about technology and access to an abundance of research. There is a bottleneck right now in residential access where people are only getting speeds of 5 Mbps."
And though he didn't directly say it, he made the point that the Google Fiber network can be seen as a challenge to what broadband providers have offered in the past.
"The last time we doubled the speed of broadband a whole new market evolved and spurred tremendous growth in the Internet," he said. "We don't want incremental change. Offering you a 10 Mbps service and edging it to 50 Mbps and at that time 100 Mbps, that's not what drives real research. We need to do something in a big way that will take a material step in performance."
Google's chief financial officer Patrick Pichette described while the presentation introducing Google Fiber how computing power thanks to Moore's Law has grown through the years doubling every 18 months. And he showed how the cost of network storage has fallen dramatically paving the way for cloud-based services, just as the ones offered by Google. Nevertheless network access speeds have remained relatively flat over the past several years. The result has been only incremental changes in the speed of services that are offered to consumers.
"We saw a doubling of speeds for Internet access in the early years as we went from 14 kbps to 28 kbps," said. "But at that time after the cable modem showed up, we've seen little progress in access."
Per megabit basis
Pichette as well pointed out that though speeds have only increased incrementally on a per megabit basis, Americans are however paying more for Internet access than consumers in other countries.
And this is where Google is as well showing existing operators a thing or two. Google is offering 100 times faster speeds on a service in other words less than half the cost of the fastest Internet services available in the country today.
The 1Gbps broadband-only service is only $70
The 1Gbps broadband-only service is only $70 and as well includes 1 Terabyte of data storage. This compares to Verizon's Fios service which charges $205 for a 300 Mbps service with 65 Mbps uploads. Like Google, Verizon as well delivers its broadband service over a fiber connection linked directly to the home. However unlike Google it doesn't offer these faster speeds with symmetrical bandwidth speeds.
When packaged with its TV service, Google's services are as well priced affordably. And they beat the offerings from local competitors, just as Time Warner Cable. For $120 a month, Kansas City residents can get the 1Gbps broadband service and the Google Fiber TV service plus 1 Terabyte of data in Google's cloud storage service Google Drive.Google is even throwing in the $200 GoogleAndroid Nexus 7tablet at no additional cost, so that users can use the Android App to control the TV service and even watch TV on their tablet.
And Google is giving away basic broadband service with speeds up to 5Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream for free for the at once seven years, so long as users pay the $300 cost of hooking the fiber up to their home.
Time Warner Cable, Google's biggest competitor in this market, offers a 50 Mbps Internet service for an introductory price of $80 a month. And its total package with TV service and home phone service included is $200 a month.
Time Warner was unable to put an executive on the phone to discuss the differences between the Time Warner network and the Google Fiber network, however a spokesman said this in a statement:
Highly competitive market
"Kansas City is a highly competitive market and we take all competitors in all seriousness," he said. "We have a robust and adaptable network, advanced products and services available today, and experienced local employees delivering local service. We are confident in our ability to compete."
"At Google we think competition is always a good thing," Lo said. "In our core business we are always a click away from being irrelevant, so our engineers wake up knowing that they must stay ahead of the competition."
Similar fiber network
Google has been tight-lipped about if or where else it might deploy a similar fiber network. However even if the company doesn't expand the service beyond Kansas City, the fact that it has been able to develop a service that offers so much bandwidth could be enough to shake things up among broadband providers.
"At this hour you'd be hard-pressed to see any reason to have 1Gbps connections into a home," said William Weeks, innovation fellow at TEconnectivity, a company that helps operators deploy fiber networks. "I think what Google is trying to do here is prove the business case for building such a network and offering these speeds. They'll have their own numbers that they can show if the cable operators and telcos tell the FCC tha they can't build more capable networks more rapidly."
Indeed, Google seems to be making the case for why broadband providers need to up their game and offer faster services at lower prices. And although the network won't be a direct threat to cable operators like Comcast or Verizon, which don't offer service in Kansas City, it could be used as a counter-argument to these companies' complaints and threats about Google and other Internet services eating up too much bandwidth.
Recently, Internet service providers, just as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, have placed limits or caps on their services. And some have recommended that Internet companies, just as Netflix, should pay more for content delivered to their clients over a broadband provider's network.
Google's execs say that with a fiber network, there is no need for these restrictions. And the company has not put a cap on broadband usage.
Google has as well dabbled in community-based Wi-Fi and launched a citywide network in Mountain View Calif. It's as well deployed a broadband network at Stanford University. And in 2010 it unveiled plans to build the Google Fiber network. More than a thousand cities wanted to be considered for the network. However Google chose Kansas City.
In other parts of its business, Google has entered new markets to stir things up and drive research. Its Nexus line of mobile products has been developed to use the best elements available to make the most technologically advanced mobile devices. The hope is that developers use these devices to create new applications and innovate in mobile.
The same strategy is likely taking shape here
The same strategy is likely taking shape here, where Google is likely not going to emerge as a nationwide broadband player, however instead is trying to shape the broadband business to increase speeds and in this way increase the functionality of its own Google products.
While commercial broadband providers may be slow to ramp up speeds and drop prices to make high speed network connections affordable to the masses, other organizations have sprung up to push more fiber-based networking. Last summer a consortium of universities called GigU banded at the same time to deploy 1Gbps fiber networks in communities and towns nearly universities. And previously this summer, the White House along with the National Science Foundation's GENI program launched "US Ignite," an initiative that will bring startups at the same time with local and state governments, federal agencies, universities, and others in the tech community to develop a national 1Gbps network.
"We know we are going to need more network capacity as we do more things online," said Jim Baller, president of the Baller Herbst Law Group, who has advocated for community-based fiber networks for years. "However the question is how will we get there? And that's what these initiatives are doing, which is bringing players at the same time and stimulating interest and dialog."
CNET News reporter since 2004
Marguerite Reardon has been a CNET News reporter since 2004, covering cell phone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate, as then as the ongoing consolidation of the phone companies.
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