Roundup: Google's Broadband Experiment

Google's plans for an experimental 1 gigabit per second fiber network brought lots of reaction from the blogosphere and Internet pundits. Here's a roundup of notable analysis and commentary from around the Web.

After creating a big buzz about Google Buzz on Tuesday, Google turned around and did it again Wednesday with news of an experimental fiber network.  The news of Google offering to deliver 1 gigabit per second via fiber-to-the-home in a small number of trial cities in the U.S. kept the net buzzing all day.   This will be their second venture into the last mile connectivity - if you want to count Google TiSP (2007 April Fool's joke).

The plans are to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.  To assess interest they have setup a site with a request for information (RFI) to help identify interested communities.  Responses can be entered by local government entities or residents and community groups everywhere.

Google as your ISP?
Google doesn't necessarily want to be your local Internet provider, but would like to shed some light on the true costs involved in bringing fiber to the home, and thus enabling 1gigabit per second connectivity to arrive faster. Stacey Higginbotham from GigaOm has additional details from Google's product manager for alternative access Minnie Ingersol, who says Google will regularly push buttons in the industry to foster innovation and get things moving. It bid $4.6 billion in the FCC auction for U.S. wireless spectrum in 2008, and dabbled in the municipal WiFi arena by offering city-wide WiFi in its home base of Mountain View, California. The Google phone helped push the mobile industry along and separate the phone's operating system from the carrier.  The  GigaOm interview ends with the question many asked - is Google going to become an ISP?  The answer -  this is a test bed for innovation and there are no plans to rollout a nationwide ISP network.

Rob Powell at Telecom Ramblings has an analysis of the innovation focus. "Google is trying to make a point about network architecture," he wrties. "In fact it’s one that Dave Schaeffer of Cogent made to me recently.  There are huge differences in both functional capacity and economic viability between building a broadband access network over a legacy vs modern infrastructure.  It’s far easier to do (legacy) and that’s how most broadband is done in the US right now, but we really need to do (modern) to reach the kind of speeds everyone dreams of." He also observes that "Google wants open access networks, and they’re willing to spend a large pile of cash to prove that they work."

How large a pile? Barron's Tech Trader Daily blog shares some cost estimates derived by Broadpoint.Amtech analyst Benjamin Schachter, who writes that "there are on average 2.6 people per household; so reaching 50,000 to 500,000 people means roughly 20,000 to 200,000 homes. The cost of the rollout - which will involve physically laying cable to individual homes - he thinks will be somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000 per household. That comes to anywhere from $60 million to $1.6 billion. At the midpoint - 100,000 homes, $5,000 each - you’d be talking $500 million."

1 Gigabit per second!
Much of the discussion on the Internet is the uses for a 1 gigabit per second connection. The Google blog post announcing the news states things like downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3D video of a university lecture.  Additionally they mention the possibility of medical imaging over the web, seeing what developers can do for next-generation applications and exploring new fiber network deployment techniques. Google Health was launched in order to "take charge of your health information."  What if you could stream those three-dimensional medical images to your house?  Otherwise there are any number of rich-media, medical, gaming or business possibilities to consume the 1 gigabit pipe.

Broadband trends in the U.S.
ReadWriteWeb highlights broadband speeds around the world from a recent Akamai State of the Internet report. This is another key frustration for Google that they would like to address: In the third quarter of 2009 average broadband speeds in the U.S. declined by 2.4% compared to the same quarter in 2008.  Google has been active with the FCC's National Broadband plan and pushing bold yet achievable goals.

Data is everything
As their 'about us' page explains, the name Google (googol) reflects the immense volume of information that exists, and the scope of Google's mission: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.  There is a lot of data in the ISP realm and Google doesn't want anything to get in the way of the end user's Internet experience.  Prior to announcing the fiber network Google became a partner in the M-Lab open platform that allows researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools in order to enhance Internet transparency.  Built by researchers in Germany the M-Lab is set to gather data as well as uncover any discriminatory interference by a users' ISP.  To assist in running the tests Google has volunteered 36 servers in 12 cities.

Google will be accepting responses to the fiber experiment until March 26, with the target communities announced later this year.

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