Tag Archives: google fiber

Google Fiber goes boringly conventional in Seattle

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At first it tried to disrupt the broadband industry in the U.S. with full scale fiber to the home deployments, but the financial realities of a capital intensive business with a long term return on investment horizon has forced Google Fiber into a traditional small ISP business model. Its latest move – into a high rent Seattle high rise – is a low risk venture. According to a blog post by its Webpass subsidiary

Today, we announced that Webpass is ready to move into the Emerald City, one Ethernet-wired building at a time.

Webpass provides blazing-fast Internet (up to a gigabit per second!) to residential and business customers, starting with Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue, a 40-story luxury tower located above Pike Place Market. We expect to add many more buildings throughout the city, and, starting today, residents of other apartment and condo buildings can reach out to express interest in bringing Webpass to their home.

The only news here is that Google is involved – downtown Seattle already has a thriving market multi-dwelling unit (MDU) gigabit service.

Two questions that the brief announcement doesn’t answer are how is it getting enough bandwidth into the building and what is the business arrangement with the landlord?

Media reports about the Seattle initiative assume that, consistent with Webpass’ market positioning (but not its invariable practice), the building will be fed wirelessly. That seems unlikely: reliably delivering a gigabit (for $60 per month) to dozens of units in a dense urban environment via a radio link is difficult, while leasing dark fiber from the City of Seattle or other providers is easy. I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I’m not making any assumptions either.

Typically, MDU deals between Internet service providers and landlords involve some level of exclusivity, often based on access to the Ethernet or other wiring inside. It’s becoming a controversial practice. The Federal Communications Commission is about to look into it, and Webpass was on the other side of it in San Francisco. It would ironic if Google’s broadband business model goes from being the disrupter to being disrupted.

Google lights up muni broadband model in Huntsville

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Three takeaways from Google Fiber’s announcement that it’s now an active tenant on the Huntsville, Alabama municipal fiber network:

  • The customer owns the marketing buzz. Huntsville put up the capital, Google buys access to end users and gets the headlines.
  • Google continues to pull back from the capital intensive business of owning and operating infrastructure.
  • Competition matters.

Google Fiber’s blog post belongs to the happy, happy, joy, joy school of public relations, but also makes it clear that it’s no longer interested in sinking its own capital into broadband infrastructure…

As an enterprising city, Huntsville explored new ways to connect residents and small businesses and is building a municipal fiber network through Huntsville Utilities. Google Fiber is the city’s first tenant and will lease part of the network with a non-exclusive arrangement, which allows other providers to lease fiber from the city as well…

Leasing the infrastructure in Huntsville rather than building from scratch allows us to bring Google Fiber to even more people, and even faster.

The kicker, though, is that Comcast isn’t even pretending to be above the fray. According to a story by Lee Roop on Al.com, Comcast is responding to the competitive threat…

Google Fiber is causing competition. Comcast issued a statement Monday about its own service in Huntsville. “Comcast offers the fastest speeds to the most homes and businesses in Huntsville,” the company said. “Our 10-gigabit fiber network supports Huntsville’s growing business community, and our recently announced 1-gigabit service provides the fastest residential speeds in the marketplace. We’re proud to be a long-time community partner in Huntsville and in all of the markets we serve across Alabama.”

The big question is whether the lease payments from Google will, over time, be enough to keep the Huntsville broadband enterprise in the black. As a muni electric utility, it has a tremendous amount of sunk infrastructure costs it can lean on. But as Provo, Utah and Alameda, California – to name two other muni electric utility examples – winning broadband subscribers and repaying even just the marginal investment isn’t a sure thing.

Competition matters.

The amazing shrinking Google Fiber

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More empty chairs.

In the latest sign that Google is backing out of the Internet access business, hundreds of employees, including two top executives, have been shuffled out of telecoms jobs and into other parts of the company. According to a Bloomberg story by Mark Bergen, Google is cleaning house at its Access division…

Milo Medin, a vice president at Access, and Dennis Kish, a wireless infrastructure veteran who was president of Google Fiber, are leaving the division but staying at the Alphabet holding company. Gregory McCray, who was appointed head of Access in February, told staff about the management changes at a Thursday meeting. An Access spokesman confirmed the changes, but declined to comment further…

The Access division has continued to shrink. About 600 employees are currently being reassigned to the Google internet business and other Alphabet divisions, according to sources familiar with the plans.

There’s no word on what Medin and Kish will be doing, which isn’t terribly surprising. When executives in troubled business lines are sent off to nebulous jobs in corporate limbo, the odds on bet is that they’ll soon be either pursuing other interests or spending more time with their families.

Now that Google has pulled back from launching new fiber markets and slowed, or perhaps even stopped, expansion of existing systems, the question is what will happen to its wireless plans in general and its acquisition of Webpass in particular.

Right now, the focus seems to be on delivering broadband service to apartment houses via wireless backhaul. That could be a good niche business, but Google has never been very interested in niche businesses that didn’t have the prospect of a hockey stick upside. Last year’s magic radio flirtation appears to be over, or at least Medin’s departure would seem to indicate that, since he’d taken the lead on it.

Google says we’re so sorry Kansas City and yanks fiber

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Grab the Google rabbit by the tail and face the situation.

Google’s vague pledge to complete fiber networks it was already building is worthless, it turns out. According to a story by KHSB-TV, residents of some Kansas City neighborhoods who signed up for service but never received it are getting cancellation notices from Google…

Hello,

Thanks for signing up for Google Fiber. Although we’ve been working hard to bring you service, we’re unable to build our network to connect your home or business at this time.

Unfortunately, that means we’ll need to cancel your Fiber account. If you paid a deposit, we’ll refund your deposit amount to your original form of payment in the next two weeks.

If you signed up for our Fiber 1000 or Fiber 1000 + TV plan, your additional 1TB of Google Drive storage will be removed and your storage limits will be set back to the free levels. Everything you have in Google Drive, Google+ Photos and Gmail will still remain intact and be accessible, but you won’t be able to create or add anything new over the free storage limit.

We’re so sorry for any inconvenience we’ve caused you. And we’d like to keep you updated on our progress if we can bring you Fiber in the future. If you would like to be contacted, please sign up for address updates again by checking your address at google.com/fiber/kansascity.

The Google Fiber team

According to a story by Karol Bode in DSL Reports, the company’s PR people are insisting that “Google Fiber loves Kansas City and is here to stay” and pointed to other locations in the metro area where construction continues.

I’d love to speculate about what Google Fiber is really up to, but the likeliest explanation is that it doesn’t know itself. It’s pushing microtrenching in Austin and jumping into the fixed wireless Internet service business in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or at least it will if the California Public Utilities Commission approves its purchase of Webpass on Thursday.

Competition, and something more, drives Comcast upgrade in Huntsville

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Demand.

Chalk up another win for broadband competition. Comcast announced that it was expanding its next generation – DOCSIS 3.1 – cable modem footprint to Huntsville, Alabama, and would be offering gigabit-level service to at least some customers. Details on service locations, roll out schedule and prices were lacking, though.

What clearly isn’t lacking is a competitive threat. Huntsville’s publicly owned electric utility is in the process of building a fiber to the home network that will be operated by Google Fiber and offer gigabit service at about half the price that Comcast charges in the four cities where it’s already offering it. Those cities include Nashville and Atlanta, where Google Fiber is also deploying fiber to at least some neighborhoods, Chicago, where Google-affiliate Webpass is present, and Detroit, which has neither.

Comcast similarly responded to plans in Santa Cruz to build a municipally-backed FTTH system by upgrading its plant.

AT&T previously announced that it would be offering gigabit service in Huntsville. It, too, has reliably followed Google Fiber’s lead as it prioritises the capital investments it makes in service and infrastructure improvements.

Although Comcast and AT&T are certainly playing defence and trying to prevent competitors from gaining a foothold, there’s also something like a virtuous circle effect going on. Google is – or, at least, was – identifying communities that were favorably disposed towards ultra-fast Internet service and then pumping up enthusiasm even further. For example, according to a story by Lee Roop on Al.com, Google reps spoke at a recent meeting of Huntsville entrepreneurs. One talked up the potential for small businesses and “another Google representative said homeowners can expect a $5,000 increase in their homes’ value if they add fiber optic cable”.

The more enthusiasm and awareness, the greater the market potential for high end broadband service. Competition feeds demand which draws even more competition. That’s how Huntsville is staying on the right side of the digital divide.

Welcome to Webpass City, California

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We won. Why shouldn’t you believe it?

Google finally ‘fessed up to ditching its fiber construction business. In a blog post worthy of Baghdad Bob, the (now) former head of Google Fiber and related businesses – Craig Barratt – promised to “stay ahead of the curve — pushing the boundaries of technology, business, and policy — to remain a leader in delivering superfast Internet“. As he also announced his resignation.

By the time you read this, Google Fiber’s website might have changed, I’m sorry, pivoted again, but as it stands Californian cities are either transitioning from potential fiber city limbo to incumbent monopoly hell, or have been blessed as “Webpass cities”.

Which amounts to the same thing.

As the dust settled on Barratt’s mea culpa mission accomplished declaration, the Silicon Valley communities of San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto were left in the potential category, where Google is “going to pause our operations and offices”.

Translation: we’re done with you, but we’re not going to actually say it because we’d lose whatever leverage remains over AT&T, Comcast and the rest.

Google is also “ever grateful to these cities for their ongoing partnership and patience, and we’re confident we’ll have an opportunity to resume our partnership discussions once we’ve advanced our technologies and solutions”.

Translation: so long and thanks for all the fish.

But San Francisco, where it had previously said it was in the fiber business, San Diego where it said it might some day be, and Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville where it’s never previously shown any interest, Google is now proclaiming as “Webpass cities”.

Translation: we bought Webpass, we’re not sure why anymore, but we own those customers there, so we’re going to claim them and hope no one notices the difference.

The possible, but not likely, exception is Irvine, which Google still lists as “upcoming”. Given the dismantling of its fiber construction operations, that’s a distinction without a difference: if there isn’t fiber there already, there never will be. Not from Google, at least, but almost certainly not from any competitive private sector player either.

Salt Lake City may be debut of Google Fiber 2.0

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Critical mass.

Google has launched what might be its last fiber project. Or maybe it’s the first deployment of Google Fiber 2.0. Residents and small businesses in the densely populated central area of Salt Lake City can now sign up for service, if they are in reach of the fiber plant that’s been installed.

As it typical, Google is hazy on the details of exactly where service is available, or what future expansion plans might be. However, one clue is the emphasis that Google is placing on apartments, condos and office buildings. According to a story in the Salt Lake City Tribune, apartment complexes had a head start on construction

In terms of residential customers, [Scott Tenny, head of Google Fiber business operations in Utah] said, single-family homes will require a visit from an on-site installer, while many apartment dwellers will be able to switch on service more simply.

Google Fiber has taken advantage of a steep increase in apartment building in recent months, Tenney said, and wired a large number of new residential complexes during construction for easier access once tenants move in.

At this point, Google’ Salt Lake City deployment has more in common with its limited plans for San Francisco, where it is specifically targeting multiple dwelling units within reach of existing fiber that it can lease from other carriers, than it does with full city builds in, for example, Kansas City or Austin. Or the full city builds in Silicon Valley and Portland that were put in a deep freeze while Google evaluates fixed wireless service via magic radios.

A mix of fiber to the premise builds in areas that are sufficiently densely packed to make a business case and wireless as far as it will go elsewhere is a rational strategy for maintaining hopes of an acceptable return on investment somewhere down the road. It’s a strategy that AT&T embraced a few years ago, when it decided to focus wireline investment on high potential areas, and then followed it up with an aggressive and ongoing push to move less profitable wireline subs to wireless-based service.

It’s a sharp departure from the vision of a fully fibered future that Google dangles in front of communities it’s courting. The gigabuck realities of fiber builds seem to have changed that vision.

Silicon Valley drops off of Google Fiber roadmap

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Google has scrapped seemingly imminent plans to start laying fiber in Silicon Valley. According to a story yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News, Google has told officials in Palo Alto and Mountain View that the project is on hold, and the group that was to do the work has been disbanded…

The company was set to begin digging in San Jose last month, but nearly 100 employees hired to install Google Fiber were pulled into an office and told the project was being delayed, according to workers. They were offered a transfer to San Diego to work on an unrelated project.

The reasons given to the Mercury News are nearly identical to the statement Google made when it similarly pulled out of Portland

Google Fiber spokeswoman Veronica Navarrete said company officials will continue talks with San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and its hometown of Mountain View about providing internet service, but added that it “takes time” to deploy “the latest technologies in alignment with our product road map, while understanding local considerations and challenges.”

The latest technologies Google is considering include, maybe exclusively, wireless, the fruits of its acquisition of Webpass. On parent company Alphabet’s second quarter 2016 earnings call last month, chief financial officer Ruth Porat confirmed that Webpass’ wireless is now part of the mix at Google Fiber, and they are “continuing to push the frontier” with “different execution paths”.

Porat also said that total capital investment in what Alphabet calls its “Other Bets” was $280 million in the second quarter, “primarily reflecting ongoing investment in our Fiber business”. With the tab for building out a full fiber network in Silicon Valley looking like ten times that figure or more, and no end to operating losses in sight, Google’s cold feet come as no surprise.

More delays for Google Fiber hopefuls

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Google is putting the brakes on its fiber builds. That seems to be the word out of Portland. According to a story in the Oregonian, contractors involved in the project – or at least who think they’re involved – say that construction won’t begin for several months, if ever. Google Fiber hasn’t actually said that Portland is one of its chosen few markets, but the general expectation was that an announcement to that effect would come in the fall.

The explanation a Google spokesman gave to the Oregonian indicates that the company is reevaluating its technology options…

“We’re continuing to explore the possibility of bringing Google Fiber to Portland and other potential cities,” Google wrote. “This means deploying the latest technologies in alignment with our product roadmap, while understanding local requirements and challenges, which takes time.”

In the context of Google’s recent purchase of Webpass, which does most of its business wirelessly, the term “latest technologies” doesn’t point to, say, slimmer fiber cables. More likely, it indicates a cost-benefit analysis is underway. The capital cost of installing fiber in major metro areas is huge, even by Google standards – the Oregonian puts a $300 million price tag on a Portland build.

Here in California, the tab would run even higher. The estimate for San Jose alone was in the gigabuck range and you can multiply that a few times to cover the rest of the Silicon Valley cities Google has been trawling. San Francisco is now listed as an upcoming Google Fiber city – in contrast to San Jose’s and Portland’s potential status – but that also points to a shifting business model. Google plans to lease other people’s fiber to reach multiple dwelling units there, and the Webpass acquisition complements that strategy.

Google Fiber finds a balancing point between home and business FTTP

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Google Fiber is rolling out service plans for small businesses, with prices ranging from $70 a month for symmetrical 100 Mbps service to $250 a month for a symmetrical gigabit, all with no data caps. The price for a gig is considerably more than Google’s standard $70 a month residential rate, but it also allows for more bandwidth-intensive uses. Up to a point.

For example, the acceptable use policy for Google’s residential service clearly prohibits running an online business via the connection…

You agree not to use or allow third parties to use the Services provided to you for any of the following purposes…

To operate servers for commercial purposes. However, personal, non-commercial use of servers that comply with this AUP is acceptable, including using virtual private networks (VPN) to access services in your home and using hardware or applications that include server capabilities for uses like multi-player gaming, video-conferencing, and home security.

On the other hand, the small business acceptable use policy says nothing about operating a server for commercial purposes, except you’re not allowed…

To create substitute or related services through the use of or access to the Services (for example, to use the Services to provide web hosting services to third parties).

Nor can you resell Internet service, including offering it to tenants or hotel guests, except in common areas of your business. Google clearly intends to stay on the retail side of the business and maintain a direct relationship – include a direct, monthly bill – with end users.

A business that supports a couple dozen employees will consume more bandwidth than a typical household that can occasionally burst at higher speeds. Running a public facing server will cost a little more – the benchmark price for the necessary static IP address is $20 a month for one, $30 for five. But assuming Google has enough backhaul bandwidth to reliably deliver symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds to a business, the trade off between the low end small business package and gigabit residential service – both priced at $70 – is a fair one.