People have wondered for years what Google might be up to with all that dark fiber it had bought up around the country. Now, we may have an answer: delivery of open-access, fiber-to-the-home Internet service at speeds of 1Gbps. That's right: 1Gbps.
Google has just announced a trial run of its new scheme, and it's asking city, county, or state officials to let it know if they're interested in a pilot project. In its initial phase, the fiber optic network will serve anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 people.
As for the speeds, they make cable's DOCSIS 3.0 and Verizon's FiOS look like also-rans. Google promises 1Gbps home connections, which have previously been the province of boutique builders like Paxio in San Francisco.
The goal is to use the system as a high-speed testbed for next generation apps and deployment techniques. "We want to see what developers and users can do with ultra high-speeds, whether it's creating new bandwidth-intensive 'killer apps' and services, or other uses we can't yet imagine," said Google's announcement. "We'll test new ways to build fiber networks; to help inform, and support deployments elsewhere, we'll share key lessons learned with the world."
Perhaps the best part of the announcement was the "open access" bit. Other countries like the UK (through OpenReach) and Australia are working on fiber networks that will be maintained by one entity, but open to all ISPs. "We'll operate an 'open access' network," said Google, "giving users the choice of multiple service providers. And consistent with our past advocacy, we'll manage our network in an open, nondiscriminatory, and transparent way."
It's hard to know how far the company plans to take this. Running a national fiber backbone is one thing; getting out in the streets, digging trenches, and wiring homes is another. As Verizon's FiOS project has shown, stringing fiber to the home can be hugely expensive.
Google stresses that this is an experiment, and it may simply be used as a proof-of-concept and a data-gathering project. Still, it can't help but put at least mild pressure on other ISPs. Once people recognize that 1Gbps are available in the real world today at a "competitive price" (Google's words), they're going to take a look at their own speed/price tier and start asking some hard questions.
Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation praised the plan, and said that Google's actions showed the soon-to-be-released National Broadband Plan needs to think big.
"The Recovery Act committed $7.2 billion in broadband investment defining high-speed access at most 5Mbps, while Australia is investing $31 billion in an 100Mbps effort. When you break it down per capita, Australia is outspending the US 60 to 1. Google is sending a shot across the bowÃ¢â‚¬â€we need to set far higher standards here in the United States. Our national broadband plan must take this into account and our leadership needs to stop shying away from the challenge."
Your new ISP? Google launches 1Gbps fiber-to-the-home trial
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