Google's February 10th announcement of plans to offer a 1Gb/sec fiber-to-the-home services begins by painting an image of what this network might make possible: "Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the web and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York. Or downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. Or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture." And that captures what this initiative seems to be about - not Google becoming a telecoms company, but rather them spurring innovative new applications; and goading telecoms companies to offer the next generation of services sooner and in a more net-neutral way than they would have otherwise done.
This is not a nationwide rollout, but rather is being touted as an experiment in selected communities. Google issued an RFI to reach out and work directly with interested communities on defining requirements.
This is not the first time Google has dabbled in telecoms (Google's "dabbling" is of course bigger than other companies' entire businesses). If you recall, five years ago Google was busy buying up dark fiber (fiber-optic cable that's already been laid, but not yet in use) which was in abundance and cheap at that time, largely due to the outrageous amount of overbuilding done by the telecommunications firms during the bubble of the late 90's. This lead to much rampant speculation about what Google was up to.
In 2008, Google bid over $4.6B for the spectrum rights to the 700 MHz band freed up when stations switch to all-digital broadcasting after February 17, 2009. Ultimately, Verizon won the auction for most of the licenses in the prime 700 MHz radio spectrum with their $9.4B bid, while AT&T's $6.6B bid got them most of the regional licenses. In this case Google got what they wanted; prior to the auction, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said they had no intentions to buy the spectrum, but rather "wouldn't it be better if all these other companies do that and we just sit back and reap a benefit? The auction is a tactic to an outcome, and the outcome is end-user choice." Hmmm, there's a pattern emerging here. Even Google's Android operating system, while more of a genuine attempt to establish market share than the other examples cited, nevertheless also creates more openness and competition in cell phone platforms.
In any case, telecoms equipment vendors should be delighted by this announcement. If service providers follow Google's lead, it will drive the need for a whole new generation of equipment at homes and offices. Especially for makers of ultra-high speed switches; think of the upgrades required to the Internet and corporate backbones if millions of homes and businesses are using Gigabit service. And whole new classes of applications and services will become possible. In fact, Google spokesperson Dan Martin told TechNewsWorld "If the Internet has taught us anything, it's that the most important innovations are often those we least expect. In the same way that the transition from dial-up to broadband made possible the emergence of online video and countless other applications, ultra high-speed bandwidth will lead to new innovations, including streaming high-definition video content, remote data storage, distance learning, real-time multimedia collaboration, and others that we cannot yet imagine."
It's possible that Google will fall on their face - they have virtually no experience in operating telecoms services after all. But if they succeed in catalyzing the market for gigabit services, this could spell another decade or two of growth for the whole telecoms industry.
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