Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Why we love Google Island?

Last month Google announced an initiative to brings ultra-broadband to a few cities in order to demonstrate 1-Gig connectivity to the home. Ofcourse the details are still unknown, but here is my take on how I think things will rollout.
First, broadband is a complex business to begin with. There are many providers, and they share fiber, buy fiber, lease fiber. Some cities (municipalities) own fiber. And after the telecom boom a while ago, a lot of companies put fiber in the ground, but ended up never deploying networks.
Companies like Comcast, Verizon has spent billions laying fiber down to bring broadband to the home (ranging from 5mb to 50mb)... which for most of us in our home is plenty of bandwidth. For business applications, there may be more desired.
So what if Google Fiber comes to Sarasota? Ofcourse, it would be a tremendous boost to our local economy and our brand as a city. But what about existing providers (Comcast/Verizon) - don't they already have fiber here? And ofcourse there are other providers like Level3 and FPL who have fiber coming through our city s well. My gut tells me that Google wants to work with these providers. Much like when Comcast was first deploying their network in 1997, Microsoft invested a billion dollars into Comcast to help them speed up the deployment. I think Google is trying to do the same. Light a fire under Internet providers to bring more bandwidth to the home. But in order to do this, they need to find a model that works in a couple of cities.
So what kind of issues will Google face?
1. Working with the goverment - they want to see how much hassle it is to work with cities/counties/towns. The application they are having cities submit will give them a good idea on who is willing to work with Google. They will also be looking at States, and their existing projects going on regarding fiber deployment, stimulus money, capital projects.
2. Working with existing Providers - Google doesn't want to dig and lay new fiber, so they are going to look for cities that may have available fiber... or have providers willing to work with Google in upgrading the network. Google has already shown their ability to work with internet providers over the past years signing peer agreements. Nobody knows what Google will bring to the table, and what the incumbent providers will bring to the table - but one thing is for sure they have a ton of cash - lots of motive for broadband - and they have a lot of experience in building ultra-broadband networks.
3. Working with Business Community - Google may be talking about bringing fiber to the home but they may be looking for a big win in the business community first. For example, connecting university, hospitals, schools, and business districts. This is referred to as the "middle-mile" - which actually will be a lot easier for Google to make happen.
Ultimately, I think Google realizes there are a lot of unknowns - and there is no better way to find out than to just do it. They understand the basics of building broadband networks (they have one of the biggest and baddest networks in the world between their data centers) - but they have yet to dive into the last-mile (with exception of some wifi projects).
There is also an interesting marketing angle here as well... by talking about deploying 1-gig to the home and getting millions of people excited, puts pressure on existing providers to start looking at potential competition. So, this could all be a head-fake (to some degree)... Google deploys a really awesome gigabit network in a city or two, and the nation becomes insanely jealous and starts demanding their providers make it happen. Either way it is a win-win for the consumer, but there are a lot of dominos that need to fall.
So, as we wait for Google to decide on where they deploy their first network - its important to take a step back and look at the big picture. First - there is a lot of fiber out there ready to be lit up - especially middle-mile - so whether Google does it or not... they may motivate someone else to do it instead. Secondly, it may not be too critical for us to have a gigabit network to our house right now (seriously, how much youtube do we need to download) - but what is more important is getting fiber to our schools, businesses, centers of innovation, labs and hospitals. So let's focus and start there first.... and not sweat it too much.

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