A Different Take on Google Broadband
By also promising to open those networks to any service provider, Google is seen as pressuring regulators and service providers alike to move away from the current "I built this network and you can't use it" approach to broadband.
Some within the telecom industry have adopted a "bring it on" attitude to watching Google try to build FTTH networks, knowing the expense, knowing the complexity, and eager for Google to stumble over a reality with which the telecom industry has been struggling.
I think all of these reactions miss the point. It seems to me that what Google is trying to do is build a real-world lab for the next generation of Internet applications, which it expects to offer.
And it also occurs to me that Google doesn't really have to build much of anything -- there are plenty of FTTH networks already built or in the works that Google could easily use as its field lab. Municipalities like Provo, Utah, and Burlington, Vt., have expensive FTTH networks built or under construction that come quickly to mind, and there are probably many more.
Giving credit where it's due, Mike Day, CTO of ADC (Nasdaq: ADCT), has influenced my opinion on both counts.
Day's background is as a network architect, and before taking his current job in 2001, he worked for Ameritech, Telecom New Zealand Ltd. (NYSE: NZT; New Zealand: TEL), and AT&T's Bell Labs in that capacity.
With that perspective, Day believes, as he told me in a recent interview, that Google is likely to be building a symmetrical Gigabit FTTH network, not a passive optical network such as those built by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and others. The goal is not to get into the broadband ISP business, but to be able to test the next generation of interactive video applications, he suggests.
"I think this is an initiative so Google can get out ahead of competition on software and user interfaces for highly visual, highly computational things, like 3D games, the ability to change point of view in a virtual reality environment, and things like that," Day said.
That kind of research goes on today in a lab environment, but in a real-world test Google can involve real consumers, not just lab techs, and real-world conditions that identify network and software bottlenecks and delays that can't be simulated in the lab, Day believes.
As for the ease of building such a network, Day points out there are tariffed Gigabit Ethernet backbone services available today from multiple service providers, as well as transport and middle-mile fiber available as well.
For some municipal fiber networks, Google could play the hero, rescuing financially strapped projects and breathing new life into some that might be flagging. Even municipalities that aren't struggling, such as the Bristol, Va., network, or the Lafayette, La., network now reportedly ahead of its construction plans, could welcome Google with open arms.
In short, Google's broadband network could well be less -- or more -- than many expect. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading