Google Stumbling on Fiber Innovation?

A year into its fiber deployment, Google is apparently finding it harder to innovate in the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) space than it expected. (I say "apparently" because, despite attempts to question Google folks directly on the question, my information sources are all second-hand.)

When Google conducted a nationwide search for the location in which to build a fiber-to-the-home network, municipalities across the U.S. bowed and scraped at the feet of the Internet giant for the opportunity to be the place where Google would show the telcos and cablecos of the world how it was done with a fiber optic network that would put the rest to shame.

Instead, Google seems to be discovering what those other network operators already knew – that building a FTTP network is a painstaking process and that there is no getting around the time and effort required to connect each home or business to the fiber distribution network. Even given the many perks provided to Google by Kansas City, the lucky site chosen as the first Google fiber deployment, Google is still spending about what others have spent to connect each customer, and taking about the same amount of time to do so, says Teresa Mastrangelo, principal analyst with Broadband Trends LLC and a longtime observer of the local access market.

While Google has been no more forthcoming to her about what is going on with its fiber builds, Mastrangelo has combed the public records of its fiber build activity and finds very little is different for Google than for other FTTP builders.

"There's nothing all that different about what they are doing – they are using every installation method used by others," Mastrangelo says. "They are allocating six hours per customer for an install and averaging three to four hours. And they aren't whipping out 500 customers a day – it's much slower than that."

Thus far, Google has filed one patent application for a new method of microtrenching, or burying small cable drops more efficiently to reach customers' homes, but that's about it, says Mastrangelo.

Google also disappointed many by backing off their plan to have an open access network, she says. The company is currently under fire for adopting very traditional Terms of Service that prohibit customers from connecting their own servers to the network, as noted in this Wired article. On its own customer message boards, Google clarifies that the prohibition only applies to servers that support commercial or illegal activities, but many consumers still see this as a change in attitude from what Google espoused before it built its own network.

In short, Google is looking very much like a traditional FTTP provider – albeit with lots of freebies from Kansas City thrown in, like power, rights-of-way, labor, etc. that has to be a boost to the business case.

Mastrangelo notes that Google also hasn't stepped up to partner with third-party applications developers to show what new and innovative services can be delivered over a 1 Gig network. Instead it is talking about developing its own services for small businesses, hence the concern about customers attaching commercial servers to Google fiber.

There could be more to come from Google as its fiber buildout begins to scale and the second buildout occurs in Austin. Certainly the initial rollout plan, including the creation of fiberhoods and allowing pre-build sales to dictate where fiber goes first, seemed innovative enough. But when the fiber hits the house, Google has yet to live up to the lofty expectations it initially created.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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mendyk 8/1/2013 | 4:22:12 PM
re: Google Stumbling on Fiber Innovation? Why would anyone think that Google would have a demonstrably more efficient way to build out a physical network? What Google does have is a lot of money to do a buildout. No magic beans beyond that.
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