Optical/IP Networks

Is Google Going Dark on Fiber?

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which once seemed as though it was emerging as a competitive threat to network operators, is now believed to be taking a different view of building its own fiber-based backbone network.

Rumors abound that Google is rethinking the businesses it wants to emphasize, and running its own fiber-fed nationwide network doesn't appear to be on the top of its "things-to-do" list.

One well-placed source in the equipment community says the company is choosing to lease long-haul network capacity from existing carriers, instead of lighting up dark fiber coast-to-coast.

Such a network, if ever constructed, would vault Google deep into the telecommunications business, and it might have helped the company expand its muni WiFi, grid computing, and broadband video initiatives. (See Google's Own Private Internet and Google Hypometer.)

On the other hand, analysts point to several reasons why Google may have cooled to the idea. And those reasons, coupled with the decision to lease capacity from other carriers, may help explain its wide-eyed interest in the issue of network neutrality.

First, Heavy Reading chief analyst Scott Clavenna says there is no real shortage of long-haul capacity. “Building a new backbone from scratch may not be warranted in the U.S., as there is still lots of 10G capacity available from wholesalers at good prices,” Clavenna says. “I would think managed wholesale capacity is available from at least a half-dozen providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Qwest, Level 3, Global Crossing) that would fight hard for this business and provide Google with a high-capacity backbone.”

Google has never spoken about the plans and was true to form Thursday. “I'm unable to comment on rumor or speculation,” writes Google spokesman Barry Schnitt in an email response to Light Reading.

Earlier, Light Reading was among the first to report that Google was buying up dark fiber and developing portable data centers as it explored the idea of a Google network. (See Links: Facing the Google Future.) Some thought Google might light the fiber to create an "alternate Internet" for its users and advertisers. Others thought the network might be used to expand Google's municipal WiFi networks to cities throughout the U.S.

But Google has learned a lot over the past 18 months about the logistical, regulatory, government, and public relations hassles of being a telecom provider. The company, sources say, grew tired of addressing rights-of-way, privacy, and other network-related issues during its recent WiFi efforts in San Francisco, leading it to relinquish much of the project to its "telecom partner" EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK)

Google’s decision not to build also seems consistent with its more recent messages to analysts and investors. The company has been saying that any new major development projects or capital expenditures must make sense in the context of Google’s core advertising and search businesses.

Analysts at UBS reported last November that Google had engaged Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) for the long-haul equipment and ADVA Optical Networking for the metro gear. The report suggested that the long-haul DWDM network could help Google negotiate better peering agreements with other backbone ISPs. (See Infinera: $1B IPO Imminent?.)

Like Google, Infinera has never spoken on the record about the project. “We’re not going to touch that one,” Infinera spokesman Jeff Ferry told Light Reading Thursday. One of Infinera's competitors says Google may have told Infinera at one point that it wanted to build a long-haul network but was never very serious about it.

Infinera's announced customers include Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), Global Crossing (Nasdaq: GLBC), XO Communications Inc. , and OnFiber Communications Inc. . (See XO Selects Infinera, and Global Crossing Picks Infinera.)

ADVA, another potential Google WDM vendor, did not return calls for comment.

Canarie Inc. senior director of advanced networks Bill St. Arnaud is not surprised that Google has cancelled its plans. “It’s really a business decision based on expected growth in traffic. For some routes it makes sense to buy the fiber and light it yourself if you expect to have terabytes and petabytes of traffic; for other routes it makes more sense to lease,” Arnaud says.

Arnaud says Google is backing away from becoming a network operator because traffic levels aren’t growing as fast as it once expected.

“They bought the fiber, as I understand it. I suspect the reason why they are going to managed services is because of the bottleneck in the last mile,” Arnaud says. “Network neutrality has failed to pass through Congress. They realize that reaching their end customer is going to be a challenge, so they are probably not going to have the traffic growth volumes they had hoped for because of the bottleneck caused by the incumbents.”

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

Sign In