MUNICH, Germany -- Could Google export its gigabit networks strategy from the US to Europe and light a fire under the continent's high-speed broadband market?
That's a question I asked some of the speakers at this week's Gigabit Europe conference here in Munich, where it became obvious that Europe is lagging behind both Asia-Pacific and the US, where Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) continues to expand gigabit broadband. (See Gigabit in Europe and Gigabites: Google Fiber Forges On.)
The response was more positive than I expected.
"There are lots of rumors afoot as to what their intentions are," said Ronan Kelly, CTO for EMEA and APAC region at infrastructure vendor Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), during the 'Gigabit Cities' panel debate. "One of the barriers they face is how fractured that [European] market is," he noted, highlighting an issue also identified by Heavy Reading contributing analyst Graham Finnie. (See Gigabit Broadband 'Fragmented' in Europe.)
"In the US, it's easy to do a clean sweep and target the whole country because there are no language barriers and they don't have to deal with so many local policy rules, so it's a far easier proposition in the US," Kelly continued. "Will [Google] come in and try and shake things up in Europe? I personally think there's no doubt that they will, because at the end of the day they are driven towards driving capacity… and if market forces don't drive the industry in the direction they need it to go in, luckily for them they have sufficient financial clout to shake up that market in the same way they have done in the US. It will be more painful for them to do so in Europe because of the fractured market, but it's certainly far from being impossible," said the Adtran executive.
It's also something that Light Reading speculated about earlier this year. (See Does Google Fiber Have Renewed Euro Ambitions?)
Talking during the same session, Heavy Reading's Finnie noted that Google could spark interest amongst Europe's municipalities if it deployed some of the same tactics it has used in the US.
"The thing that would really work, actually, is the type of competition they launched in the US… if they launched a competition in Europe and asked cities to compete to be the first Google Gigabit City, that would immediately disseminate huge amounts of information and cities everywhere would have to find out why they should do this to start to compete." (See Google Jumps Into Gigabit FTTH.)
Finnie adds: "That's why Google Fiber in the US was such a catalyst. It's not just that they said they were going to build a Gigabit City but because they asked cities to compete to be one of those cities and so every city then started to develop a plan to become a Gigabit City… the same thing could happen here if they came to Europe. If I was in the European Commission, I'd be very much encouraging Google to launch the exact same competition in Europe," adds the analyst.
I hope Kelly is right and that Google does indeed deploy the same kind of tactics in Europe (though of course it will need to do it in a number of languages…). Anything that will generate more interest in, and awareness of, the potential (and I stress the word potential) for very high-speed broadband to accelerate the pace of digital development in Europe has to be welcomed with open arms.
There are some developments already, of course: In the UK, CityFibre is doing its best to stimulate the British gigabit market, as you can see in the short video interview below:
But much more is needed. According to Finnie's recent research for a new Heavy Reading report on gigabit broadband in Europe, there are only about 20 service providers offering gigabit broadband in Europe and they are spread far and wide. More needs to be done to set Europe on the path of becoming a more digital society that can stimulate innovation and encourage new digital business models -- I believe high-speed, low latency (preferably uncontended) services can help do that.
It's a shame that I am encouraging a US web services giant to stimulate the gigabit broadband market here -- I'd rather be calling on a capital-rich European brand to be the catalyst.
But beggars can't be choosers. So come on Google -- give Europe a poke with your fiber stick and see what happens…
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading