From the moment Google first unveiled plans to deploy gigabit broadband service in 2010, industry watchers wondered if this was an experiment, a way to force other ISPs to invest further in their networks or a serious business venture. Since then, progress has been slow. Google Fiber has only rolled out gigabit Internet in Kansas City; Provo, Utah; and Austin, Texas, although it has plans for many more cities. The company's also said very little about the TV side of its business.
On the surface, it might appear that Google Fiber Inc. is still only dabbling in consumer telecom services. But ahead of today's Alphabet Inc. earnings call -- the first that will break out Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s traditional business lines from those under the new category of "Other Bets" -- there are several signs that Alphabet has big plans for Google Fiber.
First, there are further gigabit deployments in the works, including in Atlanta; Nashville; Salt Lake City; and Charlotte, NC, where workers recently broke ground to start laying fiber and begin constructing fiber huts. (See Gigabites: Google Fiber Forges On.)
Second, The Washington Post just broke the news that Google Fiber has been inviting customers to try out a new Google Fiber Phone service. The test offering includes several of the features already available through the over-the-top service Google Voice, including a cloud-based phone number that ties mobile and landline devices together, voicemail transcription and call screening options. If Google Fiber launches Google Voice broadly, that completes the triple-play bundle experience, and gives the company service parity with cable and telco providers.
Third, while Google Fiber has largely kept its video business under the radar, that doesn't mean it's leaving it to languish. It may only mean that the company has been biding its time.
As evidence, Google Fiber was one of the more vocal participants in the FCC advisory committee meetings last year that led to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on set-top competition currently being circulated. (See How the FCC's Set-Top Plan Could Work.)
And, since the FCC announced its NPRM, Google Fiber has already held at least one meeting for Congressional staffers to show off a "competitive video solution." The Future of TV Coalition is up in arms about this demonstration, suggesting that it means Google Fiber had the inside track on FCC plans. But realistically, the proposal that the FCC appears to have adopted is based on technical specifications made public last year. It's reasonable to assume that Google Fiber developed its demo around the same specifications.
Regardless of the political haranguing, the fact that parent company Alphabet is putting resources toward developing new video solutions and lobbying Congress so quickly and efficiently after the FCC's latest announcement leads to the conclusion that the company is very serious about pursuing video further, and about using Google Fiber service operations to do so.
Alphabet may still choose to limit the amount of data it reveals about Google Fiber in today's earnings call after the US markets close. But as one of the company's "other bets," Google Fiber appears to be getting a lot more attention internally than many people realize from the outside.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading