Google Fiber is said to have shelved plans to roll out fiber networks in San Jose and other Silicon Valley cities while it considers the use of cheaper wireless alternatives.
The search giant's broadband subsidiary has told officials in Palo Alto and Mountain View, the site of Google's headquarters, that fiber rollouts have been delayed, according to a report from the San Jose Mercury News. Google has also told workers in San Jose that its project is on hold while it looks into "going aerial," according to the same report.
Intriguingly, the report comes just a few weeks after Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) announced plans to buy a San Francisco-based company called Webpass, which uses "point-to-point" fixed wireless technology to support gigabit-speed broadband services. (See Google Fiber Buys Webpass in Wireless Play.)
"There appear to be wireless solutions that are point to point that are inexpensive now because of the improvements in semiconductors; that these point to point solutions are cheaper than digging up your garden… and can carry the gigabit performance," he said during a meeting of Alphabet shareholders in June. (See Alphabet Wants to Network the Nation's Cities.)
Google is not the only broadband player in North America that has shown interest in using wireless technologies instead of digging up streets to lay fiber, often at considerable expense.
As noted in a recent blog by Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, the first applications of 5G mmWave technology are targeting fixed access, with both AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless -- the two biggest telcos in the US -- announcing plans for field trials this year. (See The Return of Fixed Wireless Access.)
This is not the first time that fixed wireless has attracted interest. Several years ago, technologies including LMDS (local multipoint distribution service) and fixed WiMax were grabbing headlines, but neither of those has lasted the distance.
Brown thinks this time could be different, noting that wireless technologies have improved as costs have fallen.
The involvement of Google and other technology giants in this area could obviously help to bring costs down even more. Through its Telecom Infra Project, Google rival Facebook has been developing new wireless technologies as part of its overarching goal of bringing Internet services to underserved communities and improving the economics of Internet access.
Facebook's Terragraph system, for instance, uses unlicensed spectrum in the 60GHz band to provide high-speed connectivity in densely populated areas.
During Light Reading's Big Communications Event in Austin in May, Hans-Juergen Schmidtke, the director of engineering for Facebook's Infrastructure Foundation team, told attendees that Facebook is targeting a cost point for Terragraph that is "significantly" less than that of rival connectivity solutions. (See Facebook Lauds Terragraph Cost Savings.)
Interestingly, Facebook has previously revealed plans to conduct trials of Terragraph in the downtown part of San Jose, which means the city might soon become a testbed for a number of new wireless technologies.
Using more conventional fixed-line infrastructure, Google Fiber has now advanced into the cities of Atlanta, Austin, Kansas City, Provo and Nashville.
While its progress has been relatively slow, market observers believe the company's main objective is not to become a major service provider in its own right but to spur investment in gigabit-speed networks that will support more advanced Internet services.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading