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Google Uses Wireless to Expand Fiber in Austin

Mike Dano
8/6/2019

Remember Google Fiber, the ISP from the world's largest Internet search company? Well, it's still around, and today the company announced it's planning to expand its service in Austin by leveraging the fixed wireless company called Webpass that Google purchased in 2016.

Google first began offering fiber services in Austin in 2014. Since then, the company has been quietly expanding its fiber coverage area in the city via the installation of wires to users' homes and offices -- and company officials said those fiber expansion efforts in Austin continue today, despite Google Fiber's well-documented pullback in other cities.

The new thing here though is that Google plans to expand its Austin coverage area not only through more fiber but also through wireless technologies. Called Google Fiber Webpass, the company's new service will wirelessly beam Google's Internet services into big apartment buildings while offering the same speeds (1 Gbit/s up and down) and price ($70 per month) currently available through regular old Google Fiber.

Bringing Webpass into Fiber
Google Webpass already offers fixed wireless services in parts of a handful of other cities, including Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago. The company partners with building owners to install a fixed wireless receiver on the roof of a building, and then beams an Internet connection to that receiver using E Band spectrum between 60-80GHz. The receiver then sends that connection down to the residents inside the building through the building's existing Ethernet network. The result is that the people inside the building get an alternative to their existing cable or telco ISP.

What makes Austin unique is that it's the first time Google's Webpass is venturing into a market where Google Fiber already offers service. Brien Bell, head of Webpass, said that means that Google can backhaul its wireless service through its existing Google Fiber network in the city. Wireless is "another tool in our toolkit here," he said. "The goal here is to expand access."

Bell added that Google is now taking a "one team approach" to Austin, where it's leveraging the same marketing and sales team for both Google Fiber Webpass and regular Google Fiber.

Starting small
To be clear, this isn't a major deployment, at least not yet. Bell said Google Fiber Webpass is starting with just one apartment building. But he said the offering can expand to additional buildings relatively quickly due to the simplicity of fixed wireless technology. Because of the propagation characteristics of the E Band spectrum it's using, the company can provide services to any building within about 1.5 kilometer of its Google Fiber backhaul links.

"We are leveraging Fiber assets here… It's a really synergistic deployment in that sense," Bell said. "We're just getting started."

Google Fiber parent Alphabet installed Dinni Jain as CEO of Google Access in February 2018. Jain reports to Alphabet's leadership team (Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Ruth Porat) and now oversees both Google Fiber and Webpass.

Google's Webpass fixed wireless business now operates in eight markets. It offers services to thousands of properties, including buildings with up to 800 apartments, and counts tens of thousands of end users. The unit doesn't disclose its customer numbers, financials or equipment vendors.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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