Google’s recent announcement that it would enter the broadband service sector has certainly raised more than a few eyebrows. While early details and information all point to a FTTH (Fiber To The Home) method of data delivery, scant hard facts are available. The promise of broadband speeds that are dozens or even a hundred times faster than what is available today is nothing short of mouth watering, but can Google deliver on these promises or are they simply selling the public on a pipe-dream?
How Fast is Too Fast?
One thing that is certain about Google’s plans: if the 100 times faster than existing broadband connections pans out, that could mean speeds in the 256Mbps to 1Gbps range. Those speeds are simply stunning, but they beg a few questions. The most obvious limitation might actually be the PCs that are available on the market right now. That is to say that even if consumers had a good idea of what they would like to do with that bandwidth, they may not have the computers capable of fulfilling those dreams.
Most modern desktops and laptops come equipped with only a gigabit Ethernet port, which would be nearly saturated by such a connection, and storing all that data would take prodigious hard drives and vast amounts of memory. It is also worth noting that netbooks and budget computers are hot sellers in the down economy. Of course, the future always holds faster computers, and the economic situation will hopefully improve significantly in the few years that it would take Google to deploy such a network.
What Would That Bandwidth be Used For?
There are not too many applications for such impressive bandwidth at the moment, but serving up media and software downloads are two of the most obvious uses for any form of broadband. Not coincidentally, both of these uses benefit from increased bandwidth, so there are a few potential reasons to think that Google’s broadband service might have some practical applications. Of course, there is always the potential of IPTV to discuss as well.
IPTV is nothing less than broadcasting over the Internet, and it could easily change the way the world consumes T.V. Programming. In the future, it might be possible for content providers to offer channels directly to consumers without an intermediary such as Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T. This future is already happening now in the form of devices such as Boxee and the Apple TV, but it could certainly grow in the future. Streaming HD content is bandwidth-intensive, but the possibilities are impressive, especially for start-ups and smaller companies that want to produce their own content. While large digital cable providers may still offer traditional cable offerings, it is entirely possible that the future will see broadband taking some of the burden off of dedicated video networks via IPTV.
In addition to IPTV and downloads, there may be other uses for the impressive bandwidth that are as-yet unknown. Companies come up with new ideas all the time or ways of repackaging old ideas in a way that makes use of broadband connectivity in ways that nobody would have believed possible only a few years ago. With more bandwidth on tap, more possibilities would seem to be available, but only time can truly tell what those possibilities could be.
One Possible Theory: Phantom Competition
Another popular theory regarding the Google ultra-broadband service is that the entire proposition could be either a charade or a proof of concept. In either case the basic message is essentially akin to Google throwing down the gauntlet in hopes that broadband providers will step up their game to compete with a potential rival with serious name recognition. After all, it is only reasonable that broadband providers worry about Google becoming a modern-day equivalent of AOL during its golden-days. Google already has an incredible amount of influence, and letting them serve customers directly might be a frightening prospect for some rivals.
Google is believed to have had no serious interest in becoming a wireless carrier/wireless broadband provider, yet still made waves by submitting a bid during the government spectrum auction a few years ago. If that is not enough to lend credence to the theory that Google may be trying to pressure current ISPs into network reinvestment, consider a few additional points. First and foremost is that establishing a high-tech network is an expensive undertaking. Verizon is believed to have spent anywhere from $12- to $22-billion building its initial Fios network deployment. Those figures may vary wildly due to what one considers a roll-out expense, but the fact is that high-tech FTTH networks are not particularly cheap. The reasons for this are complex, but the simple fact is that FTTH networks represent significant up-front investments, but have potential benefits over the long run. Google’s FTTH network is likely to be no exception to these trends.
The cost is also an issue because of the second problem: broadband is a cutthroat business in the United States. Broadband consumers in the U.S. are accustomed to unlimited bandwidth and high speeds, a combination made all the worse because of the comparatively low population density of all but the largest of U.S. cities. Google’s initial announcement includes figures that might indicate that a roll-out would only be to a single or handful of markets, especially when the figures include estimated user base somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000.
On the plus side, government grants and programs for infrastructure development and reducing the number of out of work Americans by creating new jobs may result in Google getting an amazing deal on the deployment of an ultra-broadband network. It is entirely possible that Google might end up spending less than competitors while developing a faster network at the same time. At the bare minimum, it would seem safe to say that the time is certainly right for infrastructure development.
Assuming Google Isn’t Playing Corporate Head Games
One could speculate nearly endlessly about the whys and wherefores regarding Google’s broadband announcement, but one thing is sure: If Google builds it, people will come. Broadband-fanatics love the latest and greatest thing, and even if only a few markets receive such ultra-broadband goodness, the bar may be irrevocably raised. Raising the bar is a great thing from the perspective of the average consumer, and it is certainly possible that having the bar raised so high might allow for new services or technologies to evolve that will dazzle and amaze. For now, all one can do is sit and wait.