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Google Fiber Hasn't Hit A 'Snag,' It's Just Evolving

from the disruption-ain't-easy dept

When Google Fiber jumped into the broadband market in 2011, the company knew full well that disruption of an entrenched telecom monopoly would be a slow, expensive, monumental task. And five years into the project that’s certainly been true, the majority of Google Fiber launch markets still very much under construction as the company gets to work burying fiber across more than a dozen looming markets. Wall Street, which initially laughed at the project as an experiment, has been taking the project more seriously as Google Fiber targets sprawling markets like Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

This week however things took an interesting turn with the news that Google Fiber was pausing deployments in Silicon Valley and Portland, Oregon, to take stock of possible wireless alternatives. Neither deployment was formally official (both cities were listed as “potential” targets); and Google Fiber execs are simply considering whether or not it makes financial sense to begin using some fifth generation (5G) technologies to supplement existing fiber deployment.

This isn’t really surprising; Under the guidance of former Atheros CEO Craig Barratt, Google has filed applications with the FCC to conduct trials in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz millimeter wave bands, and is also conducting a variety of different tests in the 3.5 GHz band, the 5.8 GHz band and the 24 GHz band. The company also recently acquired Webpass in the hopes of supplementing fiber with ultra-fast wireless wherever possible. Wireless has been on Google’s radar for several years. It’s a great option in cities where construction logistics are a nightmare, or in towns where AT&T’s using regulations to hinder fiber deployment.

Oddly though, as the week wore on, the narrative in the press began to mutate from one focusing on Google Fiber’s evolution, to one suggesting that Google Fiber was somehow in trouble. Reports sprung up arguing that Google Fiber was somehow shocked by the steep costs of deploying broadband, ill-prepared for the realities of the telecom market (certainly a narrative incumbent ISP competitors would prefer). Certain stock jocks were quick to proclaim that Google Fiber was somehow backtracking on the initiative:

“Some analysts see the delays as indications that Google Fiber is more strategy than product — an attempt to get competitors, cities and other service providers to install fiber networks that would foster faster and more widespread consumption of Google’s online offerings. “It’s not clear (Google was) ever all that serious about doing this at any real size,” said MoffettNathanson Research analyst Craig Moffett.

While Google Fiber was initially seen as a creative way to light a PR fire under lazy broadband incumbents (and that certainly is part of the goal), ongoing construction in Charlotte, San Antonio, Austin, Kansas City, Raleigh, Nashville, Atlanta and countless other markets is continuing slowly but largely as normal, with Google Fiber simply getting more bullish on wireless as the technology evolves. That’s not really a “snag,” especially if you consider that Google Fiber has been making its interest in wireless as a supplemental technology clear for several years now.

Most of the narratives that Google Fiber is somehow in trouble appear to have originated with a Wall Street Journal story suggesting that Google Fiber was in over its head:

“Google parent Alphabet Inc. is rethinking its high-speed internet business after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time consuming than anticipated, a stark contrast to the fanfare that greeted its launch six years ago.”

Except Google Fiber isn’t “rethinking” the entire business, nor has it hit a “snag.” It’s simply riding the evolutionary currents, realizing that it needs to embrace multiple concurrent solutions if it wants to get many of these cities up and running sometime this century. In addition to wireless, Google Fiber has embraced a number of other new efforts for the ISP, such as its plan to offer service over a planned municipal fiber build in Huntsville, Alabama, or its plan to begin offering service in Atlanta and San Francisco over existing fiber networks.

Building a nationwide network from the ground up in the face of regulatory capture is hard as hell, and only companies with Alphabet’s deep pockets and lobbying muscle are even willing to try at any real scale. Incumbent ISPs certainly benefit from the narrative that the company is in well over its head, but at the moment Google Fiber’s simply trying multiple concurrent solutions to see what works. And while it’s certainly possible that Alphabet will someday get bored and sell the entire project off to the lowest bidder, at the moment the goal remains the same: deliver a swift kick in the ass to one of the least competitive markets in America.

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Comments on “Google Fiber Hasn't Hit A 'Snag,' It's Just Evolving”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I WANT IT (or something like it)

I want it. I want it.

I have been with Frontier for about 3 months (I had not choice in the matter), and EVERY SINGLE bill has been wrong, leading to wasted hours of effort trying to get each adjusted. I NEVER had a problem with several years of VZ, and even Comcast & TWC were better than this hell.

Rant over.

cacarr (profile) says:


This is of no consolation to Portlanders — who have been strung along for more than 2 years, while the city and the state jumped through hoops for Google.

Portland was all but a done deal, save for the final announcement. And now it’s just “never mind,” with no explanation other than some vague boilerplate.

And we weren’t pitched Google 5G, etc., we got excited about an FTTP-delivered symmetrical gigabit connection for a highly reasonable price.

The “Google Fiber” brand is about FTTP. Maybe they want to change the name.

cacarr (profile) says:

Re: Portland

” … Google Fiber execs are simply considering whether or not it makes financial sense to begin using some fifth generation (5G) technologies to supplement existing fiber deployment.”

Supplement? There is no existing Google Fiber deployment in Portland.

“This week however things took an interesting turn …”

Interesting? More like a deflating, deeply disappointing turn …

Anonymous Coward says:


I live in the Atlanta metro area. I’m sitting as I type, looking across the room at the Google fiber port on my living room wall. It was installed about a month ago, and there’s a fair-sized neighborhood involved. It’s not yet an active port, but it’s scheduled to become so.

The price Google has promised to offer is $20 less per month for a little more than half-again as much more speed and the same (unlimited) bandwidth that I receive from my current, primary provider. Since I will also be able to give up the services of a second, parallel provider, I will kill two ISPs that pretend to compete but don’t. I will save almost $60 per month and get faster speeds and unlimited bandwidth.

I can live with the local version of snag-ishness as it respects hard fiber deployment in my neck o’ the woods.

Whatever says:

Giggling... are you a shill?

Karl, I think you have blown your cover as a bit of a shill. This story is pure Iraqi Information Minister material.

The Alpahbet reality (not Google, that is only one of their busineses) is that they have a pile of what they consider “moonshot” or “other bets” type businesses. This is everything from space exporation and self driving cars all the way to things like Google Fiber. That group last quarter cost the company nearly 900 million and took in only 185 million total (and burned through more than 3.5 BILLION dollars in 2015). (source: http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2016/08/15/alphabet-ceo-larry-page-needs-adult-supervision.html )

Quite simply, Google Fiber is a big, big, huge money loser. As a little experiment to show what is possible, it was a nice idea. Kansas City was a cool concept. The reality however is that it does not appear to make enough income to justify it’s existence. It’s actually bad enough that it appears to be a form of dumping (intentionally losing a lot of money to gain market and drive others out). This only works out for Alphabet because other business (specifically Google ads) are bring in tons of free cash.

As a stand alone business, Google Fiber should already be out of business.

So, evolving? Nope. What is sounds much more like is “stop throwing money into the pit”. It’s a solid pivot to try to leverage out some of the other expensive moonshots (buying lots of radio bandwidth) into something more profitable. It’s pretty clear that Google has figured out that fiber to the home, as a stand alone concept, it just way to expensive to run.

It’s a guess, but I am suspecting that they have also figured out with a big enough sample that giving people access in this manner doesn’t drive enough incremental ad views to pay for it all. These people would have seen Google ads anyway (a little slower on their existing ISPs), so Google’s benefit is slight, and thus doesn’t generate enough extra income for Alphabet.

So now Google Fiber will slink off quietly and top being top news, and sooner or later they will announce that the Beta is over and that they have sold the network to Comcast or something like that.

Google Fiber is a great idea, but it’s just to expensive to do in the US, your population density in most areas is too low to cover the true expenses of the project.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Giggling... are you a shill?

“It’s a guess”

Like everything you state. You might as well have just typed “I have no idea what I’m talking about but I have an obsessive irrational hatred of Google and Techdirt”. You’d save keyboards that way, and you’d whine less about the paragraphs you needlessly typed being hidden as the trolling crap they are.

“Google Fiber is a great idea, but it’s just to expensive to do in the US, your population density in most areas is too low to cover the true expenses of the project.”

…which is why Google are not rolling out in “most of the country” but concentrating on underserved populated metropolitan areas.

You not only spew crap for paragraphs, your conclusion actually agrees with the people you’re trying to attack. Does that mean you’re a shill too?

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Giggling... are you a shill?

Actually, the big five (as you call them) make their money by NOT throwing cash down every technology black hole they trip over. Most of them have been wisely replacing copper with fiber for most of their existing backbone network, doing fiber to the node setups not only for internet but also for phone and other services. Unlike Google, they have long since figured out that there is no way to easily recoup the money involved in re-cabling people’s homes when the existing copper will do internet speed well beyond what most people need.

They make their money the old fashioned way: By not burning through it like play money.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: "Giggling... are you a shill?" Actual Technical Factors.

Frequencies in the 60-90 GHz range (“millimeter waves” or 5G) are line-of-sight. They are not scarce, they are not rivalous, they are not expensive. They do have fairly high atmospheric attenuation, on the order of 40 decibels/kilometer, from all sources. with the higher figures coming from the kind of torrential rains they are having down in Louisiana. This is not a real problem at a range of, say, a thousand feet to the next relay point. As against that, it is readily feasible to make a transceiver about the size of a cellphone. Federal communications law pre-empts state, local, or landlord regulation of reasonable-sized radio antennas (I believe the “safe-harbor” is a two-foot dish, or a six-foot whip antennae). From a technical standpoint, 60-90 GHz is not the optimum frequency, which would be about 20GHz, but it is good enough, and allows for a small inexpensive transceiver, which is legal to mount on the roof-top without a permitting process.

Due to the fractal nature of telecommunications networks, the last thousand feet is the hard part. The first wireless relay point, a thousand feet away froim you, would doubtless have a 20GHz transceiver for connecting to the rest of the world, or rather to an optical fiber a couple of miles away. Google’s proposed wireless system would create the conditions for Hypercompetition, similar to what happened in long-distance fiber in the 1990’s (Google vs. Amazon vs. Facebook vs. Apple vs. AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Microsoft vs. Comcast vs. WalMart vs. Target vs. McDonald’s vs. Burger King, etc., etc.). The critical input is a commercial building, visable from sone distance away, with a flat roof, to put the relay point on. Googls’ proposal is literally capable of bankrupting the cable company, and perhaps the telephone company as well.

Ref: Merrill J. Skolnik, Introduction to Radar Systems, 1962, Ch 11, “Propagation of Radar Waves,” and ch 12, “Clutter, Weather, and Interference.”

Whatever says:

Re: Re: "Giggling... are you a shill?" Actual Technical Factors.

Yup. However, that still leaves Google ISP with a big problem, because they still have to get within 1000 feet of the consumer, and they have to offer enough bandwidth to meet the needs of all of the consumers in that space.

In low density areas, the last 1000 feet isn’t the cost, it’s the miles and miles between and the poles and the installation that costs so much and cannot be easily passed on to consumers. So getting to a pole or a spot 1000 feet away from someone’s farm house is still expensive, using fiber or using some kind of mesh network to get there. Each node costs, and has to be maintained.

Also, the rooftop “reasonable” antenna exemption is for non-commercial use, generally not for commercial users. The exemption is a home owners personal use exemption, and not a way out of the FCC rules. There are a few small groups trying to set these things up and the FCC is watching closely.

It would explain why Google is so much into mesh networking. But it would fly into the face of FCC regulation and there is a strong possibility that they would find it to be an unreasonable commercial use of the public airwaves. There is no free lunch!

So if you consider Google setting up commercial nodes (with appropriate licensing) and then trying to maintain them and get users to use their radios and receiving equipment, you start seeing that it could end up being even more expensive than running fiber. Google is already proving that FTTH style service is way more expensive than anyone wants to admit.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Giggling... are you a shill?" Actual Technical Factors.

Well, that is the nature of the fractal shape of communications networks. The last thousand feet is the most expensive, because it is not very much shared, and therefore does not have economies of scale. Once you achieve a local network, of say, a hundred houses, you are most of the way home. What it works out to is that you have a MickyD’s on a main street in suburbia, and that is a commercial property, and it is not subject to a home-owner association agreement, or anything like that. and you install a 90 GHz transceiver unit on top of the sign, which is maybe forty feet in the air, and that gives you a field of view of maybe a hundred houses. As for permitting, Mcdonlds has lawyers. The sheer size of the pre-existing sign is going to make any nuisance claims fragile.

Anyway, from the MickyD’s, you can use a variety of methods. You can use 20 Ghz microwaves, which have a range of a couple of miles, at least, or you can use lasers, or, very probably, you would be able to grind though political opposition, and get your optical fiber, both for WiFi service inside the restaurant, and for neighborhood service. Now, a 20 GHz phased array unit, capable of steering to a single house-lot at a distance of a mile would be about a couple of feet in diameter, and I suspect it might cost something on the order of a thousand dollars– or ten dollars per end-user.

I just took my binoculars (7X50) out on the doorstep. Of course, I live up a hill, but I was observing from ground-level, not from a rooftop. I counted, in line-of-sight view, two drug stores (Walgreen’s, CVS), two hotels (Holiday Inn, The Residence), two fast-food outlets (Subway, Sheetz), an independent pizza parlor, three medical office buildings, two hospitals, an assisted-living home, two dentists’ offices, a physical therapy center, a credit union, the back side of a commercial building I do not know about, a federal agency laboratory (OSHA), and a federally funded university computer lab.An of course a great many houses. I believe a rooftop view would have given me an elementary school as well, and perhaps a gym/athletic club and a university computer center. I have difficulty believing that Comcast could control all of these entities. Of course, “your mileage may differ.”

A system for farmhouses would be quite different. Obviously, out in the country, so many people have Massey-Ferguson tractors parked in their front yards that zoning is ineffectual.

The basic foundation of public air-wave regulation is interference. If your transmission is so directional that it does not interfere with anyone else, you are home free. Radio signals do not need permission from the owner of the land they go over.

Whatever says:

Re: Giggling... are you a shill?

Always good to see you missing the point and piling up the personal insults. It’s almost hard to know where to start because your posts are sort of like buckshot – high in dispersion, but not much kill power.

“Like everything you state”

Incorrect. All of the numbers come from the current Alphabet reports. So there is no guessing. Further, if you took time to read the attached link, you would realize that they too have drawn very similar conclusions. The new CFO seems to be clamping down hard, bringing the adult supervision back to the company.

As for “it’s a guess”, it means that I am expressing an opinion based on the facts. It’s sort of the same things that Mike Masnick does in many of his stories: Lining up facts, and filling in the gaps between.

“which is why Google are not rolling out in “most of the country” but concentrating on underserved populated metropolitan areas”

Portland is populated and metropolitan, but they are not longer pulling the trigger there. Why? Some people draw the conclusion that there isn’t any money to be made, so they aren’t going to do it.

“You not only spew crap for paragraphs, your conclusion actually agrees with the people you’re trying to attack. Does that mean you’re a shill too?”

My conclusion is that the concept of the story (that all is fine on the good ship Google Fiber) is just plain wrong. In fact, a “pivot” at this point away from fiber is a good indication that the ship ran into a storm and has turned back. Looking at alternate ways to reach consumers is a good idea, but it shows that after all the huff and puff about incumbent ISPs being lazy and fat, we see perhaps that they are smart enough not to throw money down a hole. Google fiber has, at very least, proven that we are probably at least one iteration away from that model being useful in anything other than the highest density situations.

That’s not just a guess – it’s backed up with facts and figures. Your post? Backed up with vemon and hatred. You really should stop making yourself look foolish.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Giggling... are you a shill?

“Always good to see you missing the point and piling up the personal insults.”

You not only have little point other than your obsession with being a contrarian here, but you started your comment trying to personally insult someone. It’s hard to pretend to take the high ground when you started by flinging your shit from the subway. If you don’t like being insulted, don’t begin your own comments by trying to attack people. At best, it makes you a hypocrite.

“As for “it’s a guess”, it means that I am expressing an opinion based on the facts”

So, a guess? Even if we go as far as to pretend you have an educated guess (unlikely given your track record), it’s still a guess. Yet, here you are pretending that only your opinion matters.

“Portland is populated and metropolitan, but they are not longer pulling the trigger there.”

Really? Do you have a citation for them actually cancelling the project, or is that another of your assumptions?

“incumbent ISPs being lazy and fat, we see perhaps that they are smart enough not to throw money down a hole”

Money that, in many cases, was given to them by the taxpayer for the express purpose of building infrastructure, it should be noted. But, you’re fine with that being funnelling into private profits, right?

I can’t be bothered to go point by point again, but you yet again make a lot of assumptions while trying to pretend that you’ve got facts to offer. You claim to base things on facts, but you neither cite them nor discuss how you reached your conclusion. Pathetic.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Giggling... are you a shill?

Of course, if an AC or the regular idiot would bother to furnish us with any reason why he’s wrong rather than obviously false information and name calling, there might be a discussion that would put an end to that strategy (assuming you have facts on your side, of course).

Alas, none of you people bother to do any such thing. Why is that?

PaulT (profile) says:

This seems par for the course, really. Google have got where they are by not being afraid to try new things that don’t have an obvious concrete end game, and part of that is the ability to pivot based on new data. It also makes sense to consider wireless technology where appropriate. It’s not suitable everywhere and certainly not the ideal in many places. But, a 5G rollout would almost inevitably be quicker and cheaper than physically installing fibre and it’s very useful as a stopgap where you can get customers while waiting for the physical infrastructure to be approved.

Meanwhile, many older industries are struggling because they’ve done no such thing. They’ve not upgraded their infrastructure or business models to adapt to the newest technologies and marketplaces. This mindset is in fact so entrenched, that they believe that any attempt to do so must be a sign of weakness.

It’s interesting that Google is being mocked for taking action to avoid future issues like the ones that made other ISPs vulnerable to its fibre project in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hope they take security/patches/updates seriously……..ten thousand hackers across the world just raised an eyebrow

Dramatics aside, it is, it should be, a vital consideration…..not a magyver two sticks of gum a hair pin and a slapped on ‘magyver certified’ sticker job………although, he did seem to win every episode…..sooooo?!…….no, no,no,no no……of vital, cccon-sideration

Jokes aside……..VITAL

Melissa says:

On point

I work directly with this project (as a vendor/partner), and this is the first piece in the last two weeks I’ve seen that is accurate about the current and future status of the business. Evolving to incorporate multiple engineering approaches isn’t indicative of a failure but rather the opposite; if incumbent, heavy, old-school telecoms were more innovative, perhaps they wouldn’t be getting their panties in a wad over disruptive competition from a tech firm. This doomsday news we’ve been seeing the past several days is wishful-thinking spin from anyone stressing over Google Fiber’s progress.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

True Dat

“Google Fiber’s simply trying multiple concurrent solutions to see what works”

True dat! I mean, they’ve considered, experimented, and deployed:

– Muni Wi-Fi
– Balloons with Project Loon
– Fiber TTH
– Core network fiber
– Millimeter wave wireless

Basically, they’ll try anything reasonable, and double down on the ideas that work- a.k.a. healthy competition.

Google’s early Wi-Fi experiments failed, because that technology was not suited for the job of blanket muni coverage and capacity

But with time, better wireless technologies have emerged. 5G is nothing like the old Wifi 802.11b. Neither is millimeter wave. There are different pros and cons now, but a lot more on the pro side.

Citizen187 says:

Most of you are Stupid

Google has ran into the realities of Telecom. So let me say that for all the hate again the incumbents, Google is NOW doing the same thing as the Incumbents – so where is the liberal left attacking them.

The Reality has set in at Google – this is not the Internet – fiber to the home is quite real and requires a lot of people – its not some mid 20 year old writing some code and who has never never done any manual labor in their life.

Also for all you ‘newbies’ Google is an Advertisement driven company. Building last mile infrastructure is not their core business and they will never succeed doing it alone. That is why they are starting to buy up last mile players.

Eventually Google will grow up and come out of the datacenter Closet into the real world.

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