from the disruption-ain't-easy dept
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.