Google Fiber to Gigabit Google to Gone (Maybe)

By Doug Mohney October 31, 2016

The writing on the wall for Google Fiber taking a “pause,” had been hinted out for months, with the movement of the broadband access division broken out into the “Alphabet” section of (i.e. non-search and no-ad revenue cash cow) companies.  Everyone is falling over themselves to praise Google in jump starting gigabit fiber deployments by traditional Tier 1 and Tier 2 service providers and I'm sure it helped, but the cable guys were going gigabit anyway.  We're going to have to wait another five years before Google figures out if it can make money in fixed wireless or if we see the bits and pieces of Google Fiber sold off to others down the road.

I'm betting that within the next 12 months or so, Google Fiber will be rebranded as Gigabit Google or just simply as Gigabit something-or-another, so it can cleanly rollout high-speed fixed wireless services without having to equate fiber to wireless. Speed and broadband service will be the discussion topics, rather than the actual physical medium.

Fixed wireless service is seen by Google, AT&T, and Verizon as the Next Big Thing, providing gigabit speeds to consumers and small businesses without the capital expense of digging up roads and pulling fiber.  But it isn't clear if fixed wireless is going to be a big win, since it requires at a minimum line of sight (or close to it, depending on the frequency and scheme used) and some sort of external antenna.  Nobody has a clear picture yet of what installation will look like, but it is more than likely a truck roll with an installer drilling holes in the dwelling than a consumer point and plug-in, akin to today's small dish satellite TV installations.

Underlying support for large scale gigabit fixed wireless will be fiber and plenty roof rights to deploy enough cells for covering an area. If anything, this puts Google at a disadvantage over incumbent cellular carriers in several ways.  Cellular companies already have established real estate in the form of both towers and roof rights, so adding fixed wireless to existing infrastructure starts as an overlay problem.  Google, on the other hand, has to shift its thinking to get cells deployed and is at a disadvantage because a lot of real estate they'd like to have is already being leased out at a premium by cell companies. It puts Google in the position of having to master a new way of doing things and create new facilities to support fixed wireless operations.  Can it do so at the same or more rapid pace than established carriers? It's a wait-and-see issue.

But let's not forget the long game. Google will ultimately get bored and get out of broadband access. I'd look for its established fiber deployments and whatever future fixed wireless customers it obtains to be quietly shopped around in a couple of years to existing incumbent carriers along with CenturyLink, Frontier and Windstream. Frontier has never been shy in buying existing geographic franchises from Verizon, so it isn't a stretch to see them acquire Google Fiber facilities to expand and supplement its footprint.




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Editor

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