Networking

Google Fiber: The smart person's guide

This comprehensive guide covers the history behind Google's work as an ISP, what Google Fiber offers consumers and businesses, and what it could mean for competitors, such as AT&T.

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Image: iStockphoto/kummeleon

Alphabet's attempt to provide gigabit internet with Google Fiber is, without a doubt, one of the company's most ambitious moonshots to date. Since its formal launch in early 2010, the service has seen many iterations and some have wondered whether Google Fiber is a long-term business for Alphabet, or a disruptive catalyst to force legacy providers to increase their internet speeds.

To help Google fans, consumers, and potential business users understand what is offered by Google Fiber, and how it fits into the overall internet service provider (ISP) market, we've put together the most important details and resources in this smart person's guide. This is a "living" article that will be updated and refreshed as new, relevant information becomes public.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Google Fiber? Google Fiber is a broadband internet and cable television provider that focuses on leveraging fiber-to-the-premises and fixed wireless deployments to bring gigabit (1 Gbps) internet speeds to its customers.
  • Why Google Fiber matters: Google Fiber set the stage for next-generation internet speeds, providing high-speed broadband and generating more competition in the ISP market, which brought faster speeds to many other users as well.
  • Who Google Fiber affects: Consumers and enterprise internet users will be affected by Google Fiber, as the increased speeds provided by its service and its competitors could open new possibilities for how cities will become even more connected and how businesses will innovate and get work done.
  • When Google Fiber launches: Google Fiber officially launched in 2010, but the service first went live in 2012 in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Since then, the service has expanded into multiple cities around the US.
  • How to take advantage of Google Fiber: Google Fiber is currently available in nine US metro areas, with Webpass wireless service up and running in an additional six areas. Residents of a Google Fiber city can go to the service's website to see if it is available in their specific area.

SEE: Google Fiber 2.0 targets the city where it will stage its comeback, as AT&T Fiber prepares to go nuclear (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is Google Fiber?

Google Fiber is a high-speed broadband internet service that utilizes fiber optic cables to deliver gigabit speeds to homes and businesses. Fiber optic cables transmit information using light, allowing for much faster speeds than traditional cable, DSL, or dial-up connections.

In addition to fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections, where fiber optic cable is run from a central location into a customer's home or business, Google Fiber also offers a last mile wireless option called Webpass, which is available in Boston, Massachusetts; Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; San Diego, California; Oakland, California; and San Francisco, California. Webpass was acquired by Google Fiber in October 2016, and can be used to provide gigabit speeds wirelessly to multi-tenant buildings.

Google Fiber is officially part of Alphabet's Access division, which deals with the company's internet connectivity efforts as well as telecommunications, energy, robotics, and more. Currently, the traditional Google Fiber product (not Webpass) is available in Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; Nashville, Tennessee; Orange County, California; Provo, Utah; Salt Lake City, Utah; and North Carolina's Research Triangle.

Prices for a service package vary by state, but typically Google Fiber offers two distinct speeds: Fiber 100 (up to 100 Mbps upload/download speeds) for $50 per month and Fiber 1000 (up to 1,000 Mbps upload/download speeds) for $70 per month. There is also a Fiber 100 package with Fiber TV for $140 a month and a Fiber 1000 package with Fiber TV for $160 a month. Customers can add a Fiber Phone home phone service to any package for $10 per month, and Google Fiber also offer streaming service add-ons, like Spotify, for an additional cost.

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Why Google Fiber matters

Few, if any, internet providers have created as much hype as Google Fiber, and that is one of the foundational reasons why Google Fiber matters. As Google Fiber started to expand its operations in 2014, communities around the US began having conversations about what it would take to get Google Fiber to come to their city. It also prompted TechRepublic to begin investigating how Google selects the cities that it will target.

Google Fiber has impacted the industry in another very important way. In 2014, around the time when Google Fiber was expanding, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked ISPs as having the lowest satisfaction rating of any industry in the US, even lower than airlines and banks. This dissatisfaction with providers continued, at least through 2016.

Customers' negative feelings toward incumbent providers combined with Google's promise to disrupt the ISP market lit a fire under legacy providers, essentially forcing them to provide faster speeds in markets that Google was targeting. When Google Fiber announced that it was coming to Charlotte, for example, Time Warner Cable increased some customers' speeds from 50 Mbps up to 300 Mbps.

It's not just incumbent cable providers who are affected by Google Fiber's presence; AT&T, Verizon, and other companies have been expanding their fiber offerings into Google territories, often working quickly to try to beat Google to market in strategic areas such as Louisville, Kentucky.

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Who does Google Fiber affect?

For starters, Google Fiber affects any internet user who feels disappointed by their current options for internet connectivity. The promise of faster speeds has excited users around the world, with many TechRepublic readers asking when Google Fiber is coming to their country.

Frustration with legacy providers seems to be reaching a tipping point, with the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman going as far as to file a lawsuit against Time Warner Cable alleging that it defrauded users with slow internet speeds.

Google Fiber affects business customers as well, opening up new possibilities of the innovation that could be fueled by gigabit internet speeds. Nowadays, every business is an online business, and high-speed connections could help level the playing field for startups and small businesses.

Speaking of cities, they will also be affected by Google Fiber, in both good and bad ways. On one hand, the promise of Google Fiber or increased internet speeds due to market competition could entice companies to move to these cities, or to open locations there.

On the flip side, Google Fiber requires a lot of assistance from local governments regarding regulations and ordinances that could help them get the infrastructure built out and the fiber installed. And, depending on how that impacts other providers, that could create some problems. In Louisville, for example, AT&T filed a lawsuit against the city over an ordinance called "One Touch Make Ready" that would allow Google to use utility poles in the area.

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When is Google Fiber launching?

As mentioned, Google Fiber was originally announced in February 2010. However, the service was first beta tested in August 2011, in a residential suburb outside of Stanford University in California. The first city to be selected for the service was Kansas City, Kansas, where Google Fiber debuted in July 2012. In April 2013, Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah were announced as the next Google Fiber cities.

The next year, in February 2014, Google Fiber announced that it was exploring the possibility of moving into nine US metro areas, seemingly solidifying its efforts as an ISP. Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Atlanta, and the Research Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) all had signups open in 2016.

While things had been moving at a quick pace, they seemed to slow down in 2016. Signups were taking a long time to be announced and, in October, Google Fiber announced that its then-CEO Craig Barratt was stepping down and plans for new Fiber cities would be put on hold. That, combined with layoff of the Google Fiber team, the public nature of the AT&T lawsuit, and increased competition led TechRepublic to believe that Google Fiber's first wave had failed.

All of a sudden, in 2017, developments with Google Fiber quietly came back to life. Louisville was moved from the list of "Potential" cities to "Upcoming" cities, and AT&T ramped up its work on AT&T Fiber in Louisville, in an effort to beat Google Fiber to market. Around the same time, Google Fiber announced its formal support for Webpass in certain Fiber cities, giving weight to the theory that the next iteration of Google Fiber could mean a wireless-first infrastructure using fixed wireless to deploy gigabit speeds, instead of relying on costly construction and laying new fiber cables.

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How to take advantage of Google Fiber

To take advantage of Google Fiber as a consumer, you must be currently living in a Google Fiber city. Google Fiber isn't available in each neighborhood in a given city that it occupies, so you have to check your availability. To see if Google Fiber is available in your area, go to the Google Fiber home page and click the "Check Eligibility" button and enter your address.

If Google Fiber isn't currently in your city, but they are planning to launch there, the company will typically plan a formal launch event to announce it. After that, Google Fiber will conduct signups by neighborhood during a certain window, so interested users will need to follow the Google Fiber Blog and contact their local government to make sure they don't miss the chance to sign up.

If you live in a potential Google Fiber area, and don't want to change providers, make sure you check with your ISP to see if they have upgraded your speed, and make sure you have compatible hardware to take advantage of it.

Small businesses can check their availability by going to the Google Fiber for Small Business page and entering their address here. Google Fiber also offers Tech Partners, searchable here, that can help you set up Google Fiber for your business.

The current list of available Google Fiber cities, and potential expansion cities, can be found here. Current Webpass cities are listed here.

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Competitors

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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