Google Fiber pivots: What it means for the future of gigabit internet

In a recently published blog post, former Google Fiber CEO Craig Barratt said that he was stepping down, and plans for new Fiber cities would be put on hold. Here's what it means and why it matters.

Image: Google

Google Fiber is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest experiments the search giant has taken on, but it seems to have hit a snag. On Tuesday, former Google Fiber CEO Craig Barratt penned a blog post announcing that he was stepping down from his role as CEO, and that Google would be pausing operations in the potential Fiber cities.

The post, titled "Advancing our amazing bet," explains rather vaguely that Access, the parent division of Fiber, will be making changes to its "business and product strategy." Those changes include a "focus on new technology and deployment methods," which is the reason given for the paused development.

The post didn't mention which cities would be affected, but the city of Louisville, KY--one of the recently planned expansion cities for Fiber--told TechRepublic that it is still working with Google. Additionally, while layoffs were mentioned generally in the post, Ars Technica reported that Google Fiber will cut staff by 9% with Barratt's departure.

SEE: Google's Fiber lottery: Predicting who's next and how Google picks winners

The good news for Fiber fans is that Google claims they aren't suspending operations indefinitely, and that the work in existing Fiber cities will continue. Regarding the cities where operations have been paused, Barratt wrote that "we're confident we'll have an opportunity to resume our partnership discussions once we've advanced our technologies and solutions."

Google's ultimate plan with Fiber has always been a mystery, but the basic goal is clear--get more people connected to the internet with faster speeds. In the past, I have written that Google could have either pursued Fiber as its own business, or simply used it as a catalyst to encourage legacy providers to increase their speeds.

To quote an often-overused adage, a rising tide does indeed lift all boats. In the cities where companies like Comcast and AT&T had a stronghold, Google Fiber's disruption caused them to increase internet speeds in order to compete. That is great news for SMBs and telecommuters, but it is also good news for Google, as more internet users with faster connections could mean more people accessing Google's core products and services. The hope is that these legacy providers don't try to backslide on their promises of increased speeds in areas where Google has stopped operations.

On the other hand, Google has been working on providing those speeds as an ISP itself, and it will likely continue doing just that. As the provider, Google gets valuable insight into how people are using gigabit speeds, and the potential for new internet products when these speeds become commonplace. The question is: Will they continue doing that with physical fiber?

Building out physical fiber infrastructure is costly, and it's difficult to justify when Google has struggled to meet subscriber goals. Combine that with the pushback from other providers on sharing resources like utility poles, and it gets even more problematic. However, Barratt noted that Google would be "pushing the boundaries of technology" regarding fiber, and that could be pointing to one specific feature--wireless.

As many have already noted, using wireless technology to boost last-mile efforts in fiber deployment is much cheaper and helps circumvent some of the headaches associated with physical fiber. Google's purchase of Webpass and its filing with the FCC seem to indicate that wireless is the direction it is heading with Fiber. Additionally, new initiatives in legacy infrastructure like copper have achieved 8 Gbps speeds, which could set the stage for even more deployment options in the future.

If Google can successfully leverage wireless fiber-to-the-home technologies in its Google Fiber deployments, it could increase the speed of those deployments and potentially leapfrog other providers in new markets, becoming the first available provider in some areas. In the past year, consumer satisfaction with ISPs has hit an all time low, and if Google can be first to market with a solid connectivity option, it could solidify its position as a real ISP.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Google Fiber's CEO, Craig Barratt, announced in a blog post that he was stepping down and that Fiber would be pausing operations in some of the potential cities.
  2. Google Fiber will experience some layoffs in the affected areas, but Barratt said that the company will return to those cities when it has new technology offerings.
  3. Google could be exploring wireless, last-mile options as a way to leapfrog the competition in new markets for gigabit internet.

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