MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. — Comcast, Cox,
Cablevision, Time Warner, Verizon FiOS,
Google—all are signing up customers for
cable TV programming and Internet service.
Yes, Google is rolling out a cable TVlike
service that it calls “Google Fiber TV.”
At the moment, Google’s home offering
is skewed somewhat more toward Internet
service than traditional television programming,
but the service will deliver its share
of entertainment channels. However, the
real eye-opening part of the Google Fiber
TV package is the promised broadband
data speed to the home: 1 Gbps for both
upload and download. That’s 1 Gbps each,
“That is 100 times faster than today’s
average broadband speed,” said Jenna Wandress,
a spokeswoman for Google. “And the
cost will be $70 per month.”
For those who don’t want to pony up for
neck-snapping data speeds and Google’s
programming package, they can get free
data service from Google. For the price of
installation and equipment, Google will offer
its customers a 5 Mbps data service for
free, for up to several years. That’s right—if
you pay the $300 construction fee (covering
the fiber-to-the-home drop and residential
equipment), you get free Internet service
that should average 5 Mbps.
If you’re like most people, this sounds
great… so where can you sign up?
Unless you live in Kansas City (both
Kansas and Missouri), you can’t—not yet,
anyway. Kansas City is the first market for
Google Fiber TV and, as of this writing, the
physical cabling plant for the service is
about half complete. Google has organized
potential customers by neighborhood,
which Google calls “fiberhoods.” According
to Wandress, 111 out of 202 fiberhoods are
currently qualified for service.
The Google service was launched in
late-July with a 60-day “Google Fiber Rally.”
By the end of August, about 50 percent of
the fiberhoods in the Kansas City area had
reached their pre-registration goals, according
to tech blog Techcrunch.
Google has been quiet about the network
topology for Google Fiber TV.
“The information that I have been
able to find does not definitively indicate
whether Google Fiber TV is a passive optical
network [PON] or Active Ethernet,” said
Wes Simpson, president of Telecom Product
Consulting in Orange Conn., who also
pens the TV Technology’s bi-monthly column
“Video Networking.” “Both networks
are completely passive, in that all of the
electronics are either at the provider’s facility
or at the subscriber’s home, and only
fiber runs in the outside plant. This is of tremendous
benefit for reliability, since there
is no need to have electronics cabinets in
the field that might have environmental
controls, power requirements and telemetry
Simpson said that, despite the advertised
data speed, there’s no great leap in
Google recently built the “Google Fiber Space” in Kansas City to promote its new service.
“I think the only thing that Google is doing
uniquely is using a higher-speed PON
technology than other providers [such as
Verizon FiOS] have been deploying,” he
said. “They could, for example, be using
XG-PON standards that can provide 10
Gbps aggregate bandwidth in both directions.
Of course, if they are using Active
Ethernet, that would be unique for home
deployment in the US.”
Google’s network structure has ramifications
for its pay-TV distribution.
“Google appears to be offering a pure-play IPTV network, like AT&T U-Verse but
unlike Verizon FiOS, which used 256QAM
broadcast for many TV channels,” Simpson
said. “This means that Google will be deploying
some pretty hefty routers in its office
to support multicasting to thousands
of simultaneous viewers for popular channels.”
Google is secretive about its source for
the gear being used for Google Fiber TV.
However, a year ago, the company purchased
the telecom products side of Motorola
and it’s reasonable to assume that is
where at least some of the equipment will
be sourced. A Google spokesman simply
said that company builds its own devices.
There is an interesting array of devices
that will come with a programming package,
including three boxes for the home: the
TV Box, the Network Box and the Storage
Box. All three will be needed with a full programming
package, but all are significantly
smaller than the typical cable set-top box. As
for the Storage Box, it has 2 TB of storage—
enough for 500 hours of HD recording.
In addition to the necessary boxes,
Google Fiber TV will come with a Google
Nexus 7 tablet that will be used as the
system’s remote control. Since the Nexus
7 runs the Android operating system and
Google developed Android, it’s quite likely
that at least some Android phones could be
used to control Google Fiber TV.
WHERE’S THE PROGRAMMING?
Just what programming will be offered
by Google TV has been a subject
of discussion. It’s no secret that Google
has been struggling to line up many
popular networks, such as HBO and
ESPN. (Google has a list of channels and
networks on its web site at http://fiber.google.com/plans/residential.) One recent
deal announced earlier this month
was a multi-year agreement to carry the
NFL Network and NFL RedZone channels
on an a la carte basis.
“We are currently in talks with some
content providers that aren’t listed on the
channel line-up, and hope to have an announcement
soon,” Wandress said.
Industry observers are quite mixed on
significance of Google’s Fiber TV effort.
“From a consumer standpoint, it’s a pretty
confusing offering,” said Bruce Leichtman,
president and principal analyst for
the Leichtman Research Group in Durham,
N.H. “Google talks about all this high-tech
HD and the ability to record eight programs
at once, but they’re missing six of the top-10 cable networks. The other thing they
don’t have is a phone service.”
Leichtman said that the system’s design
limits its geographic growth.
“Google is actually building a [fiber]
plant, which makes it highly unlikely that
this will continue much further than Kansas
City,” he said. “This is really a test.”
For this reason, Leichtman thinks that
Google’s competitors aren’t too concerned
about any other cities beyond Kansas City.
And even in Kansas City, he has doubts
about the competitiveness of the package
Google is offering.
“Yes, it’s a very high-speed Internet service—
which there’s no demand for—but
from a competitive standpoint against Time
Warner in Kansas City, it’s not all there,”
Still, Internet speeds of 1 Gbps and a
reasonable mix of entertainment channels
for $70 a month (including DVR capability)
could be a siren song for many consumers.
Others, particularly people on fixed
incomes, may be very attracted by the reasonable
upfront cost to get free 5 Mbps
Internet service, as that is a perfectly good
speed for email, online shopping and swapping
photos of the grandkids.
How loud and sweet that siren song is
may boil down to something as simple as
your e-mail address. If you use your cable/
Internet provider for your e-mail, you may
find it difficult to switch to Google and lose
your Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner or Cablevision
However, for those who can switch,
Google Fiber TV will soon be an option in
Kansas City. Whether it turns out to be a
local experiment or a significant new nationwide
competitor won’t be known for
at least several months.