Google Fiber, AT&T Fuel Gigabit Network Trend

Google Fiber says it is considering expanding the footprint of its gigabit access networks beyond Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City Kan., Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah, to some additional metro areas, with nine regions now being investigated.

Separately, AT&T says it will build a fiber to the home network in Dallas. Both illustrate the growing gigabit network trend.

AT&T now says it will build fiber to the home networks in Austin, Texas and Dallas, capable of delivering speeds up to one gigabit per second, at least in Austin.

AT&T has not yet specified speeds for Dallas, but it is reasonable to assume gigabit services will be the draw.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has suggested a goal of 100 million U.S. residents having access to 100 Mbps Internet access service by about 2020. Some might have thought that a bit of a stretch. It no longer seems so remote.

Technology Futures, a firm with an extraordinary record of broadband predictions, now argues it is reasonable to expect that half of U.S. broadband access users will be buying 100 Mbps connections by about 2020.

Technology Futures also predicts that about 10 percent of customers will be buying 50 Mbps connections, while 24 percent will still be buying 24 Mbps service.

That might seem a crazy amount of bandwidth for “many typical users,” but standard technology forecasting techniques have, for more than a decade, actually suggested that would happen.

In 2001, for example, Technology Futures predicted that by year-end 2004, over 25 percent of U.S. households will have adopted broadband services, up from about five percent at the end of 2000. The actual U.S. broadband penetration rate was 30 percent, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

“By 2010, we expect that the percentage will exceed 60 percent,” Technology Futures predicted in 2001. The actual penetration wound up being 66 percent.

So widespread 100-Mbps access by 2020 seems increasingly possible. Competitive pressure is forcing AT&T, among others to invest in faster access networks.

And subtle but important changes in thinking are likely to help. In the past, would-be ISPs have faced time-consuming and cost-inducing “make ready” costs when considering access network builds. But Google Fiber provides incentives for municipal authorities to cut those costs.

Google Fiber’s investigation of possible new Google Fiber networks in nine metro areas focuses on three key infrastructure items Google says will make construction more efficient, and increase chances a metro area will get Google Fiber.

The checklist covers some concerns are traditional for cable or telco access providers: access to municipal poles and duct work.

Such access is more or less routine, but Google Fiber will go where there is room on poles and in ductwork, especially where a metro area contains several municipal entities. And Google wants municipalities to do the work of gathering all that information, both municipal-owned and private assets.

Likewise, Google Fiber wants “accurate information” about utility poles, conduit and existing water, gas and electricity lines. Again, you might think that is routine, but it can be time-consuming for a would-be access provider to dig up all the information. Google also wants municipalities to help Google get conduit and pole access in an efficient and timely manner.

The third concern concerns the efficiency of permitting processes, which could entail thousands of separate construction permits, as well as identification of locations where cabinets can be sited.

Google Fiber wants municipalities to streamline those processes so construction can start faster.

That is likely to result in most municipalities streamlining all make ready tasks, to the benefit of all other ISPs looking to build next generation fixed access networks.
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