What's up with Google Fiber?

Who has it, who wants it, who gets it?

US Google Fiber map

If Chicago and Los Angeles are added, they would bring to 20 the number of U.S. cities using or preparing to launch Google Fiber. 

Credit: Google

Let’s face it: when it comes to Internet connectivity, there’s no such thing as “too fast.” And optical fiber is the only choice for connectivity that exceed 1,000 Mbps, aka Gigabit Internet. Optical fiber provides higher bandwidths – download speeds 40 times faster and upload speeds more than 300 times faster than garden variety broadband – and spans much longer distances than electrical cabling. And some companies, such as Bell Labs, Cisco and Comcast are claiming that their new "fiber optic" services (when eventually installed) will be 10 times faster than Google. 

In the meantime, Google Fiber is the hottest ticket in town, and it's popping up in municipalities all over America. It started in Kansas City during the summer of 2012 -- followed by Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah in 2014. And on the official Google Fiber team blog, director of Fiber Expansion Jill Szuchmacher noted that Google is in the process of designing the San Antonio network, and construction has started in Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Salt Lake City. 

The remaining metro areas of Phoenix, Portland, Ore., and San Jose are making great progress and, last month, negotiations began with Louisville, Ky., San Diego and Irvine, Calif. And Google recently invited Oklahoma City, Okla., and Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla. to join the ever expanding Google Fiber family. 

Google Fiber customers

Local residents in these areas are thrilled to finally get super, high-speed Internet (and cable TV) at such a reasonable price. But Google Fiber for businesses is where the real spotlight landed when companies such as SightDeck, who moved from California to the “Silicon Prairie” to build next-generation video-conferencing on the Gigabit expressway; and BIME Analytics, a French cloud computing company, who wanted its North American headquarters located in the center of supersonic Kansas City, Mo. [Note: since this article was written, BIME was acquired by San Francisco-based Zendesk, which plans to close the Kansas City office in early 2016.] 

Brad Slaughter, owner and partner of Bark Productions in Kansas City, Mo., confirms the importance of ultra-high-speed capacity to its business: "One of our extended businesses, 19 Below, handles large video uploads to TV stations and clients. Previously, this simple upload/download task took hours to achieve, but now with Google Fiber, it only takes a few minutes, which helps us (Bark Productions) save time, meet our deadlines, and deliver products to our clients more efficiently." 

For $100 a month, businesses get high performance Wi-Fi, gigabit routing, firewall protection, online network management via MyFiber and dedicated tech support. And, for an additional $30, they get five static Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. But the game changer is still the incredible speed and efficiency of fiber. The low cost is just a bonus. 

[Related: Gigabit Internet access grows out of its niche] 

"Google Fiber has finally delivered to a small business like mine a quality of service that is every bit as good as any large scale enterprise," says Marcelo Vergara, CEO of Propaganda3, a digital production company in Kansas City, Mo. "We now have a level of service, speed and reliability backed by a name I trust in technology. And, at a minimum, it delivers at least three times more than our Time Warner Cable access provided at one third of the price, so I save several thousands of dollars annually on access costs." 

According to Vergara, developing interactive software, games, websites, mobile apps and the supporting technologies all require powerful cloud systems. With Google Fiber, they now work exclusively on remote servers, which are every bit as responsive as their former LAN-based services. And they finally discarded all of their old, 2010 legacy infrastructure and replaced it with the new, more reliable and fast infrastructure of Google Fiber – and at a fraction of the cost! 

"I have never seen a network have so much of a bottom line effect," adds Vergara. "It really is faster and, frankly, just as important, more reliable. But the fun part is that we don’t even think about it anymore." 

How to get Google Fiber

Google access chief Kevin Lo told audiences at a broadband forum that the key strategy for attracting Google Fiber to your city is not about tax breaks; it's about cooperation. Internet providers need easy access to power poles, ducts and cable conduits. Not to mention maps that show where this equipment is situated, plus the location of water, power and gas lines, phone cables, utility tunnels and underground conduits. They also need construction permits issued quickly and complete cooperation of all city officials.All of this occurs when they conduct the site survey and then, if the city is eligible, Google sends the networking designs for approval. 

For consumers, the cost for Google Fiber's broadband service is $70 a month, or $129 a month for the bundled Internet and TV service. For businesses, it's $100 a month for the service plus $30 a month for additional static IPs. Some of the business competitors' cost range from $364.99 a month for 500/500Mbps with Verizon FiOS; to $70-$90 a month for 24/3Mbps with AT&T U-Verse; and $249.95 a month for 150/20Mbps with Comcast Business. But these are just monthly estimates that change often and do not include all the additional fees that companies tack on such as installation, equipment, number of users, with or without a minimum contract, static or dynamic IPs, etc. 

The downside of Google Fiber

Not many businesses are complaining about their Google Fiber service because it's cheap and it exceeds their expectations. Some individuals have complained that since the speed is one-sided, some of the target companies are having difficulty receiving Google's super high-speed communications because the recipient company's equipment is too slow. Others have complained that the bundled services (i.e., Internet and cable television) are not quite adequate. 

[Related: AT&T brings gigabit Internet to Apple's home town, charges steep premium over cities where Google Fiber's available] 

For example, Denise Clark, owner and operator of the Main Street Cafe had Google Fiber and was happy with the service until she purchased and relocated to a Victorian-style house – the Myriad House Coffeehouse & Vintage Shop – that she converted to a shop, coffeehouse and bed & breakfast. 

"I would write a review of my good experience, but I don't have Google Fiber anymore. When I added a bed and breakfast to my business, I needed cable TV with the Internet service, which Google did not provide in my area, so I had to switch to another service," says Clark. 

Installations in some cities have been a challenge, even a nightmare. And some of the initial site surveys have failed to reveal underground utilities that could impede progress. But the main complaint, thus far, has been about privacy. 

Google “reads” user emails and scans for keywords in order to target individuals for customized advertising. In addition, Google tracks and records users' Internet behavior for the same reason, then bombards users with custom ads within the Gmail and YouTube apps on mobile devices. CIOs can, of course, navigate around Google's privacy intrusions by establishing company policies that prohibit using Gmail accounts at work and by installing tools or software such as Do Not Track Plus to block Internet monitoring. 

Aside from these few complaints, Google Fiber has been a huge plus for its business customers. "We have a live feed to a Chicago company for color timing of footage used in commercials that we produce," says Slaughter. "The enhanced speed and connection of Google Fiber has been an enormous benefit for this process. It really is 10 times faster than the service we were previously using."

This story, "What's up with Google Fiber?" was originally published by CIO.