July 2007: In exchange for FCC action on its demand for four specific “open access” conditions on the 700 MHz Upper C Block, Google commits to bidding $4.6B in the 700 MHz auction.
January 2008: When the auction closes, it becomes clear that wireless companies – not Google – shouldered the multi-billion dollar cost of the auction. As soon as the reserve was hit for the Upper C Block, Google took its billions and went back to Mountain View. Those same wireless companies spent billions more deploying those licenses to build the most advanced LTE networks in the world and give the U.S. leadership on LTE technologies.
April 2008: Google touts a new proposal for “Wi-Fi on Steroids.” Using newly-authorized 600 MHz white spaces, Google announces plans to have American consumers from Manhattan to North Dakota surfing the Web at gigabits-per-second speeds on new devices that will be available by the 2009 Holiday Season.
Today: There are less than 1,000 white space devices in the white space database and no real measure of broadband white space service. Google’s plans to blanket the country with broadband white spaces devices appear to be on hold.
February 2010: Google announces its intent to build ultra-high-speed fiber-fed broadband networks with plans to serve around five million subscribers in five years; 1100 cities respond to Google’s Request for Information in an effort to become a Google Fiber City.
Today: Google Fiber has deployed a fiber network in parts of seven out of the 1100 interested cities, but otherwise hits the pause button as Google Fiber learns something we’ve known for over a hundred years – deploying communications networks is hard and takes an enormous amount of time, money and skilled labor.
The Present: Google Fiber appears to be pivoting toward using wireless technologies to defray the costs of fiber deployment and to bridge the last mile gap between utility poles and customer homes. In June, Google acquired Webpass, a company that uses microwave technology to provide high-speed broadband services, mostly to commercial customers and to some residents in multi-unit buildings.
The Future?: Google Fiber discovers that wireless networks are expensive to build as well and learns that microwave broadband may work well in dense urban areas, particularly where supported by higher cost commercial services, but offers tougher economics when trying to serve residential customers.
Moral of the story: Building reliable, ubiquitous high-speed broadband connectivity is tough. It takes an enormous commitment of capital and resources and a highly-skilled and capable work force. Yet AT&T has been at it for over 140 years. Between 2011 and 2015, while Google Fiber was cutting its teeth on fiber, AT&T invested over $140B in its network, building to over one million route miles of fiber globally and deploying ultra-high-speed fiber-fed GigaPower broadband services, reaching over a hundred cities. Along the way, AT&T spent over $13B with minority, women and disabled veteran-owned suppliers in 2015 alone.
Google Fiber will no doubt continue its broadband experiments, while coming up with excuses for its shortcomings and learning curves. It will also no doubt continue to seek favoritism from government at every level. Just last week Google Fiber threatened the Nashville City Council that it would stop its fiber build if an ordinance Google Fiber drafted wasn’t passed. Instead of playing by the same rules as everyone else building infrastructure, Google Fiber demands special treatment and indeed in some places is getting it, unfairly.
Yet, Google Fiber still complains it’s too hard…and costs too much…and takes too long… even as it’s reported that Google Fiber will now try to do all this with half its current workforce. Meanwhile, without excuses or finger-pointing, and without presenting ultimatums to cities in exchange for service, AT&T continues to deploy fiber and to connect our customers to broadband services in communities across the country. Welcome to the broadband network business, Google Fiber. We’ll be watching your next move from our rear view mirror. Oh, and pardon our dust.