The Slow Trip to Fast Broadband

Carl Weinschenk

Like the stock market in recent years, the road to gigabit per second broadband is an up-and-down affair, with the gradual trend line pointing toward higher speed.

The highest-profile recent uptick has been Google Fiber, which is active or has announced its intentions in a handful of municipalities. Last week, the city council of Lee’s Summit, Missouri agreed to let Google build its 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) network in the community, which is about half an hour southeast of Kansas City.

There is a lot going on besides Google. This week, Gigabit Squared announced pricing for its Gigabit Seattle service. BGR says that there are several tiers at escalating prices. The highest is 1 Gbps service for $80 per month, in addition to a $350 installation fee. The fee is waived if the subscriber signs up for a year. Gigabit Seattle initially will be available in four neighborhoods of the city.

Cisco may be doing Google and Gigabit Squared one better: It’s wiring a country. Last week, CEO John Chambers was in Jerusalem to sign a deal to use Cisco’s gear in an Israel-wide network build that will be run by the Swedish company Viaeuropa. ZDNet offers details:

The network should be completely operational in five to seven years, giving Israelis the opportunity to surf the net with downlinks of 1Gbps, ten times faster than anything the local competition — chiefly the Bezeq phone company and HOT cable service provider — can provide with their FTTN (fiber to the node) network, which delivers a top speed of 100Mbps.

 It will be very interesting to see how such networks evolve, particularly in the U.S. Wiring Israel or other small nations such as South Korea or Japan – and those with more focused national governments – is one thing. Providing Gigabit service to all or most of broad expanses of the United States is another.

In her report on the cable industry’s annual convention, which was held earlier this month in Washington, D.C., CNET’s Marguerite Reardon discusses the landscape. While projects by Google and others are technically impressive, they are “one-offs” that are carefully selected.

The idea, which is voiced in the story by Phil McKinney, CEO of cable industry consortium CableLabs, is that picking and choosing the most favorable locales for a project is quite different from bringing service to all or most communities. The cable and telephone industries face technical, operational and financial obstacles that Google, Gigabit Squared and others don’t.

What is happening is a good deal more subtle and less dramatic than the idea that Google, Gigabit Squared or any other provider will transform the landscape. These companies don’t have the huge telecommunications infrastructure and vendor relationships necessary to do so. Instead, they are goading the cable and telephone companies to move a bit more quickly in upgrading their infrastructures. In Google’s case, the goal is to create faster networks better able to serve its core businesses. Cisco wants to sell equipment.

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