Google's gigabit experiment a welcome prod in the side

What changes when bandwidth is virtually unlimited?

That's what Google is hoping to find out with its recently announced plans to deliver 1Gbps to up to 500,000 homes in an ultra-high speed Fiber to the Home (FTTH) experiment. The company's stated goal is to showcase what is possible, apparently giving up on a suggestion that the FCC set up an industry test bed for this kind of stuff.

Not that the FCC doubts the promise of high speed broadband. Just last week FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed the "100 Squared" initiative, a plan (short on particulars) that calls for the United States to deliver 100Mbps Internet service to 100 million households. "This will help ensure that America has the infrastructure to host the boldest innovations that can be imagined," Genachowski says.

As many observers have pointed out, the FCC is likely to reach this goal because almost half of the country's 120 million cable subscribers are already served by DOCSIS 3.0 systems that can support 100Mbps, and Verizon's FTTH FiOS service -- which can support 100Mbps and more -- already passes more than 15 million premises. We're likely to get to 100 squared in the next few years with or without FCC goading.

In fact, while many people decry the United States' broadband stature, we're actually much further along than conventional wisdom would suggest. Broadband is available to more than 90% of U.S. households and 65% of all households subscribe, according to statistics Verizon collects. And while the penetration rate might be higher in small countries, the United States has tens of millions more broadband subscribers than any single country.

But we have to keep moving forward, and Google is right to use its considerable clout and wealth ($6.5B in profits last year, half that of AT&T, which is five times larger) to push us to get better. Google says it will build a symmetrical gigabit service and provide open access to other service providers, both markedly different approaches compared to the status quo.

While it isn't exactly clear what 1Gbps FTTH would change, chances are it will change something. New streaming entertainment options and real-time video communications are candidates, one would presume, and what of new cloud services? At that speed, cloud computing could more than equal experiences delivered by on-premise equipment. Would it be hard to convince people that a $10/month service is better than buying, configuring, securing and updating your own PC?

Remember, however, that this experiment is only about access. Slower wireless home LANs, say nothing of bottlenecks in the Internet cloud, would preclude a true end-to-end gigabit experience.

But you have to start somewhere.

Read more about lans and wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

This story, "Google's gigabit experiment a welcome prod in the side" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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