Despite investing billions of dollars, Internet giants like Google and Facebook don’t have much to show for their broadband access projects, according to analysis from ABI Research. ABI estimates that $2.5 billion was invested in 2016 from the likes of Google and Facebook for last mile broadband access.
Webscale companies like Facebook and Google successfully disrupted the IT infrastructure segment by introducing virtualization and software-defined strategies for massively scaled infrastructure. They really had no choice because applying legacy IT infrastructure at the scale that companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google need would be too expensive and to unwieldy to manage.
With that IT disruption behind them, some webscale giants turned their attention to last mile access for broadband. Probably the most visible of these efforts has been Google Fiber. But even a behemoth like Google may have bitten off more than they want to chew, with the realization of the huge investment required to bring FTTP to even the largest and most densely populated U.S. cities.
Google has since slowed their Google Fiber approach and seem to be now studying fixed wireless, with their acquisition of Webpass. ABI points out, that as impressive as $2.5 billion is, it pales in comparison to the estimated $400 billion spent by traditional fixed and mobile operators for access networks.
Some may argue that Google accomplished what it set out to do, with a more subtle disruption of the broadband access market. Very few providers were talking gigabit access before Google Fiber, whereas now it’s quite common.
A plethora of traditional broadband carriers from national players like AT&T and Comcast, all the way down to the smallest telco cooperatives are now actively deploying gigabit capable broadband services. Not to mention the new entrants, including municipals and electric cooperatives.
Google of course is not alone. Facebook has trialed drones for Internet access, and Elon Musk’s Space X hopes to provide satellite broadband through low earth orbit satellites.
“On one hand, these activities are a timely reminder for operators not to stay complacent as all industries have been proven to be prone to disruption, even those with heavy regulations,” said Lian Jye Su, Senior Analyst at ABI Research in a press release. “But on the other, we would like to question the rationale behind such a decision, given the huge disparity between the capital investments between both sides. While the internet giants come up with innovative approaches, none of the approaches are financially sustainable or scalable at the moment.”
ABI believes the broadband access strategy for these webscale giants should shift a bit and focus more on collaboration with the broadband access ecosystem to spur innovation. They point to Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP) as a good example of this suggested collaborative approach. ABI calls it the Goldilocks principle, where instead of trying to outright disrupt broadband access, these Internet giants should rather team up with the existing industry to develop sustainable and commercially viable innovation.