One of the industry’s worst kept secrets was confirmed today with the announcement that Google Fiber is coming to Austin, Texas. Google confirmed the initiative today at an Austin event, citing mid-2014 as the target to begin offering their gigabit FTTH service. The move adds more intrigue to the ongoing interpretation of what Google is really up to with these Google Fiber deployments.
Google has been busily expanding the Google Fiber footprint throughout the Kansas City region, but Austin represents the first true expansion market. Early indications from the Austin Google event suggest much of the Kansas City playbook will be replicated in Austin including the fiberhoods concept, free gigabit Internet access to anchor institutions, and a free broadband offer to those willing to pay for the initial connection to the network.
Austin has some unique characteristics that both Google and the city hope can be exploited by Google Fiber. One that was cited at the event was the city’s “live music capital of the world” designation. Perhaps with Google Fiber, Austin will look to become the “live music capital of the web.”
After announcements like this, we’re left to wonder what Google is up to with this FTTH initiative. In Austin, they will be competing with AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Grande Communications. Is Google looking to replicate this network build-out in many more cities, providing a significant competitive jolt to the broadband community?
I’ve seen costs cited from $11 to $140 billion for a broad Google Fiber rollout. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, event to a company like Google.
I continue to believe this is more about demonstrating what’s capable and observing consumer and business behavior, than about looking to compete and grab market share. Google has the luxury of introducing a plethora of applications and services across these networks, gaining valuable market intelligence on how customers use and interact with them. That’s intelligence they can use to further refine their own products and services, as well as leverage for partnerships with others. It’s an incredible laboratory of broadband behavior which can be mined for invaluable intelligence. Considering the majority of the world has yet to be introduced to broadband, think of what Google can do with what they learn from these Google Fiber markets.
By building their own networks, they control them from end to end, and don’t need to interface with incumbents. In so doing, they also push incumbents to respond and innovate, which also helps their cause as one of the leading Internet , information, and advertising brands on the planet. Their message to incumbents: Look at what’s really capable with broadband. Get on board with it, or get left behind.
So is Austin it? Probably not. Google may well have their mind set on introducing several other Google Fiber communities across the country. But a nationwide build, one city at a time? I continue to believe that’s unlikely. What do you think? Share your views in the comments section below.