After nearly 18 months of wonderment, speculation and imagination, Google finally unveiled what its fiber-to-the-home initiative in Kansas City will look like. It’s definitely an interesting picture, albeit a work in progress.
Here’s what we know: Google Fiber will combine a superfast Internet connection of up to a gigabit download and upload speeds with a conventional cable TV offering. The combined price for Internet and TV will be $120 a month, while Internet only will cost $70 a month. There is a steep $300 connection fee Google is currently waiving.
If consumers are lucky, many of the gigabit Internet features will become industry standards. Google promises no data caps along with its superfast speeds as well as 1 TB Google Drive cloud storage. That kind of storage space through your ISP could put a serious dent in the cloud storage and external hard drive markets.
On the Internet side, the real game changer from a broadband access perspective is the “free” broadband service Google will offer. For a one-time fee of $300 (or $25 for the first 12 months), you can get a 5 mbps service for at least seven years. That breaks down to a price of around $3.60 per month.
At the introductory event, Google spent nearly as much time talking about TV as they did the Gigabit Internet. In attempting to reinvent cable TV, Google has shrunk the cable box and added a 7-inch Android tablet remote with Bluetooth capabilities. You also get a 2 TB storage box that can hold up to 500 hours of HD recordings along with uploading your own videos and photos.
Upstart cable TV providers have a tremendous advantage over existing competitors since they don’t have to design operating systems and features that accommodate older legacy equipment. Google has taken advantage of that fact with a sleek, intuitive interface that could also become industry standard.
With all the questions that were answered, many remain. Despite an impressive feature list, the current TV offerings are laughable. The company says it is launching Google Fiber with content from providers who share their vision. Currently, that doesn’t include Disney/ABC, Fox, Time Warner Inc. or AMC Networks. Hard to imagine a relevant cable provider without the Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, Fox Sports, CNN, HBO, TNT or AMC. Hopefully the lineup will expand before full deployment.
Another potential red flag is the speed test at the launch event. With presumably no one else on the network, the Google demo achieved average download speeds of 937 mbps and upload speeds of 784 mbps. Blazing fast, but below the advertised speed of a gigabit both ways. Google also isn’t yet offering this service to businesses, but says it will down the road.
There is one huge question left unanswered. What the heck do you do with a gigabit? Google doesn’t seem to know for sure either. Their demo focused on the mundane examples of moving HD video and high-resolution photos … no mention of killer apps or hints of a technological breakthrough that will make everyone wish they had a gigabit. At this point, the biggest draw appears to be that everyone in your home can stream Netflix at the same time to every device you own with no lag. A great feature, but not exactly The Next Big Idea.
One idea that would be great to see KC embrace is to tackle the challenge of access. While $300 for seven years or more of broadband access is a tremendous deal, even that price is out of reach for many low-income working families. For as little as $500, you could equip a student with a broadband connection and a net book computer. There are just under 17,000 students in the Kansas City, Mo. School District. Wouldn’t it be cool if Kansas City found a way to raise the approximately $8.5 million needed to provide free broadband and a computer to every student in the school district?
Google is currently accepting pre-registrations with a deadline of Sept. 9 for eligible neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods that met pre-registration goals will be the first to get the service. The first installations could only be a few weeks away, so we should soon start hearing the reviews.