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Google getting into the Fiber-To-The-Home deployments ?

Google getting into the Fiber-To-The-Home Business ? I have no doubt that they are serious about it. They have the money, the know-how and more importantly they have some very good reasons. Some very valuable points they want to prove to the US regulators and the US operators. But before I comment on their serious plans, let's take a look at Google's first attempt to enter the Fiber-To-The-User (FTTU) business, an initiative they launched on April 1st, 2007 and which was supposed to bring a self-install fiber connection to everyone. The system was called TiSP and you can download the Google FTTU TiSP description here and even the Google FTTU TiSP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - have fun.

Now, let's get serious. Here is the official Google Statement. .

And to know my opinion on Google's plans...

Why does Google want to spend resources on an FTTU trial ? Yes, a few lucky citizens in the cities which will win the Google beauty contest will get lucky and get cheap all-you-can-eat fiber connections. But more importantly: Google wants to make some specific points to the regulators in Washington - and use the public to put additional pressure on the elected officials:

  1. Net-Neutrality works. If you only provide an abundance of bandwidth, there is no need to provide 'special' connections with guarantees-of-service for video or any other service. In the presence of more bandwidth than you can eat, an IP network without any QoS connections works fine to deliver all services including voice and video. All services can be successfully deployed over-the-top (OTT) - Internet companies can provide all required services over a plain IP bandwidth pipe provided by the operators - who offers no added value other than bandwidth.
  2. The US operators exaggerate the costs of deploying Broadband. The über-broadband network Fiber-To-The-User is much cheaper to deploy than the operators claim. Google will show that a city-wide FTTU network can de deployed at a fraction of the cost US Operators like Verizon claim it takes to deploy their FTTU service FioS.
  3. The US operators are purposely slowing down the deployment of Fiber-To-The-User. Google will show that a city-wide FTTU network can de deployed much faster than the time it takes US Operators like Verizon to roll out their FTTU service FioS.
  4. Voice, Voicemail, Video and Internet Services can be provided for free to all users – as long as the user pays a small monthly fee (~50.00 USD) for his 100Mbps all-you-can-eat FTTH connection.

So what about these points which Google will undoubtfully “proof” in these city-network trials ? Google will make these above listed points - hands-down. Google has stacked the cards in their favor to make sure they will deliver these messages loud and clear. But does that mean these statements are true in general. No, for sure not – and let me spend a few minutes to explain why.

  1. If you throw excessive amounts of bandwidth at an IP network, it will definitely perform well for all services – including voice and video. If every user in a Fiber-To-The-Home network has a 100Mbps of available bandwidth throughout the end-to-end network, there will be no serious network contention (no packet drops), all packets will make it to their destination with an acceptable latency (no retransmission), and there is no need to provision special service connections to guarantee these network characteristics. But is it simply unrealistic to build a nation-wide network dimensioned to have no over-subscription, no aggregation, no packet-level contention between each and every end-user and each-and-every service. Can Google do this for a city-wide network, connected to its own set of packet voice, video and internet services ? Sure. But it simply doesn’t scale in an affordable way. Provisioning services with their own specific quality of service characteristics ensures a scalable network can be build without grossly over dimensioning it, and where the costs can be differentiated and related back to individual services.
  2. The network which Google will build in these trial cities is an all-IP network – the kind of network that anyone should build if you start a new network from scratch in overlay of an existing network. But it means that a large amount of “legacy” services is no longer accommodated – unless we do one of three things – and each have a significant cost to be added to the Google bill. (A) A wholesale change-out of older end-user equipment - Public Phone Booths, ATM and Lottery machines, small business PABX systems, etc. Would be a good economic stimulus activity – as replacing all this legacy end-user equipment does cost a lot of money. (B) Integrate these legacy services on the all-IP network – i.e. leave the end-user equipment in place but do a conversion in the network and carry these services “transparently” over the IP network. The technology exists (think about Pseudowire, NTR over Ethernet, and the like) but adds significant cost to the Google network (C) Continue the support for all legacy (and regulated) services on the traditional operators network – in parallel to the new network. Have a sexy Google network for all new IP based stuff, and maintain the existing network for all “non-IP” services. This would increase the costs for public services like the phone booths, simple phone lines existing today, ATM machines, etc. in a significant way over time as the associated revenues would have to pay for the growing maintenance costs for a smaller and smaller number of subscribers.
  3. Today several cities are competing to get a Google-network for their net-citizens, and they are promising everything Google is asking for. Need to dig up all the roads ? Go ahead. String some aerial fiber ? No problem. Provide un-regulated services ? Sure. Get an operator or a franchise license ? We can get it done. Well, have you seen how forcefully some of these communities have petitioned against the Telco’s or Cableco’s plans to introduce new networks and equipment ? How they have petitioned the FCC to get franchise fees and the like ? I’m just saying that after the initial cities are completed, these concerns from citizens, communities, towns and cities will come back and delay a real roll-out, just like they delay the current plans of the operators.
  4. Google provides Voice, Video and Internet services for free today – and they make money through a very well structured set of advertising programs. They process all your data (emails, voicemails, viewing and searching habits) and provide you with targeted ads – in return for the “free service”. Are you willing to give your traditional the same rights to snoop on you ? And how much will Google charge Microsoft to connect to its über-network and compete to deliver the same services – i.e. will Google provide the same free-connectivity and net-neutrality to its competitors as they are currently getting from all Cable and Telco operators when they connect to these Broadband networks.

To avoid misunderstandings: I applaud the Google initiative to deploy Fiber To The User in a number of US cities, and offer a variety of voice, video and internet services at excellent quality to the connected users. But I want to caution all of us to believe the expected conclusions from these trials. We should not accept to generalize these conclusions without looking at them in a critical way and taking into account the real-life situation of existing networks and services, including these used by the non-net-citizens. And see how Google opens their network in a fair way to their competition. Google, don’t be evil.

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