Thursday, August 16, 2012

Google Fiber update


Some interesting commentaries in the press on the Google Fiber project since its launch last month. Business Insider describes the initiative as "the most disruptive thing the company's done since Gmail". The project exposes how slow the incumbents have been to innovate; that Google is not undertaking the project as a loss-leader and intends to make money from the programmes is particularly noteworthy in this regard. This is also explored in an article on GIGAOM:
"...Google’s goal is to bring the same efficiencies that have helped create cheaper, smaller and more powerful computers and create a cost and improvement curve for broadband access that resembles the curves for compute storage...Google may have a found a way to do that — both in terms of constructing and operating a fiber to the home network — by using its engineering team, existing consumer technologies such as QR codes and social engineering to influence how users sign up for access."
Google's innovative approach to demand registration is key here:
"...to reduce the cost of the actual last mile to users’ homes(Google is) telling people in Kansas City that if they want to be the first to get fiber, they’ll have to convince their neighbors to sign up. The goal is to get a critical mass of between 5 percent and 25 percent of the homes in a given neighborhood (Google calls it a fiberhood) committed to signing up for Google Fiber before ever sending out technicians. Residents have until Sept. 9 to get their fiberhood on the leaderboard before Google starts rolling out its fiber."
Google has also built its own infrastructure and devices for the project (including routers and set-top boxes), all of which contributes to delivering a gigabit per second service to homes at a profit. Interestingly, another GIGAOM article highlights three disappointments from the launch of Google Fiber: that it's network won't be open, the company hasn't shared the details of how its project will operate at a profit and that it potentially gives Google a lot of control and information about users and their online behaviours.

There have been several updates to the Google Fiber Blog since the launch:
The main set of FAQs on the Google Fiber site provide more information about fiberhoods and the registration thresholds each much reach to be successful:
What is a fiberhood? A fiberhood is a portion of Kansas City, KS or Kansas City, MO that includes about 250-1,500 households. We determined fiberhood boundaries based on a number of factors. First, we worked with the Kansas City governments and community leaders to learn about pre-existing neighborhoods or communities. Then, we looked at those communities and determined very clear boundaries at their edges like streets and parks.
What is the fiberhood pre-registration goal? The pre-registration goal is the percentage of homes in your fiberhood that need to pre-register before your fiberhood qualifies for service. Since fiberhoods vary in ease of construction, the number of pre-registrations required per fiberhood varies from 5% of homes to 25% of homes. You can check out your fiberhood’s pre-registration goal here
How did you decide the fiberhood pre-registration goals? Like many of our projects at Google, we relied on data. All fiberhoods are different. They range in size and density as well as speed and ease of Fiber construction. For example, houses that are spread out (like in the suburbs) require more time, fiber and labor, and therefore are more difficult to connect than homes in a dense urban environment. So, in those fiberhoods that are more complicated to build, we want to make sure that enough residents will want Fiber service. Taking that into account, we determined fiberhood pre-registration goals by grouping fiberhoods into three tiers:
  • Fiberhoods that have a 5% goal. Typically, these areas will be easy to build and install.
  • Fiberhoods that have a 10% goal. Typically, these areas will be more complicated to build and install.
  • Fiberhoods that have a 25% goal. Typically, these areas will be the most complicated to build and install.
The fiberhood rankings show there has been significant interest already. In Kansas City, KS 15 of 74 fiberhoods have achieved the necessary registrations already (with more than three weeks to go before the deadline), with many more approaching their threshold. The number in Kansas City, MO is higher, with 52 of 128 fiberhoods having already reached their targets as of this afternoon. Fiberhoods vary significantly in size, so more effort will (I guess) be required to galvanise larger communities to register, but still impressive stuff all the same (more here).

This takeup is reported in articles in USA Today and the Kansas City Star, with this second article noting that many public buildings like schools and libraries risk missing out on connectivity if their fiberhoods do not reach their registration threshold (more on this herehere and here).

Finally, some fun animations here and the official Google Fiber YouTube channel is here.

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