Google Fiber Is a Growing Threat to Telecoms

A Google Fiber network box. Will you get one soon? Source: Google.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) couldn't have been more hyperbolic in announcing symmetric Internet service for new FiOS customers last month. Symmetric connections allow users to upload data as fast as they download it.

"Faster upload speeds means better sharing experiences," said Mike Ritter, Verizon's chief marketing officer for consumer and mass business, in a press release. "As the Internet of Things becomes a reality, equal download and upload speeds will become essential."

Here, Verizon committed to offering a minimum 25 MB per second of symmetric bandwidth, up from 15 MB/second for downloading and 5 MB/second for uploading. For premium clients, the carrier promises up to 500 MB of symmetric service.

While that's sure to sound good to some, symmetric technology is neither new nor unique. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) Fiber customers have enjoyed symmetric connections since day one of the services.

Fiber wars

Rewind to April 2012. More than 100 miles of Google Fiber lined the streets of Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Mo., every bit of it offering symmetric connectivity.

A closer look at how Google Fiber works, circa 2012. Source: Google.

As the search star said at the time:

With most standard broadband connections, it is much faster to download a file than it is to upload one of the same size. That's because most of the bandwidth, or the network's capacity, is devoted to the content that users are trying to view online, such as their email or streaming video on sites like YouTube. But with Google Fiber, our users will be able to download and upload files at the exact same speed. Think about being able to upload that huge powerpoint presentation you made for work, or that video of your child's first steps in mere seconds!

Say what you will about the differences in style, Google and Verizon are pitching what would amount to identical services -- if Verizon were offering gigabit connectivity. Google Fiber is not only symmetric, but it's also 40 times faster for entry-level customers and twice as fast as Verizon's top-tier offering.

Cable comeuppance

So, if Google Fiber is already superior to what Verizon is pitching as an "upgrade," why make such a big deal out of the new FiOS speeds? I see two reasons.

First, Google Fiber is already in three cities and is in development in seven more. The company reports discussions with 34 cities in nine metro areas as of this writing. Every new deployment threatens existing broadband suppliers. That's why, in April, AT&T (NYSE: T  ) announced plans to expand its U-Verse TV service and GigaPower Internet to as many as 100 cities and municipalities.

Second, cable Internet is deeply flawed by comparison. Not only does cable lack symmetric service, but service slows as more users sign up, with each occupying a finite pool of shared bandwidth. Carriers can expand the pool, of course, but that generally requires significant capital investment. More often, they employ throttling and data caps to serve as many users as possible.

That's sure to leave some customers wanting. It's that group -- the ones that want faster speeds but who don't yet have access to Google Fiber -- Verizon is after. Wooing them with a bit of hyperbole is the least we should expect.


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