Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Google announces fibre test beds

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Without hardly any prior fanfare, Google announced on its blog this week that it was pursuing applications from ‘interested parties’ in the US to participate in experimental trials of high-speed broadband services.

The company is planning to build and test broadband networks ‘in a small number of trial locations’ which are capable of delivering access speeds of 1 gigabit per second (1 Gbps) – i.e. (more or less) 1,000 Mbps. The purpose of the trial is to ‘experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone’ and the company is planning to extend the trial to ‘at least’ 50,000 people and up to 500,000.

Company puff or genuine trial? Or a bit of both?

Well, probably the latter. We know that there are a few locations globally where speeds of (up to) 1 Gbps are already actually being achieved, outside of lab experiments: in (parts of) Japan and some parts of Sweden (possibly), while Singapore and Hong Kong are usually cited in this context, and South Korea is building a network that aims to be ready by 2012. These might seem to be suitable test beds for seeing ‘what comes up’ from a 1 Gbps service in practice – and there are always the labs (where even faster speeds can be achieved). By the time Google’s experiment is operational, the application lessons may well already have been learned elsewhere.

We also know that fibreing up individual households is expensive [registration required; limited viewing time] – so whether this can really be achieved within Google’s aim of doing so ‘at a competitive price’ on an experimental (and thus probably short-term) basis is clearly dubious. Any local access network run by Google is still likely to be dependent on interconnections with the networks of the major carriers and fibre to the home solutions are still dependent on speeds further up the network. Network providers have been installing fibre in their core networks for some time, but there does remain doubts over whether this has been done extensively enough to allow for such speeds to be achieved in practice in the home. This is also likely to be critically dependent on fibre being provided not just to, but also within, the home (or an alternative means of domestic dispersal being found).

And the question of Google’s lack of experience in running local access networks, or communications services more generally – surely a fundamental factor in learning from such experiments – is evident.

Nevertheless, the trial may well prove to be a useful piece of work, not least since the trial is focused not just on what new applications might emerge when services can be offered at such speeds but also on the circumstances of the practical deployment of the local access networks which facilitate them. Here, such lessons as may be offered outside of the far east, where population density is high and high-speed fibre solutions thus cheaper, will clearly be useful.

Any further announcements on this issue from Google after 26 March, by which point ‘interested parties’ should have lodged their expressions of interest, will be watched with interest – and not just in the US.

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Written by Calvin

12/02/2010 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Communications policy

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