Google's 1 Gbps will unchain the subscriber from bandwidth caps

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Sean Buckley, FierceTelecomGoogle's (Nasdaq: GOOG) 1 Gbps Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) service has managed to simultaneously catch the hearts and minds of the lucky residents in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., and the ire of cable operators that dismiss the service as overkill.

Since it provides a 1 Gbps connection, Google Fiber was hailed by Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) as the best broadband connection to download its streaming video service, with an average speed of 2.55 Mbps. It even beat out Verizon (NYSE: VZ), which came in at a close second with FiOS.

Keep in mind that Google Fiber is only available in one city. Verizon--despite deciding to start winding down FTTP deployments--is migrating copper customers in some markets to fiber.

With Google, the million-dollar question is if its service will scale outside of Kansas City. Touting Google Fiber as a business, Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, said in December that the provider might bring 1 Gbps to "hopefully more cities."

Unsurprisingly, the Internet giant's service is drawing fire from area MSO Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC). Rob Marcus, TWC's COO, questioned whether anyone actually needs a 1 Gbps connection, saying his company can provide it if someone wants such a high bandwidth service.

"It will be interesting to find out whether there are applications that will take advantage of a 1 Gbps service," Marcus was quoted as saying in a DSL Reports article. "If there is [a need for speed], we will provide it; our infrastructure has the ability to provide much faster speeds today. We're prepared to compete head-to-head with Google."

What's interesting about Marcus' statement is TWC, like other incumbent cable operators and telcos, isn't used to dealing with innovative competitors. Raising speeds was not an issue in the past.

Cable operators have methods to increase bandwidth on their existing HFC infrastructure beyond the 50 and 100 Mbps speeds they can deliver over the DOCSIS 3.0 specification. John Chapman, a Cisco Fellow and the chief architect for the Access and Transport Technology Group, said last May during The Cable Show that the next generation of DOCSIS could allow operators to deliver downstream speeds of 10 Gbps.

Today's reality is that it's unlikely the typical user will ever use 10 Gbps, much less 1 Gbps, since there aren't any Internet applications engineered to handle these speeds.

arstechnica, which tried out Google's 1 Gbps service in late November, reported that many websites can't support these speeds.

Likewise in the UK, BT (NYSE: BT) in November conducted a proof of concept trial of ZTE's XGPON (Tens of Gigabits on a Passive Optical Network) at Cornwall-based engineering firm Arcol UK Ltd. BT said in a release about the trial that even though the link between its Truro telephone exchange and the Arcol facility runs at 10 Gbps, "the company isn't connected to the wider Internet at those speeds as there is nothing that can be done on the web with 10 Gbps."

Regardless of what the Internet can support today, Chris Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute of Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), said having an abundance of bandwidth is not the problem; it's the service providers that want to keep consumption in check.  

"I cannot use all the electricity that flows into my house--that doesn't mean my utility is doing something wrong," Mitchell said. "The cable and DSL companies that limit how we can use the network are the ones that should justify the scarcity they impose on subscribers. They do it to avoid investment, not because it is the best way to run a network."

One method telcos and cable operators are now using to limit users is usage-based billing (UBB), a topic that's been met with controversy in both the United States and Canada. Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable both implemented UBB plans in 2012, while AT&T (NYSE: T) and Frontier Communications (Nasdaq: FTR) put their UBB plans in place in 2011.

Maybe we won't see a nationwide 1 Gbps fiber service anytime soon, but the advent of Google Fiber will create a new foundation for service providers to unchain the subscriber.--Sean