Google Fiber scales FTTH network by leveraging existing municipal fiber, purchasing other providers

Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) set an ambitious goal to wire up key U.S. cities with fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) services, but the challenge of scaling that footprint has driven it to look at other alternatives, including purchasing other providers and leveraging existing metro fiber facilities.

By using existing fiber facilities that are already in place, particularly dark fiber networks that were laid by municipalities, Google Fiber can quickly scale its network build as it won't have go through the arduous construction and permitting process to build out new facilities. 

Evidence of this trend continues to be seen throughout the past year in various regions.

A report emerged in February that Google Fiber is working with San Francisco to use existing fiber the city installed to serve "some apartments, condos and affordable housing properties." 

At that time, the service provider said the move was about accelerating its build out schedule.

"By using existing fiber to connect some apartments and condos, as we've done before, we can bring service to residents more quickly," Google said in a blog post.

San Francisco is only one area where it is leveraging existing fiber facilities. Earlier, Google Fiber signed an agreement to bring 1 Gbps to Huntsville, Alabama, in 2017 via an agreement with the city's main electric utility to leverage its soon to be built FTTH network.

When the network goes live in mid-2017, Google Fiber will provide its 1 Gbps service to residents and small- to medium-sized businesses with plans to cover the entire city within four years.

Jason Blackwell, director of the Service Provider Strategies service (SPS) at Strategy Analytics, told FierceTelecom that Google Fiber's method of using existing infrastructure allows it to grow its presence without the cost of building everything on its own.

"Now the strategy is clearly either continuing rolling out fiber, but where they can use dark fiber and municipal fiber that's been sitting there dormant for whatever reason," Blackwell said. "I think that's a more realistic strategy because to try to go and wire the entire U.S. from scratch is a lofty goal and the expense of that is not realistic or sustainable."

Besides leveraging existing networks, the service provider is also making targeted acquisitions.

In 2013, the service provider acquired the struggling iProvo network, giving it instant presence in Provo, Utah. As part of the acquisition agreement, Google Fiber moved to upgrade the existing network to 1 Gbps technology and complete network construction so all homes in the city can get access to the service.

Just last week, Google Fiber purchased Webpass, a competitive provider that provides Ethernet-based services to businesses using a mix of fiber and broadband wireless technologies to deliver broadband services to businesses and residential customers.

This acquisition helps Google Fiber on two fronts: It provides them with additional fiber and allows complementary wireless broadband technology to reach areas where it can't build an initial business case for fiber.

Blackwell said that fixed wireless, whether in the form of microwave or upcoming 5G, could play a complementary role in the broader broadband regime.

"I think it's still early on for fixed wireless, but we see the microwave stuff going on and further down the road 5G, illustrating that wireless will have some sort of stake in delivering broadband to the home," Blackwell said.

Blackwell said that while wireless has potential it will continue to trail the speeds afforded by traditional cable and fiber-based broadband solutions. Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Cox, for instance, have begun DOCSIS 3.1 trials with plans to have broader roll outs as next-generation CMTS gear becomes available. 

"I always think that fixed is going to remain ahead of wireless," Blackwell said. "Even if Google is going to this wireless thing, the FTTH or cable with DOCSIS 3.1, their speeds will remain ahead from what the wireless guys can do."

With DOCSIS 3.1, cable operators have the potential to leverage their existing HFC network to deliver up to 10 Gbps, for example.

"DOCSIS 3.1 has a roadmap to 10 Gbps," Blackwell said. "There are going to be places where wireless will be effective to get broadband to places where it might not be doable otherwise, but the wireline guys will always have an advantage."

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