Is 1 Gbps the next broadband speed plateau?

Sean Buckley, FierceTelecomGoogle (Nasdaq: GOOG) ignited a broadband storm in 2011 with its plan to build a 1 Gbps-capable fiber to the premises (FTTP) network in a select U.S. city. After a year of sifting through proposals from hundreds of local leaders, the search engine giant chose Kansas City, Kan., as its initial target. Since then, other providers have stepped up their speed game.

In our new feature, Google Fiber, AT&T, CenturyLink drive the 1 Gbps game, we track the progress service providers have made in delivering 1 Gbps-based FTTP services. 

There are a few realities about Google Fiber that are hard to overlook: its presence on the overall broadband radar screen is a blip, and there are no applications that require 1 Gbps today. However, its presence is driving the importance of broadband speeds into the consumer's mind.

What's also interesting about Google Fiber's 1 Gbps FTTP drive is the response it has elicited from incumbent telcos. Both AT&T (NYSE: T) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) announced in recent months 1 Gbps pilots in their Austin, Texas, and Omaha, Neb., markets.

AT&T announced a 1 Gbps trial in Austin the same day Google Fiber said the city was its next target, but gave no details on when exactly it would offer services. The telco maintains that its FTTP pilot was not driven by Google Fiber, but was already on their drawing board.

Unlike AT&T's Greenfield plan, CenturyLink is replacing a legacy HFC-based network with fiber over which it will offer various data tiers and its Prism service. Eligible customers will pay $150 for a standalone data service or $80 if they purchase a triple play bundle.

So where does that leave Verizon (NYSE: VZ)? The carrier may not have announced a formal 1 Gbps service, but Verizon has in recent years conducted trials of 1 Gbps and even 10 Gbps services with customers in New York and Massachusetts. In July, Verizon introduced a 500 Mbps tier for its FiOS customers.

But Google Fiber and the incumbent telcos aren't the only games in the emerging 1 Gbps arcade.

A pioneering group of municipalities that were not satisfied with the broadband speeds from local cable operators and incumbent telcos have built their own FTTP networks. Chattanooga.-based EPB Fiber, for example, began offering its service in 2010.

1 Gbps fiber may not be universally needed today, but the fact that a growing set of service providers are offering the service in pilots or a handful of markets is creating a foundation for the future.

Take a look at our new feature, Google Fiber, AT&T, CenturyLink drive the 1 Gbps game and let us know what you think in the comments section.--Sean