Google Fiber brings product expert Rosenberg to realign unit

Alphabet's Jonathan Rosenberg (left) and Eric Schmidt (right) speak on a television appearance. Image: Rob Kim/Getty Images

Google Fiber’s parent Alphabet did not have to look to far to find a new leader by tapping Jonathan Rosenberg, a veteran Google product executive who advises co-founder Larry Page, to lead the unit.

RELATED: Google Fiber’s Barratt is leaving, halts further FTTH rollouts

Rosenberg will take over from Craig Barratt, who announced late last week that he would step down as the CEO of the access unit.

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Barratt’s departure came as Google Fiber announced that it was going to halt new FTTH deployments in eight urban markets with plans to lay off 9 percent of its staff.

At that time, Alphabet said that it would have a trio of Google Fiber executives temporarily run the division, but did not name a replacement for Barratt.

At Google, Rosenberg has become known for his abilities to cut costs and fix troubled divisions.

Under Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt’s tenure as the CEO of Google, Rosenberg served the company’s top product executive where he managed the company’s new advertising, search engine and Android issues. One of Rosenberg’s key contributions to the company was his handling of the operating committee who prepared the sale of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo Group in 2014.

Rosenberg isn’t a stranger to broadband. In an earlier role, Rosenberg oversaw product and services for [email protected], an early internet service provider.

He’s also known for his ability to trim the fat in business units. During his time with Google’s robotics unit, he led efforts to right size the business. The former head of Android Andy Rubin oversaw a buying spree where the company added nearly 300 robotics engineers. However, Rubin abruptly left Google in 2014 and Rosenberg assumed responsibility of the unit last year.

According to a Bloomberg report citing an internal memo, Rosenberg alerted the company about spending patterns at Boston Dynamics, one of the company’s largest robotics businesses. Later, Google made an attempt to find a buyer for Boston Dynamics, but no deal has been made yet.

It’s likely that Alphabet is trying to rein in costs at Google Fiber, which has been an expensive unit to run.

In its quarterly results it released on Thursday, Alphabet said it reduced spending and smaller losses in its Other Bets businesses, which includes Google Fiber.

An indication that trouble was brewing at Google Fiber started to emerge in August when reports revealed the service provider put its planned buildout of 1 Gbps to San Jose, Mountain View and Palo Alto, California, on hold. Mountain View and Palo Alto city officials said they were told that Google is still committed to their projects. Previously, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, California, were also in talks with the service provider.

At the same time, Google Fiber has been entertaining alternative last mile access methods, including fixed wireless.

Earlier this year, Google Fiber acquired Webpass, a San Francisco-based ISP that offers fiber and wireless-based broadband services mainly to businesses. Webpass currently offers 500 Mbps symmetrical speeds to MDUs (multi-dwelling units) and office buildings for about $55 a month, and already has about 20,000 customers in five major U.S. cities, including San Francisco.

Although Google Fiber has halted the the FTTH buildout in the eight cities where it plans to offer service, the company has indicated that the pause may be only temporary.

Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat told investors during its earnings call that it will eventually proceed with building out the networks in these cities.  

"We’re making great progress in those cities and we remain committed to growth in those cities," Porat said on the Google/Alphabet earnings call. "We’re pausing for now our work in eight cities where we’ve been in exploratory discussions. But very much to your question, it’s to better integrate some of the technology work we’ve been developing."

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