Google Fiber’s Webpass acquisition may be behind San Jose, other cities’ rollout delay

Technicians install a Webpass antenna in a screenshot from a 2015 promotional video. (Source: Webpass / YouTube)

Google Fiber has put its planned buildout of 1 Gbps to San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto, California, on hold, possibly to explore a cheaper alternative to wireline internet service in the wake of its acquisition of fixed wireless provider Webpass.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Google informed about 100 workers tasked with installing its fiber network in the city that it was delaying the rollout, and offered them the option of transferring to San Diego to work on an unrelated project.

The installers were told that “Google was going to re-evaluate this whole project because they were thinking of going aerial,” the Mercury News quoted one worker as saying.

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Google Fiber did not provide a timeline on when it will restart deployment of high-speed internet in San Jose or other California cities. Mountain View and Palo Alto city officials said they were told that Google is still committed to their projects. Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, California, were also in talks with the service provider previously.

A Google Fiber spokeswoman told the Mercury News that talks with these cities would continue, but that deploying high-speed internet technologies needs to be done “in alignment with our product road map” and that local challenges also need to be taken into account.

That could refer to both gaining cities’ approval to deploy fiber -- something San Jose has already done, signing off on final permits for the three-year construction project back in May -- and dealing with challenges from incumbent telcos like AT&T, which has opposed Google’s attempt to install its fiber along utility poles in Louisville, Kentucky, for example.

AT&T is also posing a competitive challenge to Google Fiber in San Francisco and surrounding communities. The carrier announced in mid-May that it is bringing its 1 Gbps GigaPower service to parts of San Francisco, San Jose, Dublin, Mountain View, Santa Clara and San Ramon, California.

Some analysts think the 1 Gbps competition is exactly what Google Fiber wants.

Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research said in the article that Google may not have ever been “all that serious about doing this at any real size." Instead, the rollout in places like Kansas City, Kansas and Austin, Texas were designed to build consumer demand and goad major ISPs into deploying their own 1 Gbps services.

Furthermore, Google Fiber may not even be competing directly with providers like AT&T. Instead its closest competitors in the high-speed internet race may be Facebook and Amazon Web Services, which are working toward better wireless connectivity, according to a recent Forbes article by analyst firm Trefis. Google is looking to do high-speed internet faster and cheaper, making fixed wireless an attractive alternative.

“Fiber can be problematic to deploy in built-up urban and suburban areas, causing serious disruption and requiring considerable feats of engineering to install,” said Jaime Fink, co-founder and CPO at Mimosa, in a media statement. “It is not only logistics but also cost that acts as a barrier; fiber is approximately three times more expensive than its copper counterpart.”

Trefis pointed out the advantages for Google in deploying Webpass’ fixed wireless, noting that its point-to-point wireless connection technology “uses high frequency spectrum or air-waves that can deliver high speed access at a fraction of the cost and takes only days rather than weeks to set up.” 

Google could also use the company’s technology to improve broadband connectivity on wireless devices in buildings. “Webpass is helping to test a technology called ‘pcell’, which is a wireless antenna personally assigned to a user. By installing these antennas in buildings where Webpass provides broadband services, the company can significantly improve connectivity on wireless devices,” Trefis noted.

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.

With Webpass, Google Fiber may be making a sharp turn on its road map toward a fixed wireless future.

For more:
- see this San Jose Mercury News article
- see this Forbes article

Related articles:
Google Fiber cites San Jose as next 1 Gbps FTTH stop
Google Fiber, San Jose on verge of signing off on 1 Gbps install plan
AT&T responds to Google Fiber's $70 challenge with 1 Gbps launch in San Francisco area
Wireless ISP Webpass expands with building-specific strategy

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