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Google to test ultra high-speed broadband networks

Trial could have implications on how network service competitors approach business broadband access

Convergence & VoIP Alert By and Steve Taylor, Network World
February 16, 2010 04:08 PM ET
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Network World - Google has announced plans to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. It plans Internet speeds of 1Gbps using fiber-to-the-home connections to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people. On the surface, Google's plans will have no direct effect on the small business market -- but the trial could have implications on how network service competitors approach business broadband access, and eventually even on how applications are developed for small businesses.

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If the Google experiments prove gigabit range broadband connections are viable and cost-effective, they just might create demand among innovators for faster business broadband tiers. However, network planners among telcos and cable companies seem unlikely to shift away from current network infrastructure strategies. Even if they did, it would take years to make these network changes happen in a way that could affect competition for business broadband access.

Google's "open architecture" approach in the trial might also affect regulatory policy on net neutrality: it may give the FCC another reason to look at how open other ultra-high speed broadband connections should become. For example, Cbeyond has filed a petition to try and get FiOS and U-Verse broadband opened up for third-party use in business applications, and the FCC is reviewing the request. Nevertheless, even if Google is willing to put its money where its mouth is in promoting open networks, traditional carriers still seem unlikely to accept this approach without a fight.

On how gigabit speeds might affect applications development and applications delivery for businesses: The biggest beneficiary of 1Gbps broadband service from an application perspective is video and perhaps video conferencing. Although HD video conferencing is available beginning at 4Mbps (upstream and downstream), the Internet link available to most small businesses would not typically allow a persistent 4Mbps point-to-point data stream. If multiple users in the offices each needed 4Mbps, the WAN costs would be prohibitive for a small business.

However, if the Google trial does manage to prove Gigabit broadband access can be cost-effective, then HD video to the desktop could be one application that even small businesses could afford. But even with affordable video, small businesses may still not have an established need for desktop or room-based video conferencing.

The bottom line is that the Google trial network is at least a year from going to production, and any changes to broadband access network plans will be even farther in the future. So while Google may have earned a few headlines with its trial plans, there will be little effect on business network services in any near term.

Read more about voip & convergence in Network World's VoIP & Convergence section.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Larry Hettick, an independent analyst and consultant, is a 30-year industry veteran. He has covered VoIP and UC at Network World for 12 years.

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