Google Fiber Goes on Pause, Embarks on Hybrid Broadband Strategy

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 16, 2017

The future of Google’s (News - Alert) broadband services business is in question after Craig Barratt, the leader of the effort, announced plans to step down from his CEO role and talked about putting its exploratory fiber activities on hold.

Barratt declined to go into great detail about why he’s vacating the CEO of Access post (while staying on as an advisor), and why the company is curtailing – at least temporarily – much of its work on Google Fiber. However, he did note that since announcing plans to bring Google Fiber to its first city five years ago, delivering residential broadband services at gigabit speeds went from an “unheard of” development to a “commonplace” one.

“For most of our potential fiber cities – those where we’ve been in exploratory discussions – we’re going to pause our operations and offices while we refine our approaches,” Barratt wrote in an Oct. 25 blog.

“In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage,” Barrett added, “and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we’ll be reducing our employee base.”

On Aug. 8 the San Jose Mercury News beat Barratt to the punch in announcing this new direction when it reported that Google had told city leaders of Mountain View, Palo Alto (News - Alert), and San Jose that plans to bring fiber-based access to their towns would be delayed. The media outlet noted that San Jose already had final permits for a three-year construction project, had expected to start digging in July, and had planned for a Google Fiber launch within months of that. But then, this summer, Google Fiber pulled off the job about 100 employees who were tasked with the San Jose build and offered them transfers to San Diego or other projects.

However, this doesn’t mean Google is completely abandoning its broadband network effort – at least not right now.

While some of the newer work on Google Fiber has been delayed, Barratt says it plans to continue offering services and working on networks in cities in which Google Fiber is already in service or networks are under construction.

The fact that Google is backpedalling on its broadband fiber ambitions after rolling out networks in just a handful of cities does not come as a big surprise. Many industry players have long argued that the company only got into the Google Fiber game to goose the other players in the market to get moving more quickly on higher speed connectivity. However, it’s unclear whether the stoppage on Google’s fiber optic expansion plans indicate the company simply doesn’t want to move forward in building new broadband networks at all, or whether it’s just taking a more focused approach, and wants to use different – and more affordable and efficient – technology to get the job done going forward.

In fact, just a few weeks before announcing its stoppage of exploratory efforts on Google Fiber, the company closed its Webpass Inc. acquisition. Webpass leverages point-to-point wireless technology to offer services to tens of thousands of customers in Boston, Chicago, Miami, San Diego, and San Francisco.

“Webpass is known for their successful track record lighting up new buildings with super fast Internet service very quickly — sometimes within a month or less once building access agreements are in place,” Google wrote in an Oct. 3 blog. “This speed of deployment is possible in part because Webpass manages its own network, which also has the benefit of higher service availability, automatic upgrades for service that gets better over time, and bandwidths of up to 1 gigabit per second…. As we’ve said, our strategy going forward will be a hybrid approach with wireless playing an integral part.” 

As for Google Fiber, it is available today in Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Charlotte and Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Kansas City (its first market); Nashville, Tenn.; and Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah.

According to the map on the Google Fiber website, Huntsville, Ala.; Irvine and San Francisco, Calif.; and San Antonio, Texas are among the upcoming cities. And the cities listed as potential Google Fiber cities are Chicago; Dallas; Jacksonville and Tampa. Fla.; Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose, Calif.; Louisville, Ky.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Portland, Ore.

Edited by Alicia Young