The Google Fiber diet won't fit everyone

02 Jun 2014

As featured on TM Forum's the Insider blog

You’ve got to love Google’s subtle marketing and they way it can take a stab at something or someone without appearing to do so on purpose. At least that’s the way it seems when you read blogs posted by key staff.

Jeffrey Burgan, Director of Network Engineering at Google Fiber writes so eloquently in his last blog that one would think most network operators were the sole cause of poor video delivery to your home.

Burgan writes, “We’ve all had the moment where we scratch our heads and ask, “Why is this video so slow?” Unfortunately, there’s no single answer to this question. Your video ‘packets’ of online bits and bytes have to travel a really long way, along several different networks, just to get to you, and they could be slowed down anywhere. So, because we know you want to stream videos and browse effortlessly, we’ve designed our network to minimize buffering.”

He then goes on to explain that ‘last mile’ connections, usually supplied by your CSP or ISP often cause bottlenecks – “if the connections between the content provider and the network are slow or congested, that will slow down your access to content, no matter how fast your connection is.”

Google Fiber, however, doesn’t have these problems because it works with services like Netflix that ‘co-locate’ their equipment in Google Fiber facilities.

Because Netflix has placed their own servers within Google facilities (in the same place where Google keeps its own video-on-demand content), “the servers are closer to where you live, so your content will get to you faster and should be a higher quality.”

Yes, that all makes sense and would not surprise any network operators that already have companies like Netflix and Akami as co-location or peering customers. The difference here is that Google offers Netflix and Akamai free access to space and power in their facilities even though they provide their own content servers. One wonders if they will be so accommodating to Apple, rumored to be setting up its own content delivery platform.

That’s all well and good for Google and Google Fiber but for competing networks this is one way they can recover the cost of providing the networks most customers connect to. They don’t all have the benefit of a massive moneymaking machine like Google to cover their costs.

Burgan, who has obviously had training in advanced marketing and economic theory, also drops the ‘net neutrality bomb’ that Google Fiber’s generosity “doesn’t involve any deals to prioritize their video ‘packets’ over other (networks) or otherwise discriminate among Internet traffic.” He goes on to explain that Google Fiber does not charge anything “because it’s really a win-win-win situation.”

“It’s good for content providers because they can deliver really high-quality streaming video. It’s good for us because it saves us money (it’s easier to transport video traffic from a local server than it is to transport it thousands of miles)” and “we do this because it gives Fiber users the fastest, most direct route to their content.”

One has to ask if this ‘win-win-win’ scenario would win over investors if Google Fiber were out on its own in the real world. The business model would surely win the support of the likes of Netflix and Akamai that would add no revenue to the Fiber coffers, and probably lots of customers in Fiber rollout cities. But those customers are being spoilt with very low access charges, certainly not the level of charging that would provide a reasonable return on investment for the high-cost of fiber rollout.

For all those that might rally to the Google Fiber offer, the question that has to be asked, is it sustainable? We all know what happens to Google disruptions that don’t generate the desired results (over 50 so far) – they get dumped. The same effect as too much fiber in the diet!

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