Google Fiber and the Last Mile Problem

Google Fiber and the Last Mile Problem

Google Fiber Then

When Google Fiber came out in 2010, it was all the rage. If you were in a city lucky enough to have Google Fiber service, you felt like the chosen one. With never-before-seen speeds at very reasonable prices, you were the envy of every other city in America. And if you were not one of the lucky ones? Well, let’s just say internet envy can lead to some pretty strange things… Just ask Topeka, or should we say “Google,” Kansas, who legally changed the name of their city to “Google” for the month of March 2010 in an effort to entice Google to select their city as the next test city.

Google Fiber Now

Fast forward to 2017 and the Google Fiber fever has subsided considerably. Google Fiber has since expanded into 8 different locations, but recently hit the pause button on their plans to bring the service to 11 more cities while simultaneously cutting 9% of their staff.

So what happened? How does Google Fiber go from having cities renamed after it to shedding staff and halting expansions?

The answer is the last mile problem, and it’s a difficult (and expensive) one to solve.

The “last mile” of a network is that final stretch of cable that comes into your house and gets you connected. The main fiber line runs into your neighborhood and then splits off into individual “drop lines” that run into your and your neighbors’ homes. Seems simple enough, and while it might be, one thing’s for sure: it ain’t cheap.

The Outside Plant

The Outside Plant

In most established neighborhoods, last mile infrastructure is already installed and has existed for some time. We’re talking a pre-fiber era here, a time where dinosaurs ruled the world copper cables ruled the telecommunications world. A time where networks only had to carry telephone and TV data. Sure, copper cables worked fine in this era, but that was then and this is now. We have this little thing called the internet now, and we love to do high-bandwidth things like stream HD video and audio on it. Copper cable simply wasn’t designed to handle this kind of activity.

This leaves service providers with two options: use the existing copper infrastructure for the last mile (which limits your speed), or install fiber to the home (FTTH) (which costs a lot of money). The latter, of course, is the Google Fiber model and while it’s great for the end user, it’s looking more and more like it isn’t a viable option.

Installing this new FTTH infrastructure is expensive and it can take a very long time before you see a return on that investment. After you install that cable, there are no guarantees that that home will turn into a subscriber. You still need to convince people to switch, and this has proven to be a difficult endeavor for Google Fiber (at least in low-income areas).

What’s the Solution?

So if FTTH isn’t the answer, then what is? Well, if you ask Google Fiber, they’ll probably tell you it’s wireless.

The company has been experimenting with wireless options to solve the dreaded last mile problem, and it appears as though that will be the company’s new focus.

Webpass, a subsidiary of Google Fiber, recently posted a job listing in search of a General Manager “to launch the Seattle market.” Webpass already sells wireless internet service in Boston, Chicago, Miami, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco at speeds anywhere from 100Mbps to 1Gbps.

The last piece of the puzzle… Losing the last ten pounds… The last mile… Why is it always that pesky last step that is the hardest one to make?