Three Things Google Didn't Address in Their Announcement Last Week
Last week's announcement detailing the rollout of Google's fiber optic network had the feel of a Silicon Valley big-time new product launch. It was definitely a big deal for Kansas City on both sides of the state line. Most importantly, information flowed copiously from Google about the details of their project—a welcome relief from the hitherto tight-lipped tech giant. The Google Fiber announcement lived up to the initial promise to deliver gigabit Internet speeds over a fiber optic network to homes at competitive prices. Much of the speculation about things exceeding this initial promise were confirmed as well—that a television package would be included, that one particular package would provide free internet access, that Google would use its Nexus 7 tablet as a remote for your television and that each TV box would also serve as an Internet router. Everyone I've talked to since the event seemed very satisfied, now that we know the details, of Google Fiber.
But, there were three key things missing from the Google Fiber announcement last week.
Many had speculated that in order for Google to compete in the highly regulated and monopolized cable industry, they would have to offer the traditional "triple play" of services—phone, Internet and television. The announcement certainly delivered on the latter two, but the traditional phone line service was not even mentioned. Google didn't address the traditional landline phone service (or voice over internet protocol or VOIP) that many homes receive as a part of a bundled package.
But does anyone really care? Landlines or VOIP technology is certainly nothing new. The number of households with landlines had been steadily declining for several decades now as more and more Americans use mobile phones exclusively. And, as phones continue to get "smarter" this trend shows no sign of slowing—eventually replacing landlines altogether.
Plus, Google has long offered phone services through its various mobile phone offerings. Google's Android platform has now become commonplace. And, as one of the Googlers at the announcement told me, the traditional ten-digit phone number is no longer relevant. The future is the IP address, not the customary area code plus seven digits.
So the traditional cable providers can keep their landlines and the accompanying services. If you want Google phone service, go buy an Android phone.
Kansas Citians have long assumed that Google would make its services available for commercial uses, to the myriad small, medium and big businesses that operate in KC and in every other city in the country. It would make sense that if Google planned to spend time and money wiring up large neighborhoods, they would want to maximize their profits by including commercial service offerings as well. If your business could afford gigabit Internet speeds, wouldn't every corporation in the city want that advantage over their competition?
All Google said on this topic was that the local business offerings would be coming soon. Kevin Lo, the General Manager of Google Access said, "today, we are here to talk about the residential users but for the businesses in the areas where we are building, stay tuned. We've got some great packages for you and we will be making those announcements soon."
But Google has been very clear since the beginning that Google Fiber is, as they say in the biz, a fiber to the home (FTTH) project, so this should not have been a surprise to anyone. I have my own speculation about why Google made this strategic decision, but it will be interesting to see what their business packages will look like when they are announced.
When it comes to the entrepreneurial community, many people start their companies in their homes anyway. Many coders, developers and app builders will take advantage of the gigabit network to build and test their ideas faster, right from their own living rooms. I suspect this will lead to a renaissance of technology-based startups in the Kansas City area. Just because Google doesn't have a specific package for commercial entities, doesn’t mean that people won't use the network to start their own companies using the fiber that comes directly to their homes.
Google announced last year that it had chosen two cities for its Google Fiber project – Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo. Though these two cities represent a large chunk of the Kansas City metropolitan area, Google remained mum on its potential offerings in its larger and wealthier suburbs, particularly in Johnson County, Kan. Overland Park, located in Johnson County, is actually the second largest city in all of Kansas (after Wichita), so speculation has been rampant that Google Fiber will eventually connect these upper middle class suburbs.
Google also defined a relatively small area of the large land area that makes up massive Kansas City, Mo., leaving out suburbs such as Independence, Lee's Summit, Blue Springs and the areas around the Kansas City airport.
None of this should be a surprise. Google defined the boundaries from day one, actually splitting up the announcement of the areas that its fiber network would initially cover by more than a month. (Kansas City, Kan. was announced on March 30, 2011 and Kansas City, Mo. on May 17, 2011). In my discussions on Google Fiber, these suburban areas never came up as potential Google Fiber destinations. Google never pledged to cover them, but has hinted that it may want to eventually expand to other cities beyond the Kansas City. Now the real speculation begins—does that mean that eventually all of the aforementioned surrounding areas in Kansas and Missouri will receive the Google Fiber network? Could further outlying college towns like Lawrence, Kan. and Columbia, Mo. eventually get gig access? Or does it mean that this network will be rolled out nationwide and will be coming to a city near you in the next few years? Only time will tell. And if history is any guide, it is doubtful Google will drop many hints before it makes a definitive announcement on the future of their fiber project.
But just because these three areas were left undefined doesn't mean that Kansas City isn’t abuzz about the potential that Google Fiber will bring. Certainly, the established players are shaking in their boots about what this could mean for their businesses, but the real winners here will be the citizens of Kansas City.