The fiber wars are heating up.
AT&T is stepping up its plans to wire 21 cities with gigabit-per-second fiber, possibly before Google does. And today, we hear Google may be adding outdoor Wi-Fi to its own Google Fiber cities.
The information that Google is considering Wi-Fi is in a document the company is sending to the 34 cities it is thinking about fiber-ing next year, according to a story in Thursday’s NetworkWorld/IDG News Service.
The document reportedly says that the tech giant will be “discussing our Wi-Fi plans and related requirements with your city as we move forward with your city during this planning process.”
When asked about this, a Google spokesperson gave us the same statement it gave NetworkWorld: “We’d love to be able to bring outdoor Wi-Fi access to all of our Fiber cities, although we don’t have any specific plans to announce right now.”
Last January, Google said it would offer free Wi-Fi in the area around its New York offices in the Chelsea neighborhood. The company has also provided free, limited Wi-Fi service of in some New York City subway stations in alliance with Boingo. Free Wi-Fi is also offered around the company’s Mountain View, California headquarters.
However, it’s not yet clear if the Wi-Fi in the Fiber cities, if offered, would be free to users.
Wi-Fi could accomplish several aims, from Google’s point of view. It would sweeten the deal for the cities and towns (many of which want to be seen as digital pioneers), and it would add value to Google’s competition with AT&T and others for very high-speed Internet. Moreover, it would give the company an over-the-air network, which it could brand.
It could also be one of the missing pieces for turning the giant Internet company into a telco competitor.
Some observers see Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp as the clearest sign yet that telcos’ last remaining bread-and-butter product, wireless voice service, is about to rendered moot with IP-based voice, video, and messaging services. If that’s the case, then every additional neighborhood with Google Fiber on the ground and Google Wi-Fi in the air is another chomp as the tech giant eats the telcos’ lunch.
Google launched it gigabit service in Kansas City, Mo.; Austin, Tex.; and Provo, Utah last year. In February, it announced 34 more cities it was considering. They include Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh-Durham, NC; San Antonio, Tex.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and San Jose, Calif.
AT&T has certainly been noticing Google’s plans. Earlier this week, it announced plans to add 21 more cities to its own gigabit service, GigaPower, including such major markets as San Francisco, LA, and Chicago. (One detail: Local officials still need to approve the plans.)
This adds to AT&T’s current fiber service in Austin (which seems to be on everyone’s list) and six cities in North Carolina. Its initial wiring of Austin only provided 300 megabits per second, but AT&T has corrected that with a free gigabit upgrade offer.
Both AT&T and Google are providing upload and download speeds as much as 100 times faster than the average consumer service.
And their plans seem be written from the same draft. For both, gigabit speeds up and down are $70 monthly, and $120 per month includes more than 150 channels as well as Internet access.
Google also has a free service at “basic speeds” of five megabits per second down and one megabit up, with a $300 construction fee. AT&T has web access, TV, and unlimited voice for $150.