Google Fiber was supposed to raise the bar for broadband speeds in America. Google launched its 1 gigabit per second ultrafast broadband service in a few cities around the U.S. to embarrass cable companies into following suit. The plan finally seems to be working as Comcast has now responded by announcing a new broadband service that is twice as fast as Google Fiber.
Comcast's Gigabit Pro, which offers upload and download speeds of 2 gigabits per second (Gbps), will launch in Atlanta next month but will be available in 18 million homes across the U.S. by the end of the year.
Atlanta is set to be the first battleground for gigabit speed broadband as Google Fiber is also scheduled to arrive in the city. Google announced in January that Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Nashville could all expect Google Fiber soon, but there has been no fixed date set and Comcast has now stolen a march on the search company by getting there first, and with faster speeds.
Google Fiber was launched back in 2011 but is still only available in three cities - Kansas City; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah. Comcast had a dig at Google's slow rollout when making the Gigabit Pro announcement. "Our approach is to offer the most comprehensive rollout of multigigabit service to the most homes as quickly as possible, not just to certain neighborhoods," said Doug Guthrie, senior VP of Comcast Cable's South Region.
It's a big turnaround for Comcast since 2013, when then vice-president of Comcast Corp., David L. Cohen, wrote an op-ed saying that there was no demand for gigabits-per-second home Internet, which at the time was a hundred times as fast as the average U.S. home download speed. He did, in fairness, mention that if the demand arose, cable companies would be willing to serve it. So perhaps Comcast has changed its mind about demand, but more likely Cohen was just trying to play down a competitor back in 2013, as they're now asking customers to "imagine where 2-gigabit speeds will take you."
Gigabit Pro will be available to anyone living in "close proximity" to Comcast's Fiber network, which the company estimates at 1.5 million people in Atlanta, once they have some new "professional grade" equipment installed.
On the surface, the arrival of a faster competitor to Google Fiber might seem like bad news for Google. But the Mountain View tech company is unlikely to be too perturbed, because it never really wanted to be a nationwide broadband supplier. Building the infrastructure needed for gigabits per second broadband is a slow and costly process. The only reason Google did it was to get people using the Internet more, because the more time people spend online, the more time they spend using Google products, and search in particular, where most of the company's profits still come from. It's not the end of the world if people are using Comcast's network to access search rather than Google Fiber.
In a similar move last month, Google announced that it will become a wireless provider, although it doesn't want to compete with Sprint or T-Mobile any more than it does with Comcast. It simply wants to show network providers how it wants customers using Google on mobile.
Photo Credit: Joe Raedle | Getty Images