All Broadband is Not Created Equal

There’s been tremendous buzz about the coming of one gigabit broadband to select municipalities across the country. AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Google and Verizon, among others, have all announced plans to make one gigabit fiber available to selected consumer and commercial customers.

This is terrific news for small businesses. One gigabit fiber is up to 100 times faster than the Internet speed you’ve got now. It enables you to get the most out of the cloud, with transmission speeds for both uploads and downloads happening at lightning-fast rates. Online backup takes a fraction of the time that it takes under your current broadband plan. And advanced communication and collaboration applications, like video-conferencing, have finally reached a level that your business can depend on.

But before you start processing that P.O., be aware that most service providers have only announced a presence in a handful of markets—and, typically, only limited deployments within those markets.

The analyst firm Current Analysis released a report in August 2014 comparing the various announcements and claims and determining the impact each service provider will have on the broadband market. The report was illuminating—it paints a clear picture of who is doing what, and when.

Let’s go over the findings.

First, Google. Google claims that their motivation for jumping into the one gigabit arena has always been to nudge the larger broadband players to improve their offerings. Currently deployed in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, Utah, Google’s one gigabit fiber service is supposed to expand to nine more metropolitan areas, but Google has made no promises of when that might be. The Google website simply says that it is “in discussion” with 34 cities in those nine areas, which include the metropolitan areas around Portland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte. Current Analysis calls Google’s impact on the market “high,” especially as it leverages its “don’t be evil” mantra, which makes people view it favorably given the poor reputations of some cable service providers.

According to Current Analysis, if Google was trying to shame other broadband providers into moving more quickly to fiber, it has certainly succeeded with AT&T. Current Analysis reports that although AT&T has announced 100 potential cities as candidates to receive AT&T’s gigabit-capable passive optical network (GPON), U-Verse GigaPower, only Austin is live at this point in time. Dallas, Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem have been selected, with indications that Charlotte, Greensboro, Kansas City, Nashville, San Antonio and Houston will be next.

Current Analysis observes that U-Verse GigaPower seems like an obvious “blocking attempt” specifically targeted at Google Fiber. They also believe that AT&T’s strategy seems largely “reactive,” both to Google Fiber, and to upcoming challenges from other telecom, as well as cable, companies.

Not so with CenturyLink’s one gigabit strategy. CenturyLink has leapfrogged ahead of many larger service providers to deliver synchronous, fiber-optic one gigabit Internet to a large number of cities within its markets. CenturyLink is deploying fiber to the premises (FTTP), making symmetrical broadband speeds up to 1Gbps available to business and/or residential customers in 16 cities: Albuquerque, Columbia, MO, Jefferson City, MO, Denver, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Omaha, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Sioux Falls, SD, Spokane and Tucson.

Indeed, CenturyLink is now significantly ahead of the pack. Its Fiber + offering gives it a “long lead time” over cable competitors, who aren’t expected to be able to roll out gigabit broadband for another 18 months to two years, according to Current Analysis. CenturyLink’s fiber-based services are QoS-enabled, high-speed and symmetric, backed by robust service level agreements (SLAs)—features that are missing from most cable Internet offerings. These services support CenturyLink’s existing bundles and applications like video streaming, large file transfers, managed services and access to cloud capabilities in CenturyLink’s data centers.

Impact on broadband markets is “high,” said Current Analysis, noting that as CenturyLink continues to deploy its Fiber + service in more cities, it has the opportunity to maintain its leadership position.

Cable companies like Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable are expected to enter the one gigabit broadband market with fanfare, but not until DOCSIS 3.1—the newest specification for cable broadband—products and services begin to come out in the 2015-2016 timeframe. DOCSIS 3.1 promises 10-gigabit downloads—try to imagine that—as well as one gigabit uploads. It will be a much-needed weapon for cable companies, who will be straggling behind telecom firms’ fiber deployments.

Comcast has announced DOCSIS 3.0-enabled broadband Internet access via dedicated fiber from 1Mbps to 10Gbps. Current Analysis expects Comcast to offer simple services, fast deployment, and low prices for both hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) and dedicated fiber. Cox and Time Warner Cable have also announced DOCSIS 3.0-enabled broadband access, with much of the same features as Comcast, but Current Analysis says the impact on the market will be “moderate” because of their much reduced reach when compared to Comcast.

Verizon’s FiOS offering is a bundled Internet access, telephone and television service that operates over a fiber-optic communications network. Current Analysis points out that Verizon long ago announced dedicated IP Switched Ethernet on optical services overlay delivered via FiOS, but that it “hasn’t seen any sign” of it yet. “We’ve heard this story coming for years. What’s the big holdup?” asks Current Analysis.

This is all very exciting news for IT managers. With these kinds of speeds, workers will be more productive, data will be more secure, and you’ll even save money by your ability to move more applications to the cloud. But keep in mind that in the coming months (and years), you’ll need to separate the reality from the hype as both telecom firms and cable companies turn up the noise on their promises. Trust the service providers that bypass the hype in favor of reality and follow up on their announced plans within the named timeframes.