Kansas City is the envy of America right now.
The city shared by Kansas and Missouri became the first to be selected by Google for its experimental fiber optics infrastructure back in March -- the service itself was originally announced in February 2010 -- and after months of setting up, stringing fiber optic wires through neighborhoods and installing them in homes, the search giant finally kicked off service for its ultra-fast broadband Internet network on Tuesday.
"We’ve been working in a few homes over the last few weeks to make sure we can deliver a great experience, and along the way we’ve thought a lot about what 'great' might mean," wrote Alana Karen, the director of service delivery for Google Fiber, on Google's official blog on Tuesday. "We want it to take the amount of time we (and you!) think it’s going to take. We want to be able to explain what we’re doing in easy to understand language, so it makes sense to you and it’s not just tech jargon! And of course we’re aiming for 'one and done'—one visit, everything working when we leave your home."
Google Fiber promises lightning-fast broadband Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is roughly 100 times faster than what today's cable providers currently support. Most customers experience 5 or 6 megabits of download speed, and 1 or 2 megabits of upload speed. Google Fiber supports speeds up to 1,000 megabits each way.
"With this gigabit connection, in the last few minutes I just uploaded a high definition video and 100 high res photos to the cloud," said Dov Zimring at Google Fiber's launch announcement in July, after demoing a speed test between two computers. "At the same time, I downloaded a 500MB file in less time than it took to grab a sip of water. Imagine what we could do together if we both had a gig. All that time we spend doing, waiting, buffering, downloading: Those are life's moments, we should be experiencing together. In this demo we just barely scratched the surface of what we an do with a gigabit. Kansas City, this is your network, and I can't wait to see what you do with it."
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Google Fiber delivers seamless Internet streaming, second-long downloads for movies and applications, and perhaps best of all, prices relatively competitive with all the major cable companies (considering the speeds you're paying for). For free Internet and no monthly fee, you just need to pay a one-time $300 construction fee, or $25 a month for 12 months. For Gigabit Internet, the service most people will want, customers will pay Google $70 per month, but the $300 construction fee is waved. Similarly, for Gigabit and fiber optic TV service, Google charges $120 a month and will again waive the construction fee.
So for this money, besides the fastest Internet you've ever experienced, what else do you get?
For the free Internet option, Google will essentially "future-proof" your home with free Internet at the average speeds of today, which, compared to the fiber optics being offered, seems quite "average" indeed.
For those that purchase the $70/month Gigabit Ethernet option, Google offers a network box that supports fiber optics speeds for ethernet and Wi-Fi connections, as well as a terabyte of cloud storage in Google Drive, the company's cloud-based storage for storing documents and accessing them on the go.
And for those that want the whole enchilada, the Gigabit Ethernet + TV option for $120/month, Google offers a plethora of channels to choose from with a two-year contract, a storage box for DVR, a network box to support Wi-Fi and Ethernet fiber optics, 1 TB of space in Google Drive, and Google also throws in its new $199 Nexus 7 tablet absolutely free, which is the new remote control for TVs running Google Fiber.
Already, Kansas City customers are digging their significantly faster and cheaper Internet network.
"We just got it today and I've been stuck in front of my laptop for the last few hours," said Mike Demarais, a Kansas City resident and founder of Threedee, in an interview with Ars Technica. "It's unbelievable. I'm probably not going to leave the house."
Demarais reported consistent Google Fiber speeds between 600 and 700Mbps, but Wi-Fi unfortunately topped out around 200Mbps. Clearly the network is pushing the limits of what the hardware can do.
"The first thing I did was BitTorrent Ubuntu," Demarais said. "I think that took two minutes, let me try it again right now."
Where Will Google Fiber Go Next?
As Kansas City residents soak up Google's high-speed Internet experimentation, everyone else wants to know if Google will come to their town next. Unfortunately, for those outside the Kansas City area, it looks like you'll have to wait awhile for Fiber.
Google Fiber is currently active in Kansas City, and will soon spread to nearby cities in Missouri and Kansas, including Kansas City North and South in Missouri, and Westwood, Westwood Hills, and Mission Woods in Kansas.
Google hasn't announced any official plans to experiment in cities outside these six in the heart of America; however, this doesn't mean the company hasn't ruled out any options.
When Google announced Fiber back in 2010, product manager James Kelly said "we're doing this because we want to experiment with new ways to make the Web better and faster for everyone, allowing applications that would be impossible today. We also want to try out new ways to build and operate fiber networks and share what we know with the world."
"Finally, we're going to operate open access networks, meaning we'll share our network with other service providers, giving users more choice."
Clearly, Kansas City is the experimental city in this case, and won't be Google's only foray into fiber. It could be another few years until we see Google campaign Fiber in major cities around the states or the globe, but one thing's for certain: as long as this is successful, Google will pursue Fiber. If Google wasn't synonymous with the Internet before, it certainly would be with Fiber in every major city.
From the start, Google has wanted to share what it knows about Fiber with the rest of the world; a successful campaign in Kansas City would grant Google more authority to help other cities install their own fiber optic networks, but more importantly, assuming Fiber takes off, Google will have nicely positioned itself to be the primary gatekeeper of Internet services for both customers and other companies.
Did you feel a shiver run down your back? Yeah, I felt it too.