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Google Fiber gets a new boss and shuffles some employees: is Radio Access on the way?

google fiber

via Flickr © LBJLibraryNow

  • Google Fiber gets new boss
  • Employee shuffling starts
  • Is Google swapping FTTH for radio?

Google Access set off a storm of ‘Told You Sos’ last October when it announced that it was halting its expansion plans for Google Fiber. It said it would continue taking orders where it had laid fibre but it was halting the expansion of the network while it had a deep ponder about what to do and where to go with its broadband access plans.

That decision saw the departure of Google Fiber boss Craig Barratt and his position has stayed vacant... until now. The top job has now been filled by Gregory McCray who was the CEO of Aereo Communications and also sits on the board of CenturyLink. That’s prompted speculation that McCray might be doing an ‘Elop’ and preparing a sale of Google Fiber to CenturyLink, with Alphabet’s blessing, of course.

Maybe. On the other hand it seems just as likely that Google will push on with a relatively conventional broadband delivery business to complement its balloon adventures, although not necessarily using fibre for the final drop.

See if you can work out the most likely course of action from McCray’s arrival statement:

“Google Fiber has been instrumental making the web faster and better for everyone — something I’ve been passionate about my entire career. I’m thrilled to lead Access as we continue in our mission to connect more people to abundant access, on networks that are always fast and always open," McCray said in a statement.

Google Fiber’s mission is to deliver gigabit access and it’s been beavering away at this since 2010 (can it really be that long?). By around 2012 Google appeared to have nailed things and announced that it was no longer treating the fibre build as an experiment (widely believed from the start) but was intending to run it as a business. Its experience up to that point had apparently been good enough to bet the farm.

But since then the difficulties seemed to mount up and progress stalled. It wasn’t just that Google was obstructed by the incumbent players, or had to fight to get access to utility poles. It turned out that despite all the excitement it was able to generate when choosing the ‘special’ cities it would favour with its presence, when it came to signing up, the citizens seemed to have cooled off and the take-up rates were much lower than expected. 

Turning on the radio

The latest Bloomberg reports that Alphabet (the parent) is reassigning ‘hundreds’ of Access employees to work in other parts of Google. Does this slimming down presage a sale? Or does it indicate that Google has a fully formed plan to dump the fibre to the home and go for radio access instead. If so it needs to pull in a new set of Access employees with radio skills to make the switch. It could still dig out to lay fibre if necessary, but only to the neighbourhood. Then it could beam the last few hundred yards from street-side poles.

There’s plenty of evidence for the latter. Last year Access bought broadband radio access specialist Webpass then, with Webpass bagged, it asked that more of the spectrum that Webpass uses be opened up.

With the focus on 5G there may even be an option for Google Access to do some ‘spectrum sharing’ and use 5G to go from pole to house. The 28 GHz band in North America looks like a good candidate. Whatever the technology (or technologies) employed the chances are that Google will go to radio, although this time around it may have even more competition that it had in fiber.

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