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Is Google your next cable company?

Mark Sullivan | April 29, 2013
When Google announced last summer it was building a fiber network in Kansas City, it was easy to believe that Google Fiber was just an experiment.

So naturally, Google would like to take more control of its own destiny. It would like to take ownership of the network that connects it to its customers. That's what this fiber business is all about.

Speed inspires usage

But it's more than that. Google isn't selling fiber broadband that's just "competitive" with existing services brought to you by Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. It's way faster.

As we've seen clearly in the wireless world, when you give people more speed, they tend to both use more online services and want more speed. With all that fiber speed, people might watch more YouTube videos (and view more ads), do more searches (and view more ads), and read and send more Gmail (and view more ads).

Who knows, Google might try to launch services inside Google+ that fully exploit the fast fiber connection; this might give the fledgling social network a much needed membership bump. Gathering more of the personal and preference data that's the lifeblood of social networks could help Google bring more ad-targeting value to its advertising partners. Facebook will not kill Google, as some have said, but Google needs a viable social network.

A brand new channel

Google has a much bigger appetite for television than Google TV can satisfy. The biggest problem with that product is that is relied on cable networks for the content. With Google Fiber, Google will own the pipe that brings in the Internet service and the TV service. This no doubt sets the Google people's imaginations in motion.

Big advertisers still spend much more on TV advertising than they do on Web ads. Google may experiment with new ways to target television ads at specific demographics, and then measure the results. Right now, TV networks can only hope to match ads with the demographics they believe are watching the shows. Google may find a way to target ads at viewers in real time, as web advertisers have learned to do using cookies.

In for the long haul?

Google has been known to bail on projects and products that aren't working out. Is it possible that Google would double down on the fiber project for a few years, then get bogged down in the realities of the business (see above), then wash its hands of it? That's precisely what happened when Google tried to build a free Wi-Fi network in San Francisco back in 2005.

And that project was small potatoes compared to what Google's trying now. Expanding Google Fiber nationwide, if that's what the company chooses to do, is going to entail more trench warfare than any project Google has ever committed to before. It's going to take a lot of single-minded determination, starting at the very top of the chain, with Larry and Sergey.


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