“As wireless has grown and changed traditional telecom, it is also changing traditional internet connectivity,” Kagan said. “Wireless internet connectivity looks like it might be very big over the next several years.”
Kagan said AT&T Gigapower is leading Google Fiber in citywide fast internet fiber rollouts, but wireless could help Google pick up the pace and match AT&T.
“This latest reported move by Google toward wireless may mean we are starting to see a real horse-race beginning,” Kagan said. “It could let Google move into more cities, more quickly.”
Speed of deployment with wireless could be the vital ingredient to keep Google Fiber competitive.
“Wireless has a lot of advantages, including the speed at which it can be installed at an individual home, office or apartment building versus having to do a cable drop to each premise,” said Gartner analyst Bill Menezes.
“That means fewer truck rolls, and the service provider can ship the customer premise receiver with self-installation software, instead of doing an on-site install, cutting the [capital and operating expenses],” Menezes added.
However, Menezes said Google’s testing of the effectiveness and speed of wireless technology will be crucial. If Google decides to rely on wireless technology that uses a higher frequency, it will transit over a short distance and have poor in-building penetration, he said. In turn, that could mean more outdoor antennas, possibly one affixed to every premise that Google Fiber would want to serve.
Google and other companies are also testing the use of unlicensed spectrum. “That effort seems to be the linchpin, because if Google Fiber had to pay to acquire large amounts of spectrum in licensed frequencies, that would seem to eat up a lot of the capex savings of going wireless versus installing fiber to the home,” Mendez said.
In April, Google began testing wireless connections in Kansas City in the 3.5 GHz spectrum, which is called the “innovation band” by federal officials. That test is expected to last up to 18 months.
A previous attempt, in the 1990s, to offer “wireless cable” under a plan called a Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service wasn’t successful, as was the rollout of WiMax, a technology that relies partly on microwave transmissions and was fostered primarily by Sprint and Clearwire in the U.S. Sprint killed the WiMax network in early 2016.
“The enabling wireless technology has improved significantly since those failures, but we’re still waiting for someone to do this successfully at a large scale in the marketplace,” Menezes said.
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