Google invites telcos onto their fiber network

So when Google said its fiber communities project would be an experiment in open access, they apparently meant it. This week, at a fiber conference in Lousiana (FiberFete), Minnie Ingersoll, Google’s product manager for alternative access (editor’s note: interesting title) opened the door for incubment telcos and cableops to hop on whatever fiber-to-the-home network Google ends up building. Ingersoll is part of the team reviewing the tidal wave of RFPs that flowed in from local communities hoping to partner with Google on a local fiber net.

Ingersoll said invites to incumbents are out as well:

“We are definitely inviting the Comcasts, the AT&Ts, [and] service providers to work with us on our network, and to provide their service offering on top of our pipe – we’re definitely planning on doing that. Our general attitude has been that there’s plenty of room for innovation right now in the broadband space, and it’s great what the cable companies are doing, upgrading to DOCSIS 3.0, but no one company has a monopoly on innovation. We’re looking for other service providers to be able to come in and offer their service on top of our network so that residents have a choice when they open up their accounts. They get the connection from us, and then they have a choice as to who they subscribe to.”

Connected Planet’s Take, Joan Engebretson:

This approach would put the likes of AT&T and Comcast into the virtual network operator category, which would be an unusual role for them. Normally they’re the ones leasing capacity to the VNOs.

In the wireless market, the VNO strategy largely failed, as the mobile VNOs had to work with very narrow margins. On the wireline side, it’s been somewhat more successful, but remains a challenging business model.

Of course Google isn’t your typical network operator. The company may be willing to offer better wholesale pricing than traditional operators have offered, simply because it hopes to make money on the high-speed applications that the new high-speed networks would enable.

Nevertheless, I think the traditional network operators will be reluctant to purchase network capacity they don’t control. Network operators tend to be control freaks — which can be a good thing when it comes to things like security and perhaps not so good when it comes to things like wireless roaming.

I think the traditional players would rather keep a close eye on what Google does and who steps up to test the high-speed VNO model. (There’s bound to be some non-traditional players or startups that will jump in.) As new high-bandwidth applications emerge, the largest carriers will then be able to determine if they can support a business case to build their own high-speed networks.

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