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Summary:

Our reporter visited a vegan bakery in Kansas City that was one of the first places to get Google Fiber. He offers speed tests via wired, Wi-Fi and a sense of the problems that Google Fiber will have to overcome to sign up customers.

mudpie_exterior

Although Google Fiber is not yet available to residential customers, select Retail Partners in Kansas City went live on Saturday, July 28th. One of these places was Mud Pie Vegan Bakery. I talked with co-owner Michael Valverde and checked out the system at his space in order to see how fast it was in the “real world.”

Valverde told me that he started seeing regulars from Google several months before the Mud Pie choice was made public. These people didn’t say they were from Google, but after Google chose the bakery as an initial location to receive Google Fiber he realized who they were.

“When I got the call [selecting his shop], I thought they were selling me ads” Valverde told me. But instead they choose his coffee shop as a place to showcase the power and speed of Google Fiber. He couldn’t tell his employees, though they suspected something was up with “all these people tinkering.” Now the shop has Google Fiber as well two Google-provided Chromebooks for customer use.

Google rarely does anything randomly, and Mud Pie is within a block of the University of Kansas Medical Center. Google constantly refers to telemedicine as a key feature of what Google Fiber can do, so picking a demo location near the Med Center allows both staff and patients to test out the service.

Testing Google Fiber.

I tested Google Fiber over Wi-Fi and over the wired connection. Obviously the limitations of Wi-Fi’s 802.11n, which can’t handle gigabit speeds, doesn’t allow the full performance of the network to be realized. For a subjective test, I streamed the Olympics in HD over Wi-Fi. The HD video was simply gorgeous, but there were hiccups. I did notice that as someone was watching a movie on one of the Chromebooks, the picture got more glitchy. But that could also be limitations of the Wi-Fi.

As an objective test I downloaded Apple’s MacOS 10.7.4 combo update over both Wi-Fi and the wired connection. Over the wired connection, the 1.4-gigabyte file downloaded in five minutes and four seconds. A test from Speedtest.net not yet optimized for Google Fiber still showed impressive results. Over Wi-Fi from my Macbook, the file downloaded in 15 minutes and 21 seconds. Another Speedtest.net showed the limits of the Wi-Fi.

The slower speed over Wi-Fi was to be expected, but with the full wired connection I would have expected the file to download in less than a minute. For comparison, I downloaded the 1.4 GB 10.7.4 updater off my AT&T Uverse connection and the download took 14 minutes and 50 seconds. As a longer wired test, I downloaded the entire Lion installer from the Mac App store and the 4.18-GB file downloaded in 41 minutes and 24 seconds. Again, not impressive speeds.

These tests show one of the limitations of Google’s Fiber network, other services. Since Google Fiber is providing virtually unheard of speeds for their subscribers, companies like Apple and I suspect Hulu, Netflix and Amazon will need to keep up. I downloaded a few (legal) torrents and while it’s hard to compare torrents at any given moment, a popular file downloaded at extremely high speeds. For example, a 134.4-megabyte file downloaded in about 11 seconds. Subscribers will pay for high-speed internet but may not notice the difference when compared with friends with top-tier broadband.

Here’s the bad news.

Another limitation may be the fact that Google appears to be using a gigabit PON based on a screen shot of an interface to the Network box. If this is the case, speed could be reduced by other users. Even if they use an all-active Ethernet approach, that bandwidth will have to compete with all those televisions and if 8 shows are being recorded at once (the full capacity of the TV and Storage box), internet could slow down. The community sites for Google currently don’t have TV so I couldn’t test this.

There are some further issues Google Fiber customer might experience. The first most popular concern I heard from prospective customers at the Google Fiber Center was lack of popular cable channels – most notably ESPN. Disney, Comedy Central and other premium channels such as HBO are also unavailable on Google Fiber.

Another common complaint I heard from visitors to the Fiber Center was that they are under contract with their current provider. They’d love to switch but have to wait until the contracts expire with providers in town such as AT&T, Time Warner, and Dish. Additionally, Google Fiber doesn’t include a landline IP phone option. While subscribers can use their mobiles phones, many people still use alarm or fax systems that need a landline. Both could be done over Internet (or via a third-party IP phone service) but this is an additional hassle to switch.

There are also potential compatibility issues users may have to face. Although Azhar Hashem, head of marketing for Google Fiber mentioned the Storage Box was compatible with Time Machine, those of us who have Time Capsules or an Airport Extreme will find those need to be reconfigured to work with Google’s Network Box. (UPDATE: Our writer was right to be skeptical about the compatibility of Storage Box and Time Machine; Google got back to us a day after the story was published and said that, in fact, they are not compatible.) Google Fiber will require that customers use the Google Network Box as their router, while cable companies typically allow customers to use any choice of router they wish.

Questions about setting up web or file servers weren’t immediately answerable due to the unfinished aspects of the Network Box, but from what I saw publicly I’m pessimistic in the ability of the box to allow a true bridge mode. If you want Google’s network you have to use their box and live with their restrictions.

Finally, there is privacy. Representatives had to assure customers that Google would not be spying on their internet use. A sign warning Google Fiber Center visitors that they were giving up some privacy walking into the Google Fiber Space was off-putting to say the least. Personally, I’m not worried but with recent violations by Google of privacy I can understand their concern.

Ultimately, Google Fiber looks to be an outstanding service for Kansas City. I’m delighted they have bucked the trend against slow speeds and obnoxious bandwidth caps. I realize that in order to control the experience, you’ll have to use their hardware but Google has everything to gain by making their system as configurable as possible. As the service becomes more popular, content systems will be forced to upgrade their networks to keep up, although that means that bandwidth could slow down for some customers in theory.

What do you think? Is Google Fiber worth the hype and the price? As a local resident (just outside) the Kansas City metro area, what would you like to see tested or what questions should I ask the next time I’m at Fiber HQ?

  1. I’m confused… the article says “Representatives had to assure customers that Google would not be spying on their internet use.” and then goes on to say “A sign warning Google Fiber Center visitors that they were giving up some privacy walking into the Google Fiber Space was off-putting to say the least.”

    So which is it? Will Google be doing anything with the browsing data, DNS lookups, etc?

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    1. Great question!

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    2. I believe the sign for visitors means they might use video or photos of people walking around the space.

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      1. Ah… gotcha.

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      2. Correct Aaron. The sign read :

        Public Notice” “A file and/or videotape is presently being shot in this location. All areas within this event are likely to be filed for at least part of the event’s duration. In being present at this location, each person in attendance irrevocably consents to being filmed or videotapes and releases the producers and users of such file or videotape from any liability for loss damage to persons or property or infringement of any rights and expressly authorizes and permits use of his or her name, voice, likeness and all reproductions thereof in all media for all purposes throughout the world in perpetuity without limitation and without any compensation therefor whatsoever.

        If you do not agree to the above terms and do not wish to be tapes as part of the program, please do not enter this event. Thanks for your cooperation, and enjoy the event”

        This wasn’t an “event” and I went along with the general public to the Fiber Space. As I stated it certainly gives me pause for concern given Google’s track record on privacy issues. The placement of the sign was very inconspicuous and Google certainly didn’t alleviate concerns about privacy with that sign.

        I understand that sometimes places are used to film movies, TV shows etc and such signs are standard practice. I would not expect it at the Fiber Space though that is designed to teach and promote about the Google Fiber project.

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    3. Jeff Kibuule Tuesday, July 31, 2012

      Internet use isn’t the same as walking into a physical location…

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    4. Of course they’ll use it. Like all ISPs use this same data. What are you afraid of?

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      1. scottwilkins said
        “Like all ISPs use this same data”

        No, mine doesn’t. My ISP actually state straight-out that they do not log or monitor.

        Why would you use one that did?

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  2. All download and now upload makes Jack a dull boy.

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  3. Jason Bautista Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    I am struggling to see how you inferred that they are using a PON architecture from that screenshot. Looks like there is a device with a LAN and WAN. I see nothing that really indicates a splitter or anything that would be a shared line bandwidth.

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    1. Yes. Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see the relevance of the screen shot.

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      1. Thanks for noticing that. Another screen shot in a potential upcoming article shows WAN PON in the interface.

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  4. Anyone know what are Google Fibre’s peering agreements? Connectivity to the outside of Google doesn’t look very good.

    Would be unfair if Google would provide very fast speeds to their own services, while others would need to pay substantial amounts to link up with Google’s backbone.

    With anti-competitive investigations circling over them already this could become yet another concern.

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    1. Google peers with anyone who wants to. Tier 1 providers do not want to.

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  5. Convincing Netflix, Hulu, Blockbuster, Amazon, Apple, Disney, ESPN, the NFL, MLB and other big file providers to co-locate mirrored servers within the Google fiber network is a next critical step. Those who co-locate will be delivering gigabit fiber speeds to all within the network. Who wouldn’t want to be a customer of a co-located service delivering content at full gig speeds?

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  6. You know wifi is a contended medium? how many others where using the wifi at the same time as – and do real consumers realy realy need FTH. FTC Fibre to Cab makes much more enconoic sense even cheaper and better for the average residential consumer would be to have the FTC enforce Local Loop Unbudling so any isp can use the last mile

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    1. You can see by the screen shot very few people were on the Network Box at the time.

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  7. You do understand that 8 very high quality HD streams are not going to be more than 160 Mbit/s (and in reality this is much lower) so even then you will have 840 Mbit/s for the Internet connection so this argument is really just academic and not at all important in practice…

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  8. Am most interested in learning whether Google Fiber will eventually allow their network interface/router box to bridge (as you highlight in the article). Specifically, it would be a drag to be stuck with outdated WiFi speeds, or the ability to share information, servers, content within your own network just because you can’t upgrade your own router internally.

    Perhaps there’s a need for the box to see/manage all of the data — that may be fine (privacy concerns needing to be balanced), but I’d want to have the ability to have my own router afterward.

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    1. I’ll check into some of that!

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    2. Jason Bautista Tuesday, July 31, 2012

      The biggest need to manage the data flow in the LAN is probably a QoS play. Egress/ingress packets to the extenders need to understand the difference between regular data and video content as does the aggregation box. Even then wifi speeds, even 802.11AC, wouldn’t allow you to take full advantage of the 1gbps speed with wifi inherently being a lossy shared medium.

      Looking at the screen shot I don’t see why you couldn’t use your own router and have another NAT behind the first NAT of the network box. Your router would show up as another host to the network box. In that case your limiting factor would be your home router as I really don’t see many consumers willing to pay the money for a SOHO router with a gpbs uplink and the processing power to take advantage of that.

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      1. Jason, you are correct and I don’t want to give away the details just yet as I’ve written another article detailing the hardware and set up, but it’s very similar to AT&T Uverse and when I went into the Network Box interface it even referred to itself as an RG which common means Residential Gateway and mandatory piece of equipment.

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  9. Danny Pizdetz Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    Nice review. I, unfortunately, live in one of the poor areas of Kansas City that is not even being offered the chance to pre-register for Google Fiber. But, let’s be honest, there’s no way enough people in my poor area of KCK would pre-register that I’d actually get service from google anyhow. I was hoping that more of the poor areas would be wired up since Google made such a big deal about offering a free tier of broadband but that doesn’t appear to be the way this is going to work out.

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    1. Danny, that’s definitely a concern and points out the “digital divide”. Even if Google gave the service for free, would enough people have the hardware at home to hook up to it. Google reps have told me they think towards “digital inclusiveness” and are working to make the power of Google Fiber accessible.

      The focus from what I saw at the Google Fiber Space is on education as they already have a hook up with Rosedale Middle School. If you have an area with a large concentration of kids they may focus on those areas.

      Alternatively, maybe you can’t pre-register because you already have the infrastructure and they are waiting for the announcement to go live. One can hope right?

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    2. Hi Danny,
      Some of the “FiberHoods” are pulling together to rally their neighbors by going door-to-door and helping people register especially in neighborhoods where English might not be the first language or the population is more elderly. When it comes to finances, some people are offering to pair up and pay for the pre-registration of a neighbor. One article (http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/29/kc-google-fiber-threshold-20-percent/) talked about a guy who hired someone to go door-to-door and is paying the pre-registration fee. A lot of neighborhoods are pulling together to make this happen. I’ve already met two guys from my neighborhood that I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise.

      Google Fiber has on their website FAQ that those areas not covered in this round will most likely be included in the next round of pre-registrations which will occur as soon as construction is underway on this round. I’m headed to the Fiber Space tonight in hopes of acquiring some materials that I can pass onto my neighbors. We just qualified within the last day or so, but we want to improve our ranking before the 9/9 cutoff date!

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  10. As for the phone aspect, Google should pair up with ObiTalk so customers can use Google Voice/Talk as their phone. ObiTalk emulates a Talk client, allowing you to use a regular phone, FAX, etc over Google Voice via Talk.

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