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Summary:

AT&T says it will open its gigabit network on Dec 1, but for the first six or seven months residents will only get 300 Mbps speeds.

Conduit, anyone?
photo: Wfryer

AT&T said on Tuesday that its planned gigabit network set for Austin is both real and that the early stages of it will start operating on December 1. Ma Bell today launched a portal where residents can express interest in the service and said it would start offering what it calls its AT&T U-verse with GigaPower service with a symmetrical 300 Mbps option.

By the middle of 2014 AT&T says residents with the GigaPower service will have a symmetrical gigabit connection. No word on the price or whether it will be capped.

This puts Austin in a unique spot among cities — with two companies preparing to lay two gigabit, fiber-to-the-home networks in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the world. There’s this effort from AT&T, and the planned Google Fiber deployment, which many view as the impetus for AT&T’s original announcement.

How will AT&T get to a gig?

So long, copper!

So long, copper!

Google said at the time it plans to connect its first customers by mid-2014, which perhaps not coincidentally is when AT&T will have its first customers upgraded to a gigabit at no additional costs to the yet-to-be-determined-price, according to Lori Lee, executive vice president, AT&T Home Solutions. Lee didn’t explain how AT&T would get from today’s U-Verse speeds that top out at 24 Mbps downstream to 300 Mbps on their way to true gigabit connectivity.

AT&T’s current network in Austin is a very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line (VDSL) network which means it has fiber deployed to nodes in each neighborhood, but uses copper phone lines to make the final hop to homes. I asked Dr. George Ginis, SVP of DSL marketing at ASSIA and the inventor of vectoring, if AT&T’s current lines could be pushed to 300 Mbps or even a gig. He explained that there are technologies that can get a VDSL network to about 200 Mbps using the typical equipment U.S. telcos have deployed.

One technology, called vectored VDSL allows speeds of up to 100 Mbps, while another uses bonding to deliver speeds of up to 200 Mbps on the double-twisted-pair (it has four wires) copper networks in use in many parts of the U.S. There is a technology called G.fast that could deliver gigabit speeds, but that’s not standardized yet. So it sounds like in Austin at least AT&T is going to really deploy fiber to the home for gigabit customers.

A whole lotta unknowns

AT&T’s GigaPower customers have the option of TV, voice and “the possibility of integrated mobile service” with their service as well. Unfortunately Lee wasn’t as forthcoming with other details, such as pricing.

That’s fine, because it’s not like we know how Google plans to price its broadband or its broadband and TV offering (Google in its other cities does not offer a voice service perhaps because if you have broadband you already have access to VoIP without paying Google a fee). It’s not clear if Lee’s voice service will be VoIP-based or still use the copper wiring AT&T already has in the home (for now anyway).

Austin Google Fiber Launch

Also unclear is how AT&T plans to roll out the service and where. The AT&T announcement is timed to the launch of a portal where users can sign up. Lee says that customers won’t have to pay a fee to commit to getting the service, as Google Fiber hopefuls in Kansas City did. In what appeared to be a dig at Google, Lee said “You can sign up and show your interest at any time. It’s not a one-time sign up.”

Of course, since that social engineering and format of the competition helped Google create economies of scale that lowered its expenses for digging fiber, it seems AT&T is willing to forgo those advantages. And of course, we still don’t know how or where Google plans its own roll out.

Plus, AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson said last week at an investor conference that because the cost of deploying fiber has dropped by so much, he thinks it will deploy faster networks in cities other than Austin. What those costs are is hard to say. Lee didn’t comment. Google has never commented. I’ve heard estimates from $6,424 from the man who invented DSL to as low as $450 from industry observers.

So basically, Austinites now have two web sites where they can enter their information to sign up for proposed gigabit networks. AT&T’s apparently will go live at less than a third of the speed perhaps as a way of gauging demand and helping set price expectations in the market. Since Google’s spokespeople have told me that part of the pricing for Google Fiber factors in the price it pays for broadcast rights as part of the TV package, and AT&T already has those deals, perhaps it’s willing to undercut Google to win in Austin.

Also if it ties subscribers to a contract, those who sign up for the December service, might not be in a position to sign up for Google’s fiber, which might disrupt Google’s costs.

Meanwhile, we have no technical details, no pricing, no indication of where the network will launch and no idea what a gig could even do for us. Yet, I can still find people who are over the moon with excitement.

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  1. I live in Austin and am an AT&T customer. I put my name on both AT&T’s and Google’s sign up lists. The first company to offer me faster service wins.

      1. Stacey Higginbotham dragonthc Tuesday, October 1, 2013

        So, as I wrote neither AT&T nor Google have released any costs. But, I do wonder if AT&T is coming out early with a 300Mbps offer just so it can lock customers in with a contract and possibly siphon customers that might have instead signed up for Google Fiber.

        1. Hopefully anyone actually interested in gigabit Internet connections isn’t going to be bamboozled by AT&T. If they want to compete with gigabit Internet, they better offer gigabit Internet at competitive prices. If it costs $300/month, no one cares.

  2. Wish congress would mandate that these companies need to offer service throughout the country. I have no high speed internet or cable where I live. And before you say satellite, that only deals with download speeds, uploads are still over the phone line.

    1. Really, you want congress to get involved with this? We’d still be living with dial up if congress got involved. Please watch what you say…some politician may pick up on it and find a way to screw it up.

    2. Why in world would anyone want the government to control more aspect of a private business, i think the government has done enough with our health care, alcohol, guns, food, roads, radio freq, and schooling system enough…
      They can keep their controlling hands off an ISP….

  3. So if you are pushed to compete, you actually do so? How interesting!

  4. Phillip Dampier Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    This sounds like vaporware gigabit Internet. Wait it actually is. AT&T promised 1,000Mbps and now that has been downgraded to 200-300Mbps until a date in the unknown future. It’s the same old AT&T, promising things they won’t actually deliver.

    Starting off with 200-300Mbps makes sense — if you are starting with a deployment into Multi-Dwelling Units or business parks. Many of these already have fiber connections to the building that are provisioned to provide speeds in accordance with AT&T marketing. Some of these properties have a mix of fiber to the premise and then coax, Ethernet, or even very short runs of copper into individual units. All you need to do is provision the new speeds.

    AT&T also seems to have no problem running fiber into new apartment complexes, because the cost per drop is much lower than digging up individual backyards. But there is also a lot of money changing hands to sign these deals with property developers and managers.

    At the outset, why would anyone who cares about 1,000Mbps ever consider signing a contract with AT&T when Google will supply gigabit service from day one. AT&T also has usage caps — 150GB for DSL and 250GB for all flavors of U-verse, which is presumably how this new service will be branded. Why would I waste my time buying Ferrari-speed Internet and only be able to back it out of my driveway before I hit my usage allowance?

    Other points:

    1) Pricing. If it isn’t less than what Google is charging, why deal with the same company that felt 24Mbps was plenty fast enough before (with caps).

    2) Location. AT&T will always pick the low-hanging fruit first. That means complexes, apartment buildings, and other concentrated locations where it costs less to deploy fiber. Don’t hold your breath too long waiting — there are still people in Dallas waiting for 24Mbps U-verse.

  5. Urge to throttle someone rising.

    I sit here in suburban Silicon Valley and the fastest internet anyone is willing to provide me is my crummy 6 megabit DSL. AT&T won’t touch my neighborhood with Uverse until 2020. Promises, promises.

  6. Why would anyone do business from At&t when they can get the same service from google? AT&T= scumbags. Just wait til the billing games start.

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