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Google Fiber in the real world: Here’s what’s good and what needs work

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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 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 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?

49 Responses to “Google Fiber in the real world: Here’s what’s good and what needs work”

  1. I’m curious to know how fiber will work with only one city barely participating so far. And at that how many people are going to be able to stream the same On Demand program in HD without overtaxing a server. Maybe there is some way around this that I know not of, but for serious just the logic of that high a stream among a potentially high number of users without interconnected fiber cites boggles me. I guess what is most confusing for me is that they are putting all the infrastructure in place and advertising it as necessary, but most people (I assume) only have a standard 100Mbps networking card…

  2. Really??

    You’re disappointed seeing 176Mbps on a wired connection with a crappy NIC in your crappy netbook?

    The NIC you would have to buy to get true 1Gbps speeds, costs about the same as your laptop.

  3. I cannot for the life of me see a problem with sharing 1 Gigabit/s of data between TV and Internet. Seriously folks, when is it fast enough?!?! And since when does anyone who uses Apples know anything worthwhile about networking anyway?

  4. Ian Littman

    A few points about Google Fiber:

    1. The network isn’t live to users yet. My guess would be that Google will connect the Google Fiber network with its own (AS15169), which isn’t done yet. This should increase speeds to the far corners of the ‘net, or at least Google services.

    2. I had trouble maxing out my 50M connection with two simultaneous downloads of OS X Mountain Lion on launch day. There will be tons of situations where the server at the other end, even if it’s a CDN, won’t be able to keep up with gigabit user speeds. Though once Google Fiber launches my bet is that 10 Gbit-enabled servers will be colo’d somewhere in KC by the likes of Akamai, LimeLight, Netflix et al.

    3. It looks like the Network Box from Google connects via Ethernet. So it should be replaceable with any other gigabit Ethernet-powered router. Though to be honest the more intelligent thing to do if you want 802.11ac would be to buy a router of that type and set it to Access Point mode, letting Google’s well-tested router do routing so that you’ll actually see gigabit speeds (I have a $120 router with gigabit interfaces, but it can’t push more than about 700 Mbps so I wouldn’t use it as a replacement for the Network Box anyway).

    4. I wouldn’t bet on Google including voice as part of its bundle any time soon; I have yet to see an Android-powered home phone. What they should do, however, is throw enough cash at that any Google Fiber user who wants it can get an unlimited-everything mobile phone for $19 per month. This works out particularly well since it sounds like Google Fiber will have a guest/open component to its WiFi, so a RW phone would be on (cheap, fast) WiFi most of the time. Plus, Google is already a customer of for Google Voice, and a Motorola Defy XT is miles better than any home phone I’ve ever come across.

    • Ian,

      1–Good point, but they are indicating this is live today at the Retail Partners. If these are showcase locations, why not show it off as best you can?

      2–Another good point. Unless that happens though, the user experience won’t be the 100x faster they are advertising. They don’t say “much faster” or “really fast”, they say 100x faster. Will the average consumer experience that. No. That isn’t Google’s fault.

      3–They specifically said you MUST use their router. That specific question was asked by two visitors to the Google Fiber space–Can I use my 802.11ac router since yours doesn’t provide that service. They said only if it’s a WAP. This specification is consistent with other providers such as U-Verse. Could this change? Absolutely and possibly even before September 9th’s rollout.

      4–The issue wasn’t about making phone calls but rather other devices that use phone lines such as fax and alarm systems. Moving to Google may have additional costs if consumers want to keep a telephone line and use Google’s other services. Not a huge deal but when I listened to consumers ask about “switching” from Time Warner or AT&T that was a very popular question. “You don’t have phone in your bundle”. Again, this is about the average consumer, not about some technical enough to understand terms such as CDN, 802.11c etc etc. They need to move this from a niche product for technical people to something the average consumer will switch to.

    • Another *big* consideration with providing phone service is 911 service – this is a *major* hassle, and one that Google likely doesn’t want to deal with directly.

  5. This is just about the dumbest test I have ever seen. So you test speed on a connection that’s shared with a bunch of people. By downloading one file at different times using 2 different isp’s. You saying nothing about what hardware was used for the test (network wise) and for some reason your point of origin is somehow half the country away from where you say you are? Leave testing to the professionals. You are not one.

  6. Joel Rothman

    I am surprised that Google is not talking up Google Voice as an option here. I have been using it as my home phone for several months now.
    It’s actually kind of crazy that they didn’t build it into the box.

  7. With all due respect, I’m not a networks expert, but I don’t think you are either.

    Download speeds are limited by the servers you download from. There is no way can measure a 1gbitps connection,’s servers simply do not support that fast a speed.

    Of course you can connect whatever Router you want to your Google Network Box, simply take an Ethernet from the Google Fiber Network box and into whatever router you want. There is no reason and no technical way for Google to block you from doing that.

    Of course you only get 1gbitps to your home. You can’t expect to download with 10gbitps to your home if you connect 10 ethernet computers at the same time. Of course the 1gbitps is shared among all the devices that you connect at the same time.

    Of course CNN/ESPN/HBO are going to be included. That is just common sense. Just because the agreements aren’t signed yet does not mean that they won’t be at launch. Also, KCK and KCMO can force those networks to agree to be included on Google Fiber or else they can be banned from being included in any other cable/satellite packages in the area. You can’t just exclude a provider like that, there are antitrust laws in the Federal and State levels that forbid you from doing that. You can be absolutely sure that competing cable/satellite providers are absolutely forbidden from preventing Google Fiber from getting a full TV package, according to exactly the same licensing deals that any other cable/satellite TV provider has.

    People who still are under contract with TV cable/satellite providers simply can have 2 inputs into their house. Just use $70/month Internet from Google Fiber and keep your TV on your current TV provider until your current TV contract runs out! How hard can it be? If you are locked into a contract for Internet Access also, well then you can if you don’t want 1gbitps Intenet, simply choose to take the $0/month Free Internet installation for now until you can switch to Google Fiber 1gbitps speeds when your other current Intenet/TV contract runs out.

    For Google Fiber users experiencing 1gbitps connections, sure, you can use BitTorrent for example, or you can connect to any file download Google Service and to any Backbone service that is cached and directly connected to the Google Fiber network. You can be sure that pretty much every major Internet Backbone wants to connect directly to the Google Fiber network, unless they want to play anti-competitive mafia-tactics on the thing. And even then, you can be sure Google Fiber provides you ample enough bandwidth to any Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/iTunes or whatever other major Internet service that you can think of in the USA and worldwide. You don’t need 1gbitps to watch Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/iTunes instantly, those services mostly run on 1-4mbitps. Even if they upgrade to 4K video streaming as YouTube supports, that can still be done within 16mbitps download, which Google Fiber can amply enough provide for, regardless of peering agreements or not with the backbones that host Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/iTunes today.

    • Mike Silverman

      (x-posted from Google+) I believe you are mistaken about a couple things here. Regarding routers, sure you can connect your own behind the Google box – but then you have a double-NAT situation for no good reason. It’s possible the Google box will let you do a true bridge, but it is more likely that it won’t, and at best you can do is put your own router in a DMZ to simulate a bridge (similar to how U-Verse does it). And no matter what, you have to use their network box (router) to connect to their network.

      Regarding TV networks, no, it’s not “common sense” that EPSN and HBO and other missing channels will be included, unless Google negotiates a carriage contract to provide them. There’s no law or franchise agreement that requires a TV service to carry any specific network. This has nothing to do with any other TV service stopping Google from doing anything. Google can choose what networks to carry, and whether it is willing to pay for these missing channels (it’s not just the cost per subscriber, many networks have other somewhat obnoxious requirements, like a specific position in the channel lineup, requirements that providers pay to carry their other less popular networks along for the ride, etc.)

      Google Fiber is going to be by far the best and fastest ISP in the history of consumer internet, but it’s not going to magically make it so you can download anything on the internet at a full 1 gigabit per second. There’s gonna be some limitations. I’d get it if it were available to me in a New York minute, but I’d also get a Ferrari if I could even if I had to drive it on a crowded interstate.

    • Charbox, Google reps as stated in the article indicate you must use their Network Box residential gateway, you specifically will not be able to use any other router. It’s certainly possible you could configure the box to pass a public IP, but I could not get to that aspect of the interface and Google reps would not show many any additional aspects of the interface.

      I agree with you that “Download speeds are limited by the servers you download from”. Google is heavily advertising everything is 100x faster with their service. If the servers can’t provide or measure that speed, it is not 100x faster. If my home and office were both on Google Fiber, downloads would be wicked fast and it would feel like one big LAN. The old adage of a tree falling comes into play. If nobody can see or utilize your high speed connection then how much faster is it?

      The product is being marketed extremely heavily here in the Metro because they NEED the average consumer to sign up. Not people that read blogs or even know what a router is. They just want to surf the internet faster. They may not know what a torrent is and thus not see the true power. I’m not sure why Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/iTunes would invest in making their backend faster because it serves them no business purpose. Even with heavy adoption rates of Google Fiber, a vast majority of the US won’t have these speeds so why change? Unless these CDNs provide faster download speeds the true power of Google Fiber won’t be utilized. My car has the capability of going over 100 miles an hour and my friend’s Lamborghini goes even faster but on Westport road the speed limit is 35 miles an hour.

      The premium channels are not a forgone conclusion. When I worked at a cable company a few years ago I know that ESPN charged about $10 per subscriber for the cable company and it had to be included on the basic tier and they were very particular about placement on the channel lineup. Google’s TV service uses a unique channel lineup and puts the HD channels in the low numbers. The more channels Google adds, the more expensive the service becomes or they absorb that cost and less profit. I would expect if they get enough people to commit to the TV service, they’ll expand offerings because they’ll better be able to recoup those costs.

      Google is saying everything is faster, which is true, but they need to convince consumers to with providers that have a long track record of providing service. Not everyone is concerned about speed, especially in a rough economy.

      Thank you so much for that detailed comment. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Google came out with more info about this. Comcast or Verizon would be happy to tell me every detail of their system so people like you are I can make informed decisions. Right now we are working on the tiny crumbs and tidbits. I invite you to consider that while you or I might sign up for this, how can you pitch this to someone still running a 2006 Windows XP machine with Internet Explorer 6? That’s the person Google needs to convince to switch from AT&T or Time Warner in order to make this thing work. They sure are spending serious $$ in order to do so.

  8. Does anyone know what routers/switches Google is using at the back end to roll out these services? I read an article somewhere that Google is building its own switches, is that true?

  9. David Simmons


    Does that shop provide wired Ethernet access to customers, or did you have a special arrangement? I’m just asking because I’d like to test-drive Google Fiber the next time I’m in Kansas City.

  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.

  11. Danny Pizdetz

    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.

    • 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?

    • 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 ( 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!

  12. andrev

    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.

    • Jason Bautista

      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.

      • 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.

  13. 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…

  14. 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

  15. 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?

  16. BSDfan

    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.

  17. Jason Bautista

    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.

  18. Ben Lucier

    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?

      • 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.

      • Stephens

        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?