Google is spreading its wings in yet another direction – this time as a network provider, offering super-fast broadband to thousands of US homes.
It plans to build a fibre-optic network offering speeds of up to 1Gbps (gigabit per second) to up to 500,000 homes.
It said it would compete on price with other broadband providers offering much slower speeds.
Google said the trial was about promoting killer apps that would take advantage of fast speeds.
“We planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States,” the search giant said in its blog.
“We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people. We’ll deliver internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today,” it continued.
Google already has a fibre network which connects its data centres, speeds up search and lowers the cost of streaming video on YouTube.
Now it plans to take this to the next stage and connect that network directly to consumers’ homes.
The network will be available for any service provider to use and Google is asking interested parties, from local government as well as members of the public, to sign up to the plan.
The offer is part of Google’s expansion into controlling all aspects of a web user’s experience.
In late 2009 Google offered a service called public DNS, which it said would speed up web browsing for users.
The domain name system is a series of databases that translate web addresses into computer readable numbers called IP addresses.
“The average Internet user ends up performing hundreds of DNS lookups each day, and some complex pages require multiple DNS lookups before they start loading,” Google wrote in a blog at the time. “This can slow down the browsing experience.”
DNS requests are usually handled by a person’s Internet Service Provider (ISP).
In November 2009, the search giant also announced that it was working on a project to develop a faster version of http – which Google call SPDY – to speed up the transfer of content over the web.
At the time, the firm said its lab tests had shown that web pages loaded “up to 55% faster” using the protocol.
The US, in common with countries around the world, is grappling with the best way to roll out next generation broadband.
In the first month of his office President Obama promised to spend $7.2bn on new broadband infrastructure.
The pot of money is available for smaller broadband providers and municipalities.
For Drew Clark, editor of US broadband comparison website BroadbandCensus, the impact of Google’s entry into the broadband market will depend on how many homes the network serves.
“If it is 50,000 homes then that isn’t a lot. But if it is 500,000 then that is a statement to say it is in the market place competing with the likes of Verizon,” he said.
Verizon has made big investments in fibre networks, with plans to pass 18 million homes with its fibre-optic service by the end of the year.
Rival AT&T has 17 million households in its network but its fibre network does not run all the way to the home.
Google said it hopes its fibre network will act as a testbed for new applications.
Andrew Ferguson, editor of UK broadband website ThinkBroadband speculated as to what some of those killer apps could be.
“One idea would be to expand Google Streetview, so that you can play a movie of a route you wanted to take, so that when you are visiting a brand new area you will have a much better understanding of the area than is possible from simple static street view maps,” he said.