What will developers and users do with Google’s planned ultra high-speed broadband network?
Google’s answer can be summed up in four words: We don’t know yet.
“If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that the most important innovations are often those we least expect,” Google spokesperson Dan Martin told TechNewsWorld. “In the same way that the transition from dial-up to broadband made possible the emergence of online video and countless other applications, ultra high-speed bandwidth will lead to new innovations — including streaming high-definition video content, remote data storage, distance learning, real-time multimedia collaboration, and others that we cannot yet imagine.”
One might say that these apps are already here, it’s just that an ultra high-speed broadband network will help deliver them. Perhaps the plan really is a ploy by Google to strengthen its position on the Internet and influence national policy.
Googly-Eyed Bandwidth Promises
Google wants to see how consumers, small businesses, anchor institutions and local governments will take advantage of ultra high-speed access to the Net, Richard Whitt, one of the Internet giant’s lawyers, wrote in the firm’s public policy blog.
Other possibilities include software developers creating bandwidth-intensive killer apps and services, according to Google Product Managers Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly.
“There are many developers and entrepreneurs waiting for technology to become advanced enough to make their dreams a reality,” Google’s Martin pointed out. “There are many working applications now that will perform better at ultra-high speeds. Just as we expect a great deal of learning to come out of building experimental networks, we anticipate that a number of forward-thinking developers will see the benefits of the same opportunity.”
App developers will be free to work on any apps and services they choose. “Developers will not be required to develop apps for Google,” Martin said.
Copyright, P2P Downloads and Bandwidth Issues
What if users choose to download large files from peer-to-peer networks instead? That could be an issue because some P2P networks offer pirated files. These downloads also suck up lots of bandwidth, and Comcast sparked a controversy years ago when it tried to clamp down on excessive bandwidth usage.
Google won’t do any network-level monitoring or filtering for copyright, Martin said.” Users will have full control over which applications and content they use,” he explained.
However, he was also quick to point out that Google “in all cases seeks to respect copyright law” and has partnered with copyright holders to ensure they are fairly compensated for their work.
The Case for More Bandwidth
The demand for bandwidth is going to go up, Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “If you look at today’s crop of Internet applications and use cases such as video broadcast, video telephony and video conferencing, you’ll quickly see that, to the extent we get everyone on the Internet and engaged, we’re going to need tons more bandwidth,” he explained.
“If the Internet is to displace broadcast TV, for example, and a significant number of people have virtual full-body, high-def meetings, this will tie up our existing bandwidth,” Hilwa said.
The result could be disastrous. “Without new innovations, we may be headed into bandwidth traffic jams of epic proportions,” Hilwa pointed out. “In that context, Google or any company that has posited its business model on the smooth operation of the Internet should be concerned and engaged, and their efforts should be seen in this light.”
It’s more likely, then, that current Web-based applications and usage will gobble up much of the new bandwidth Google plans to offer. “I’m not sure if the new network will really stimulate next-generation apps rather than deliver on the promises of the past,” Maribel Lopez, principal analyst and founder of Lopez Research, told TechNewsWorld. “We really can’t get video on phones today, it’s too slow and too choppy, for example.”
Lopez Research sees a future where there will be rich video in everything, as well as an explosion of processor- and latency-sensitive apps such as gaming on mobile connected devices like smartphones and iPads.
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Although Google’s depicting its bandwidth plans as essentially a science exercise, it may have other motives.
“Google continues to wrestle control away from the carriers,” Lopez pointed out. “It circumvented the carriers in location-based services and now wants to provide an Internet service that will let it gain valuable data about what people are using and how they are using it. This can only benefit Google’s ability to target advertising and improve local location-based ads.”
Perhaps that’s a tad too skeptical. “We intend to operate this network in a way that’s fully consistent with our design principles with respect to privacy,” Google’s Martin said. “Because we haven’t started building it yet — let alone identified where to build — it’s impossible to comment on specific details, but we intend to design strong privacy protections for user data into the offering and provide users with a robust set of choices about their use of this and other Google services.”
Google’s ambitions have a political angle, according to IDC’s Hilwa. “There are political aspects to this in the sense that Google is also attempting to drive a national agenda that would open up the pipes, both wired and wireless,” he pointed out. “That has been its mantra, and it makes sense for Google to push that given its business model.”
Google might even displace the traditional telephone carriers, whose networks form the backbone of the Internet today. The level of the carriers’ response will indicate how much Google’s plans will hurt them, Hilwa said.
“What Google is doing is definitely disruptive,” Hilwa explained. “You can measure the disruption by the pushback or even silence from the traditional carriers.”