Saturday, July 28, 2012

Google Fiber - the next frontier of conquest is the TV screen

There are two things  that I rather like about Google. They think big and scale up their ideas fast. And, they are not afraid of falling flat on their faces. 

When their products fail (and they do, time and again - think Google Wave, Google Health and dare I say it, Google Plus) they nonchalantly pick themselves up, and try again.

I am always interested in their offbeat projects, so I perked up my ears when I read about Google Fiber, a broadband service offered currently only in Kansas City. At $120 per month, subscribers get  unlimited GB bandwith at 1 Gbps, hundreds  of cable channels and on-demand channels, and no caps or restrictions on downloads. This compares favorably with Verizon, Comcast etc. who have caps AND start throttling connections that use too much data. You can read more about Google Fiber here.

So how will a cable offering in one US city change the world? The answer lies in the struggle for power that is going on between data/cable providers and content providers. And the bone of contention is network neutrality, which I have written about in the past.

In a nutshell, net neutrality implies that data carriers (Broadband, cable and ISPs) need to provide internet services without discrimination to both content providers and customers. They should not discriminate based on what type of content is being consumed or demanded more. In other words they should just act as a pipe for data.

Let's use a hypothetical example to understand this. Let's say that I have an unlimited broadband connection from MTNL and I am a heavy data user. MTNL investigates my  usage pattern and finds out that I am streaming HD movies from Netflix. This matches data gathered from several other heavy users. 

Even if the number of 'heavy users' is small, MTNL stands to lose from us, because we consume a lot of data and clog up bandwidth. Also, MTNL feels that Netflix is to blame because their service is bandwidth heavy. They may be popular but their success is riding piggyback on MTNL's copper fiber which cost them a pretty penny to put up and maintain. So MTNL decides that  they need to make money off this whole situation. They are in an advantageous position to do so because they are the conduit controlling my internet access. 

Possibly, they could approach Netflix and propose a revenue sharing model where they get a 'cut' on Netflix usage. Alternatively, they could charge me for Netflix usage. And they could threaten to 'choke' or cut down the speeds for usage of Netflix if they failed to come to a deal.

It is obvious from this example that net neutrality is beneficial to us as customers because it ensures a 'free and fair' internet. 

Net neutrality is also beneficial to Google, who dreams of world domination through their search and ads platform. Google would love us to be heavy users of the internet. They are not averse to roundabout ways of achieving their goal - the huge investment in Android as a means to dominate search on Mobile is a proof of this. And the next frontier for Google is television, the mother of all screens. Google is aiming at television dominance through Google TV

Google TV is currently just an Android-based software platform which can either be integrated into your TV, or added on though a hardware device. Google TV makes YouTube channels, Google Play, apps for televisions and Chrome Browser accessible on your TV. And you can control it from your phone!

This sounds modest, but Google TV has the potential to re-define TV as we know it. If Google manages to muster enough paid and free content through YouTube, and other tie-ups, we could be looking at an unlimited bank of on-demand content at our fingertips. In the past, news  has come up about Google being active in attempts to create high quality paid content for YouTube. 

So, coming back to Google Fiber. If Google does indeed  want to dominate the television set, they need to bypass the regulators of how many MB we should consume and what for. And certainly they need to bypass the traditional cable operators who will never let Google TV come up because it would kill their business.

So in typical Google roundabout way, they roll out the fiber themselves. And do it  cheaper than other cable providers. And will still benefit in the long long run. You got to love these guys, seriously.

I look forward to Google Fiber in my city one day. It could be the next frontier of change after smartphones!