Google Fiber Gets Even More Disruptive, Adds Wireless Wallop with Webpass

Erik Keith - Principal Analyst, Fixed Access Infrastructure
Erik Keith – Principal Analyst, Fixed Access Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • The acquisition of Webpass showcases Google Fiber’s strategic focus on fiber-centric service expansion efforts in high-density areas, supplemented by wireless broadband technology which dramatically expands Google Fiber’s addressable market and its status as a broader-scale, highly disruptive threat to incumbent operators.
  • Webpass lacks substantial customer traction – only 20,000 subscribers – especially for a company in business for 13 years. Nevertheless, Google Fiber’s acquisition of Webpass is more about future promise and potential than current power and presence.

Google Fiber’s recently announced acquisition of Webpass, which we covered here, is a clarion call signaling the company’s intentions of becoming an even more disruptive force in the U.S. broadband and TV/video/multiplay market. While there are roughly a dozen operators in the U.S. that offer world-class fixed broadband services – specifically, Gigabit access speeds – a massive number of U.S. consumers and business customers are still underserved by broadband, in terms of service speeds (i.e., well under the FCC’s definition of 25 Mbps), lack of competition or both. To this end, and expanding on its non-traditional approach to broadband network and service buildouts, Google Fiber has acquired Webpass, a wireless broadband service provider with fiber assets that has an established network and customer bases in the San Francisco Bay, San Diego, Chicago, Miami and Boston metros.

Google Fiber, through its high-profile declarations and campaigns, continues to expand upon its plan to bring fiber and corollary ultra-broadband services to two dozen U.S. metro areas (24 at last count, with multiple cities within each metro almost doubling that number in terms of named serving areas). While the hype about Google Fiber continues to outweigh the actual reality of service deployments and customer uptake, the company has established itself as a key market disruptor and has spurred incumbent broadband providers to respond with ultra-broadband service offerings of their own, including the vaunted Gigabit access tiers.

Given Google Fiber’s commitment, determination and resources (via Alphabet) to expanding its fiber network and ultra-broadband service reach, as well as its willingness to deliver its Gigabit and TV/video services over open access networks (e.g., Huntsville, Alabama), there is no doubt that Google Fiber will become an increasing threat to both cable operators and telcos alike.

From a service and marketing standpoint, Webpass is a congruent fit with the Google Fiber model (100 Mbps to Gigabit access speeds). Webpass has also built out fiber networks to support its primarily wireless-based services. However, Webpass utilizes fixed broadband technology rather than cellular or the abysmally slow satellite-based broadband solutions for delivery of its wireless broadband service. In fact, Webpass has commercially deployed fixed broadband wireless backhaul systems from Siklu (requiring line-of-sight between the rooftop antenna and the backhaul nodes), and it is trialing a new technology called pCell – for personal cell, using antennas developed by Artemis Networks – which has the potential to provide end-user customers with massively higher throughput (one to two magnitudes) than current cellular connections.

So, what does all of this mean?

Well, for the U.S. broadband market, it should result in accelerated and more pervasive availability of higher-speed, ultra-broadband services, at least in the major metros that Google Fiber is targeting. Prior to the Webpass acquisition, Google Fiber has taken a mostly deliberate, low-hanging-fruit strategy with the fiber network buildout, i.e., requiring neighborhoods to reach a 70% signup threshold before Google Fiber would bring fiber-to-the-‘hood, a.k.a., fiberhoods.

But, with the acquisition of Webpass, Google Fiber can leverage its fiber networks to deliver wireline FTTH services as well as support (backhaul, fronthaul) wireless services for fiberhood-adjacent neighborhoods that did not qualify for Google Fiber. Finally, if the FTTH + wireless service threat posed by Google Fiber does live up to its potential, it will compel traditional operators to respond accordingly, providing U.S. consumers and businesses with a greater range of broadband and multiplay service options, with competitive pricing the likely icing on the cake.

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