Recently, two analysts from BTIG Research went to Kansas City to see what Google's new cable-company killer, Google Fiber, is like.
The Time Warner Cable system in Kansas City appears to be freaking out about the rollout of Google Fiber, and for obvious reasons. Google Fiber puts the Time Warner Cable offering to shame.
The analysts, Rich Greenfield and Walter Piecyk, have written a detailed report about how Google Fiber works and what the TV and Internet experience is like. The report is available at BTIG's site (registration required).
Here are some key points we gleaned from Rich and Walt's report, as well as a video about Google Fiber that Google produced:
- Google Fiber gives you 1 Gbps (as in gigabit per second) of data speed, downstream and upstream, for $70 a month. That's 75-100 times as fast as Time Warner's U.S. cable Internet service.
- The Google installers promise to come to your house at the time of your appointment, not in some vague "window" that requires you to be home for 4 hours at a stretch (or much longer, if they don't show). For anyone who has ever screamed in rage at the lousy customer service provided by the local cable company, this will be a big selling point. It will be interesting to see if Google can actually deliver on it.
- The installation is a two-step process. There are different technicians for the inside and outside installation and they come on different days.
In the first step, the Google installers pull fiber from the utility pole to the side of your house. The "fiber" is actually fiber: A thin thread of glass. Huge amounts of digital data can be sent through a fiber optic data pipe that goes directly to the inside of your home.
In the second step, a home installer brings several pieces of equipment to your house, depending on whether you want just Internet or "TV service" for an additional $50 per month. The additional equipment consists of a "fiber jack" (a sort of modem), a "storage" box that acts as the home server, and a "TV box" for each TV. The TV boxes are small and sleek and look nothing like archaic and massive cable TV boxes. The TV boxes also operate partly via WiFi and bluetooth (this means fewer cables). The storage box can store two terabytes of video locally.
- You get a free Nexus 7 tablet (with a two-year subscription) to use as a remote control, in addition to a Google Fiber remote. The Google Fiber remote has fewer mystifying buttons than a typical TV remote. That's a very encouraging change from the "Google TV" remote of a couple of years ago, which looked more complicated than the flight deck of the Space Shuttle.
- The "TV" interface comes in a few different formats: There's a standard channel guide with DVR functionality, a "Discover" engine that recommends shows and movies to you, and the Holy Grail of TV 2.0: An interface that allows you to select what you want to watch and then lists every version of it that is available, regardless of which network or delivery service is showing it (Netflix, YouTube, CBS, etc.) The latter is the interface that most digital TV viewers have been waiting for.
- The TV service is still lacking several obvious features and attributes (it's a trial) such as YouTube integration, HBO, and other networks. Also, you have to use the Google Fiber remote control to launch Netflix. The single interface is helpful. Currently users have to search three or four different services to try to find a particular movie or program they are looking for: "On Demand" directories from HBO., Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon. This has been reported to be tedious and annoying. Expect an improved user experience.
- Cable companies appear to be freaking out about the arrival of Google Fiber, which is predicted to offers a much better service for less money. Greenfield and Piecyk report that Time Warner Cable is literally going from house to house to check Internet speeds and make sure customers are happy. Google Fiber will make cable companies start to care more about customer service.
Basically, it sounds like the U.S.A. will be praying that Google Fiber comes to their neighbourhood next. It remains to be seen what the CRTC in Canada will do when Google wants to launch the service north of the American border.