At one point, Google Fiber was going to be our savior from Big Cable. Roll the clock back three years, and it seemed that it was unstoppable: Google had rolled out its service in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, with more cities coming by the month. It looked to be a real Google project, not just another moon shot, and people were deliriously excited about the prospect of gigabit speeds for $70 with no messing around.
But since then, things have ground to a halt. Google Fiber went through two CEOs in 2017, the speed of rollouts slowed way down, and the company got bogged down in arguments with other utilities over wire placement on poles.
From the outside, it looked like Google was considering a pivot, away from actual fiber cables and towards wireless service. Alphabet chairperson Eric Schmidt made noises about using millimeter-wave tech to supply gigabit speeds to people’s houses without running wires. FCC filings showed Google’s interest in millimeter-wave tech, and in 2016 Google acquired Webpass, a wireless home broadband company with service in eight cities.
But as of today, it seems that Webpass is shrinking, not expanding. The Verge reports that Webpass has stopped accepting new customers in Boston, and a statement by the company suggests that the service is “winding down.”
“As with any acquisition, we’ve spent some time evaluating the Webpass business. As a result of our analysis, we’ve made the decision to wind down Webpass operations in Boston,” a spokesperson told The Verge. “We’ll work with customers and partners to minimize disruption, and there will be no immediate impacts to their Webpass service. We continue to see strong subscriber response across the rest of the Webpass portfolio, including successful launches in Denver and Seattle in 2017.”
It seems like an odd time for Google to be winding down its wireless home broadband business. Thanks to the imminent debut of 5G, millimeter-wave home internet is newly in vogue. AT&T and Verizon have trial setups working now, and both companies have promised commercial launches in the near future.
That might be exactly the problem: Millimeter-wave was exciting when Google was the first to do it, with the prospect of capturing the entire market. But it’s clear right now that most of the existing telecom companies have recognized the potential of millimeter-wave, and are researching heavily. If Google continued pursuing millimeter-wave home service, it would be going up against wireless and wired ISPs with vast existing fiber networks and wireless spectrum licenses. That’s a far less appealing scenario than Google originally signed up for.