Published January 24, 2014
I’ve seen the future. It’s called gigabit Internet by Google Fiber, and it just launched in my hometown of Provo, Utah, the second of three scheduled cities to get speeds that are 100 times faster than the rest of America.
“What good is really fast Internet if the content stays the same?” you may ask yourself. I certainly did, before testing the service. Besides, my “high speed” Internet from Comcast seemed fast enough, enabling my household to stream HD videos, load web pages quickly, and connect multiple devices as needed, largely without hiccup.
I was wrong.
Using gigabit Internet, even in its infancy, opened my eyes to speed and reminded me of why I love the Internet.
Most of us are conditioned to endure slow Google Maps, for example, even though we don’t realize it. We expect them to load in chunks when we zoom. We expect Street View to load sluggishly. We’re patient with satellite view because it’s cool, and because it requires patience to use. So we wait. And wait.
With gigabit Internet, maps load instantaneously. The performance is startling. I zoomed in on Manhattan from space faster than I could have fallen on it — no blurs, granulized lines or pixels. Just incredible speed and clarity.
Then I streamed 10 full HD videos in separate browsing tabs from YouTube -- with nary a loading bar in sight. They all ran without the slightest screen tear.
“Why would anyone want to watch 10 videos at once?” you ask. One person wouldn’t. But many people would. If you’re a household of 10 and everyone wants to stream their own movie on their own device, they can.
Capacity is the point. With Google Fiber, there’s no more bandwidth rationing, unless you opt for Google’s Free Fiber. That service is good for only one device, but still good enough for a single HD stream, according to users I spoke to. Not bad for free.
Other everyday web pages load with a bit more pop, but that might have been the stars in my eyes. Or it could have been the 915 megabits per second (both up and down!) I independently clocked, which is more than 120 times faster than the average U.S. broadband connection (8.6 Mbps), and more than double the fastest download speed and nine times the fastest upload speed of Verizon FiOS, the largest fiber optic Internet provider in the country.
As for other impressive gigabit uses, try loading this online version of American Gothic with your current broadband connection. Then try zooming all the way in for full detail. Then try panning to another area of the painting. It drags, doesn’t it? It may even slow your browser across other tabs—it did on mine.
Not with Google Fiber. Art like this takes on new meaning. The scan feature performs as it should. And it will change your opinion on things like the rarely-seen brush strokes of Van Gogh’s over-commercialized and cliché but still masterful work Starry Night.
That said, gigabit Internet is overkill, at least for now.
To fulfil its promise, content will need to catch up. Even Google admitted this to me. “It will be interesting to see if we look upon gigabit Internet 10 years from now like we look upon dial-up today,” Google Fiber’s Jenna Wandres said. “Who knows what people in Kansas City, Provo, Austin and others will do with such speeds?”
I know. They’ll create wonderful digital things.
As a lifelong Internetter, I haven’t been this excited about the Internet since … well, maybe the first time I logged onto Yahoo in 1994, when “portals” were still cool. The sheer possibility of going 100 times faster online excites me. It makes me giggle.
You can get Google Fiber at present only in Kansas City, Missouri, and Provo, though Austin, Texas, is coming. The company offers a free, 5mbps Internet service (good for one device or computer at a time). Gigabit service is $70. For $50 more, you can add 200 HD channels and record up to eight programs at a time.
Google’s ultimate plans are unclear, however. The company spent years buying unused fiber optic cables around the country ahead of announcing the service, but hasn’t said whether it will roll it out nationwide.
And three gigabit cities (only two at present) does not network a nation. Google knows this, too. “The United States invented the Internet, but only ranks eighth in the world in terms of access speeds,” Wandres said. “Google Fiber hopes to change that.”
Obviously, concerns that Google will somehow use its Internet service to eventually sell our privacy to the highest bidder will surely emerge. It’s a valid concern that will need to be considered. After all, how good is free Internet if Google someday decides to monitor those sessions to their gain? What’s more, much of the speed gigabit adds will surely be used for less noble endeavors. Like watching more cat videos or vying for attention on Facebook.
But in this critic’s opinion, Google Fiber is an undeniable gain. It may do to ISPs what T-Mobile is doing to wireless carriers: upheave them with delightful extras (the modem doubles as a wireless router, and you can keep it), smaller bills (a fraction of what you’re currently paying for Internet and TV), more bells, nicer whistles — and most of all lightning fast connectivity.
Blake Snow is a writer and content advisor from Provo, where he lives with his family.