Google Fiber goes big with 20-gig plan

While others across the industry battle it out over 10-gig claims, Google Fiber is looking to go bigger, plotting the rollout of a symmetrical 20-gig service for select residential and business customers by the end of this year, executives told Fierce. It’s tapping into Nokia’s 25G-PON system to make the service a reality.

Nick Saporito, head of product at Google Fiber, told Fierce the company has been trialing the 20-gig service in “many markets” for almost a year already and noted the project is the first to come out of its recently launched Gfiber Labs initiative. Trials have included deployments at Kansas City University and United Way in Utah as well as a rollout to his own home in Kansas City. Additional residential testers are “in the pipeline,” he said.

Asked why Google Fiber is jumping from its current top tier 8-gig offering all the way to 20-gigs, Saporito said “We definitely see a need for this.” He added, though, that “this is sort of a very early adopter product. This isn’t going to be a GA [general availability] product from Google Fiber where we just make it broadly available like we’re doing with 5-gig and 8-gig. This is going to be a bit of an invite-only opportunity for our early adopters.”

Invitees will likely include Google Fiber’s existing multi-gig customers, though Saporito noted the operator is still sorting out its invitation process. Customers who take up the service will be given a pre-certification Wi-Fi 7 router that Google Fiber has developed.

To be clear, Google Fiber’s forthcoming offering won’t be the fastest available in the country nor is the company the first to break the 10G speed barrier. EPB, a local provider in Tennessee, launched a symmetrical 25-gig service in August 2022. It, too, is using Nokia’s 25G kit.

But the move is significant as Google Fiber seems to be the largest operator to make such a play in earnest thus far. Frontier Communications previously said it is working with Nokia on 25G trials, but has yet to announce plans for a commercial service beyond its current 5-gig offering.

Stefaan Vanhastel, VP of Innovation for Fixed Networks at Nokia, told Fierce that Google Fiber was already using the company’s XGS-PON gear, which is based on its upgradable Quillion chipset. So, all the operator needs to do to get to 25G is plug in a new optical module and replace the optical network terminal on the end-user side.

He noted that 25G uses different wavelengths than GPON and XGS-PON, meaning all three technologies can coexist on the same network.

Vanhastel said globally Nokia has around eight or nine 25-gig operators, most of whom are squarely focused on enterprises services. Thus, Google Fiber’s desire to serve both residential and enterprise use cases is special.

“To me that’s really exciting, because it’s going to be really interesting to see those multi-gig users how they’re using the service, what they’re doing,” he said. “You build a pipe, someone’s going to try to find a way to fill it.”

Saporito declined to name the markets where its symmetrical 20-gig service will initially be available (though Kansas City seems like a safe bet based on the trial locations). However, he said the operator does have broader plans to make the service available “in most, if not all, of our markets” eventually.