Blair Levin and Larry Downes report via Harvard Business Review: In 2010, Google rocked the $60 billion broadband industry by announcing plans to deploy fiber-based home internet service, offering connections up to a gigabit per second -- 100 times faster than average speeds at the time. Google Fiber, as the effort was named, entered the access market intending to prove the business case for ultra-high-speed internet. After deploying to six metro areas in six years, however, company management announced in late 2016 that it was "pausing" future deployments. In the Big Bang Disruption model, where innovations take off suddenly when markets are ready for them, Google Fiber could be seen as a failed early market experiment in gigabit internet access. But what if the company's goal was never to unleash the disrupter itself so much as to encourage incumbent broadband providers to do so, helping Google's expansion in adjacent markets such as video and emerging markets including smart homes? Seen through that lens, Google Fiber succeeded wildly. It stimulated the incumbents to accelerate their own infrastructure investments by several years. New applications and new industries emerged, including virtual reality and the Internet of Things, proving the viability of an "if you build it, they will come" strategy for gigabit services. And in the process, local governments were mobilized to rethink restrictive and inefficient approaches to overseeing network installations. The story of Google Fiber provides valuable lessons for future network transformations, notably the on-going global race to deploy next-generation 5G mobile networks. It seems, then, a good time to review the story of how the effort came into being, what it achieved, and what it teaches investors, consumers, and community leaders eager to ensure continued private spending on internet infrastructure.
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