Google, AT&T bring gigabit speeds to South Austin


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Google, AT&T bring gigabit speeds to South Austin
“I think there’s been pent-up demand,” Hull said. “... Austinites were hungry for faster access speeds. Sales continue to exceed expectations.”

By Joe Olivieri

Austin added to its reputation as a wired city last year when Internet service providers announced plans to launch ultra-high-speed connections in the next few years. 

Now South Austinites are reaping the benefits as competing services come online. 

Google Fiber recently announced it would begin signing up residents in early December. Google Fiber plans to launch in the Bouldin, South Lamar, Travis Heights and Zilker neighborhoods. More than 30 apartment complexes in Southwest Austin have signed up for Google Fiber, according to the company. 

“That is where we will start—that is not where we will finish,” said Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber Austin, during an Oct. 15 news conference. “Not every part of Austin will get Fiber, but all areas will have the opportunity, and we will build in the areas with the highest demand.”

AT&T launched its ultra-high-speed Internet service, U-verse with AT&T GigaPower, last December and spent 2014 doubling the service’s footprint in Austin, GigaPower Vice President Dahna Hull said. 

GigaPower is available in the Onion Creek and Zilker neighborhoods as well as in Pulte developments Ashbrook and  The Hollow at Slaughter Creek,  among other areas, according to the company. 

Grande Communications launched gigabit service in West Austin in February and in Buda in August.

“We wanted to deliver [gigabit] service to areas where there is clearly high demand and where we could deploy quickly,” said Matt Rohre, Grande senior vice president of operations and general manager. 

Rohre said Grande is evaluating its options to expand in Austin later this year and in 2015. In November, Grande announced plans to expand to the West Campus area of Central Austin. 

Time Warner Cable has not thrown its hat in the gigabit market locally but plans to focus on network improvements, on-demand programming, Internet speed increases for customers and increasing the number of community Wi-Fi hotspots, according to the company.

Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Melissa Sorola said the company increased speeds for all customers earlier this fall. 

“We are confident that our plans for faster speeds will make customers happy,” she said. 

Mario Champion, president of the South Lamar Neighborhood Association, said he welcomes the competition among providers.

“I’m a big believer in the free market. [Competition] works,” he said. “... Lo and behold, when Google Fiber came along, suddenly Time Warner Cable gave me twice the [Internet speed] service for free.”

Technology 101

The Internet is the global network of computers that connects individual users to content stored on servers throughout the world. 

How fast one can connect to that content has to do in part with the speed of one’s Internet connection. That speed is measured in megabits per second, or mbps.

The average connection speed in the U.S. is 11.4 mbps, according to Google Inc.  

The jump to gigabit speeds, or 1,000 mbps, requires new infrastructure. Fiber-optic cables are needed to carry the data instead of existing channels. AT&T and Google confirmed plans to upgrade their cables to accommodate the new service. 

The companies are building this infrastructure to meet customers’ increased demands for Internet content and to have the platform to launch new programs.

“In 2015 the average customer’s home will have six connected devices,” Hull said. “Customers want seamless, fast access at home and seamless, fast access when they leave [home]. They don’t differentiate. ‘We want info, and we want it fast,’ [they say].”

She said the number of laptops, tablets, smartphones, connected gaming systems, TV recording devices and appliances that are now being used demands greater Internet bandwidth. 

South Austin

Champion said AT&T and Google workers have been in the neighborhood preparing for gigabit-speed Internet.

“They are marking utilities and putting in flags for the gas [lines], AT&T, Time Warner Cable, [water lines] and all of the other buried infrastructure,” he said.

Google Fiber spokeswoman Kelly Mason said Google will install telecom cabinets that will be turned on soon after enough neighbors in a “fiberhood” sign up for Google Fiber. Neighbors can track online the number of sign-ups in their area, she said.

Champion said the neighborhood is excited at the possibility of gigabit-speed Internet. 

Champion said he agreed with Strama’s point that Google Fiber will not change anyone’s life the day after it comes online, but it will give local Web developers the opportunity to create tomorrow’s popular Web-based programs and services.

Next steps

There are ways to find out which services are available in local neighborhoods.

Residents can visit the websites of AT&T, Grande and Google Fiber to see if their home or business is eligible for the new services. The list of apartments that have signed up for Fiber can be found at http://goo.gl/1WDphY.

U-verse with AT&T GigaPower costs $70 per month. 

Google Fiber’s Austin prices have not been announced, but Mason said they will be similar to other cities’ Fiber prices: $70 per month for gigabit service and a one-time $300 construction fee.