There have been a few ISPs in recent years that have quietly offered residential broadband with speeds up to 10-gigabits. However, this year has seen an explosion of ISPs marketing multi-gigabit broadband.
I recall an announcement from Google Fiber last year offering an upgrade to 2-gigabit service in Nashville and Huntsville for $100 per month. Since then, the company has expanded the offer to other markets, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, Austin, Salt Lake City, Provo, and Irvine.
Not to be outdone, Comcast Xfinity announced a 2-gigabit product, likely available in those markets where Google Fiber is competing. But Comcast doesn’t seem to really want to sell the product yet, having priced it at $299.95 per month. We saw the same high pricing when Comcast first introduced gigabit service – it gave them the bragging rights for having the fastest product, but the company was clearly not ready to widely sell it.
Midco, the cable company, markets speed up to 5-gigabits in places where it has built fiber. In recent months I’ve seen announcements from several rural cooperatives and telcos that are now offering 2-gigabit speed.
This feels like a largely marketing-driven phenomenon, with ISPs trying to distinguish themselves in the market. It was inevitable that we’d see faster speeds after the runaway popularity of 1-gigabit broadband. OpenVault reported that as of June of this year that 10.5% of all broadband subscribers are buying a gigabit product. It makes sense that some of these millions of customers could be lured to spend more for even faster speed.
There are still a lot of broadband critics who believe that nobody needs gigabit broadband. But you can’t scoff at a product that millions are willing to buy. Industry pundits thought Google Fiber was crazy a decade ago when it announced that its basic broadband speed was going to be 1-gigabit. At that time, most of the big cable companies had basic broadband products at 60 Mbps, with the ability to buy speeds as fast as 200 Mbps.
It was clear then and is still true today that a gigabit customer can rarely if ever, download from the web at a gigabit speed – the web isn’t geared to support that much speed the whole way through the network. But customers with gigabit broadband will tell you there is a noticeable difference between gigabit broadband and more normal broadband at 100 Mbps. The human eye can perceive the improvement that comes with gigabit speed.
The most aggravating thing about the debate about multi-gigabit speeds is how far the regulators have fallen behind the real world. According to OpenVault, the percentage of homes that subscribe to broadband with speeds of 100 Mbps or faster has grown to 80% of all broadband subscribers. We know in some markets that delivered speeds are less than advertised speeds – but the huge subscription levels are proof that subscribers want fast broadband.