Multi-gigabit Broadband

AT&T recently announced multi-gigabit broadband plans on its fiber connections. The company has priced 2-Gbps broadband at $110 per month and 5-Gbps broadband at $180. AT&T isn’t the first company to offer multi-gigabit broadband speeds and joins other large ISPs:

  • Google Fiber has the most affordable 2-Gbps plan that I can find at $100 per month.
  • Ziply Fiber, which purchased and is upgrading the former Frontier properties in the northwest is selling 2.Gbps broadband for $120 and 5-Gbps broadband for $300.
  • Comcast has priced a 3 Gbps broadband connection at $300. The 3-Gbps product is likely only available where Comcast has built fiber.
  • There are smaller ISPs, municipalities, and cooperatives offering speeds faster than 1 Gbps.

For now, multi-gigabit broadband is mostly a marketing gimmick. It’s a way for an ISP to tell the public that its networks are fast. But the same thing was said about Google Fiber in 2012 when the company introduced one-gigabit fiber at a time when the primary broadband products provided by cable companies were at 30 Mbps and 60 Mbps. In the decade since the Google Fiber announcement, the gigabit broadband product has been embraced by the public. OpenVault reported that at the end of the third quarter of 2021 that 11.4% of all U.S. households were subscribed to gigabit broadband products.

I hear from skeptics often who say that no home needs a gigabit broadband connection, let alone something faster. But the market is telling us that people are willing to pay for gigabit speeds. The subscriptions to gigabit broadband leaped during the pandemic. My guess is that a lot of homes using cable companies upgraded to faster speeds to find a broadband product that would allow them to better work from home. People found the upload speeds on normal cable products to be limiting and upgraded to faster broadband packages to get better performance. I’ve always wondered if that worked, because from many of the speed tests results I’ve seen, even the gigabit products on cable companies often have measured uploads speeds of only 20 Mbps, with the fastest I’ve ever seen at 40 Mbps.

Gigabit products on fiber are a totally different broadband product than what is offered by cable companies. Most fiber broadband products have symmetrical upload and download speeds – and even the ones that aren’t symmetrical are far faster than products offered by the cable companies. Fiber has lower latency and jitter, so data transmissions are clean and fast. I’ve always wondered why homes with a symmetrical 250 Mbps or 400 Mbps fiber connection would upgrade to something faster – but ISPs tell me that people are ponying up for a gigabit.

There is one benefit of fast broadband speeds that we don’t talk about enough. A lot of homes have serious challenges in deploying WiFi. There can be major issues in propagating WiFi in homes with multiple stories, older homes built with plaster walls, or homes that want WiFi to reach nearby sheds and barns. A stronger broadband input means that the WiFi signal will be stronger throughout the house.

It’s unlikely, for now, that ISPs will be selling very many subscriptions to multi-gigabit broadband. The most likely to succeed is Google Fiber, which has priced 2-gigabits at $100. It’s obvious that companies that set the price at $300 per month don’t expect many folks to buy. But I have to wonder if in ten years that 2-gigabit broadband will be a common product?

3 thoughts on “Multi-gigabit Broadband

  1. A stronger broadband input means that the WiFi signal will be stronger throughout the house.
    I think you were trying to say that a faster broadband connection means more headspace for a basic mesh network. All those hops from one relay node to the next add overhead to the connections.

    The problem with upload speeds may be broader than some realise. I’ve got basic DSL (roughly 8/1 Mbps). One of the games I play has network problems from time to time. I’ve been assuming that the game’s servers have gone down. But what if my responses to the server’s game-related (post network) handshaking are taking too long ? Maybe we need a term like “non-vi”(able) to cover the gap between “up” and “down”.

    P.S. Don’t forget the batteries (UPS’s) !

  2. Those that say “customers don’t need gigabit or multigigabit products” remind me of good ol’ Ken Olson. of Digital Equipt. Corp. He very prominently said, people don’t need anymore than 75 KBits…
    The point, as you surmise, is not what they currently need… but what they are willing to pay for, and/or what they will need in the future.

    Mr. Olson, DEC’s Pres., proverbially went out with the hoola-hoop, when he resigned in 1992.

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