For many people living in areas where cable Internet isn’t offered – or where it’s offered by only a single provider – Google Fiber represents a promise of fast speeds and fair prices. Google’s service offers 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) of upstream and downstream bandwidth to customers living in Kansas City, Missouri; Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas; and soon other cities. Google Fiber customers pay about $70 per month for service that’s 30 times faster than the average US broadband connection.
On Thursday, Comcast announced it’s raising the stakes by offering 2 Gbps connections to customers in Atlanta starting in May. Comcast says the speed will be symmetrical, meaning customer can both upload and download data twice as fast as they would be able to on Google Fiber.
Comcast hasn’t announced pricing yet, but chances are Gigabit Pro won’t be cheap. The company’s current 505 Mbps (roughly half a gigabit) connection costs just under $400 per month, though Comcast told Ars Technica writer Jon Brodkin that Gigabit Pro will cost less than that service.
Atlanta residents should soon have several super-high-speed Internet providers to choose from. Comcast’s Gigabit Pro service will roll out next month, and both Google and AT&T plan to bring gigabit fiber service to the city by the end of 2015. Comcast’s fiber service will be available to any Atlanta home located within a third of a mile of the company’s fiber network, which means that not all houses currently served by Comcast cable will be eligible for Gigabit Pro. (Comcast’s core network is built from fiber-optic cables, but many of its “last-mile” connections to homes are slower coaxial cable.)
Comcast says Gigabit Pro service will require “an installation of professional-grade equipment,” which likely includes an optical network terminal – the fiber version of a cable modem – and upgraded cabling in the customer’s home. Though the service will only be available in Atlanta at first, Comcast says it plans to make Gigabit Pro available to 18 million homes by the end of the year. It’s also working on a 1 Gbps fiber/coaxial hybrid service that will eventually be available to almost every current Comcast customer.
What does one do with all that bandwidth? Just two years ago, Comcast argued that most Americans didn’t really need gigabit connections, since most didn’t have routers that could handle the increased speed. But Comcast will likely be supplying home equipment to let its customers realize 2 Gbps speeds. That means households with several people and multiple devices won’t get bogged down when everyone is trying to surf or stream simultaneously.