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October 6, 2022

Fast Forward: Speeding up the internet

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The internet has been around for quite a while now, but, like any technology, it continues to grow and evolve. In recent years, the industry has seen huge strides in both internet speed and reliability. These innovations are necessary to support the increasing complexity of online technology, including new ways of delivering the internet like fiber optics, satellite, wireless, and others.

Google Fiber’s fiber optic network allows us to stay on the cutting edge of internet technology and advancements — it’s the reason why we’re so able to quickly upgrade our networks and provide faster and more reliable service. How does it allow us to be so nimble? 

What is fiber optic internet?

In the last post of our Fast Forward series, Tom talked about how traditional cable internet was built on copper wires which was originally intended to transmit television broadcasts, whereas fiber optic internet is a series of ultra-thin glass tubes that transmits data at the speed of light. 

Part of what makes fiber optic internet unique is its ability to be quickly upgraded in order to accommodate for new technological advancements and the needs of evolving tech in everyday households. When we need to upgrade our network to accommodate increased speed, we don’t have to change the fiber lines in the ground. 

So what needs to be upgraded to make the internet faster?

While we don’t have to change out the fiber optics every time an advancement in speed is made, we do have to swap out the technology in our huts that deliver the “last mile” (i.e. the distance that connects your home or business to the central infrastructure of the internet). We house our equipment in huts and cabinets throughout each metro area. This includes tech like our Passive Optical Networks (PONs).

PONs use fiber optic lines to provide Ethernet connectivity from a main data source to endpoints, like your home network. At Google Fiber, we currently use what is referred to as a GPON in most of our huts. The GPON allows us to offer up to two gigabits download speed and up to one gigabit upload speed to our customers (the “G” in “GPON” stands for “gigabit”). When we started building our network, this was new technology.

But technology rarely stays the “latest” for long. The internet is ready to take its next step, and with that progress comes XGS-PON (x = roman numeral 10, g = gPON, s = symmetrical). Each XGS-PON can provide 64 households with up to 10 gigabit upload and download speeds (yep, symmetrical!). That means in order for us to upgrade our network speeds, we don’t have to go underground or completely rearrange our network, but we do have to switch out our GPON gear for XGS-PON in every hut (like we did in the picture below to start testing this in Kansas City).

What we’re doing now

As you can see, we’re already working behind the scenes to build a network that can stay ahead of demand, both as our speed offerings and as demand for internet bandwidth and speed increases because of new technology, more users and new devices come online. We’re constantly monitoring and planning many months ahead to predict and adapt to the changes in demand on our networks. 

When a lot of people were working, going to school, and doing everything else over the internet from home during the height of the pandemic, internet services needed to adjust. Because we actively monitor our networks for these types of changes (rather than only reacting when things go bad), we actively adjusted our network to meet the new demand of users before you even knew you needed it (read more about that here).

And we’re continuing that proactive approach, even as the world gets “back to the new normal.” Our newest cities are being built with the ability to accommodate the ever increasing speed demands, and we’re updating our networks in all our cities to be able to accelerate as technology continues to evolve. We’re proud to build our networks with the future in mind and a team dedicated to improving our customers’ experience every day.

Posted by Scott Li, Network Engineering Manager,  and Jennifer Poscic, Network Acquisition & Service Delivery Manager