Among hard-core geeks, the speed of your Internet connection is a source of pride. Back in 1996 when I moved to the Seattle area, I paid a couple thousand dollars a month for a frame-relay full T1 connection to my house, giving me a 1.4 Megabits per second (Mbps) connection. The only other alternative at the time was dial-up or ISDN (which is still basically dial-up, just faster), and since I was running my business from home, I needed a fast connection.
Residential Internet access has come a long way since 1996. I remember when I was able to first get over 10 Mbps at my house with Comcast’s cable internet, then 20, then 30, then 40, then 50, and now I consistently get 55+ downloads and 11+ uploads with them:
When the local public utility in Wenatchee, WA ran fiber to the area near our cabin, I couldn’t wait to hook it up, and was finally able to break the 100 Mbps barrier with our connection there:
We added another vacation home in Provo, UT, and I was glad to learn that a local company was also offering fiber. However, their speeds were capped at around 12 Mbps up and down:
But all that changed last Wednesday, when this truck pulled up in front of the Utah house:
Oh yes… Provo, UT is one of (currently) only three cities in the country where Google Fiber is available. For a one-time $30 connection fee, they’ll install their “Basic” service it at your house… and then you never pay anything again. That’s right, you can get free monthly fiber Internet for just the price of the connection. The speeds are “only” 5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, but that’s still pretty awesome for only $30.
But not awesome enough for me.
Their next tier of service still costs $30 for the install, and then $70 for upgraded Internet… but oh, baby, what an upgrade. They install 1 Gigabit Internet.
Let me say that again:
Now maybe someone in future is reading an archive of this post, laughing at how I was making a big deal out of 1 Gigabit Internet, just as I used to make a big deal out of 1MB of memory on my 286, or a 20MB hard drive, or the “turbo” button on my PC that doubled my processing speed to 32Mhz.
But in 2014, 1 gigabit per second (both up and down) is lightening fast.
It’s almost 100 times faster than the Internet connection I had here before. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
Installing the Fiber Wire
My service tech’s name was Matt. He didn’t arrive on time for our 11AM appointment… he arrived ten minutes early. I welcomed him in, and walked him downstairs to the utility room, where all the cables in the house are accessible (called “home run” wiring). Even though I already had fiber routed into the house from the street through my previous provider (Veracity Networks), he said Google insisted on running new fiber, with fewer splices. I didn’t complain. That job wasn’t expected to be difficult, since I had “Smurf tube” (a blue corrugated pipe build for running wires) running from the utility room to the outside of the house. He taped one end of the new fiber run to the exposed end of the old one, then went outside and pulled… for about 20 seconds. The Smurf tube’s angles were a bit too tight, meaning the connector on the end of the new wire couldn’t make it through. For the next little while, we tried everything we could think of, but we just couldn’t get the new line through. Eventually, he decided to call his supervisor, who had some additional wire-pulling tools in his truck. He showed up within minutes:
Using a combination of fish tape, string, and a shop-vac, we were able to get the new fiber wire where we needed it. The supervisor headed off, and Matt wasted no time continuing the install with a small weather-proof connection box on the outside of the house (next to all the other connection boxes) to protected the newly spliced connection, and he didn’t even mind when my OCD kicked in and I used my iPhone’s level app to make sure the box was perfectly installed.
Installing the Connection Devices
Once the physical connection was done, we went back inside to install a small white box that converts the fiber signal into Ethernet:
After powering it up, the light flashed red for a while, indicating it was updating its firmware, then it turned a solid blue.
The next step was to install the Google Network Box, which does all the “heavy lifting” for the network connection inside the house. It’s a router, and a WiFi antenna, and a four port Gigabit Ethernet switch:
Matt informed me that they are instructed to install the Google Network Box on the main floor of the house, not in the basement (where I wanted it). I totally understand why: they don’t want to take support calls for bad WiFi antenna placement. He also explained that he could do it, but that his manager would have to OK placement in the basement on the phone… and then promptly called his manager and handed me the phone! I explained that I was fine taking the risk of the basement placement, and that I was using an additional WiFi access point for the upstairs, and that was good enough for the manager! I wish all installs could go this easy!
When powered on, the Google Network Box also flashed its LED to show a firmware update was happening, and then all the Gigabit ports started blinking. I was ready to test out my new found speed!
Testing for Speed
I ran to my PC, disabled and re-enabled the network adapter to get a new DHCP address from the new router, and ran a speed test. I got:
That’s fast… but not fast enough. After some investigating, I discovered that I had a 10/100 network switch connected between my computer and the Google Network Box, limiting my speed to no more than 100 Mbps. Doh! Not to worry. Matt ran to his van and grabbed me a Netgear GS105 ProSafe 5 port Gigabit switch (retails for $70, but you can pick them up for $30). After installing that in the place of my old one, I got:
OK – I’d broken the 100 Mbps barrier, but not even the half-gig barrier. Matt explained that “normal” speed test locations wouldn’t be able to keep up with the connection speed, so he gave me the address for a private location at http://provo.speedtest.googlefiber.net/. You can try the link, but it won’t let you access it unless you’re on their fiber network. Those results were way better:
Matt explained that the only systems he’s seen actually show close to the 1 gigabit ceiling are Macs, and that most PC users can expect to see around 700 Mbps. I still haven’t tinkered much with my PC’s settings, and so I’m optimistic that with some time and some help from Google’s tech support guys, I’ll be able to get even faster.
But I’m not complaining – 700 Mbps is blazing fast. Netflix pops instantly. Web pages pop instantly. Basically, everything pops instantly.
Matt stuck around a bit longer to make sure all my connections in the house were running at Gigabit speeds, which required him busting out 2 more Netgear switches from his van and giving them to me — free of charge.
We located one Ethernet cable that should have been showing Gigabit speeds on the switch, but that was only running at 100 Mbps, so Matt clipped the end off the network cable and re-wired it with a new RJ-45 jack… and that did the trick. Every device in my house was connected internally at 1,000 Mbps, and able to access the outside world at almost 70% of that speed. Not too shabby at all!
Google Fiber SWAG
The Google marketers are no dummies, and so Matt also left me a swag bag, which included some manuals, the original boxes for all the network hardware he’d just installed, and a fridge magnet. The bag has the rainbow-colored Google Fiber rabbit on the outside, and is the size of one of those re-usable shopping bags that everyone in Seattle seems to love to tote around to show how environmentally conscious they are. But I’m taking the bag it back to Seattle with me, just to make my geeky friends jealous. 🙂
Final Post-Install Thoughts
It’s still early, and I’ve only been living with Gigabit Internet for a few days now, but I know I’m going to miss it when I fly back home to Seattle tomorrow. My installer Matt deserves top marks for his professionalism and friendliness. I hope his boss reads this and gives him a raise. He showed up early, knew his stuff, and never hesitated to go the extra mile for me during this install. Before he left, he handed me a Google Fiber business card with his direct mobile phone number on it, and told me just to call him directly if I have any issues (I called him the next day just to say thanks… and yep, it was his phone). Try asking a Comcast technician for his mobile number. He’ll laugh in your face.
So if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the areas that offers Google Fiber, go ahead and take the plunge. I’m sure I’ll be making more Google Fiber blog posts in the future (I’m already working on one addressing some of the more advanced networking features of the Google Network Box, since they differ somewhat from what most users are probably accustomed to), but for now, I’m just enjoying life in the fast, fast, fast lane.