Google Fiber has been taunting us for months . Their Google Fiber Space retail location is in our neighborhood. Plus, the dispatch center for their installation trucks is in the next neighborhood over, which means we see the cute blue and white trucks fanning out to the city every morning.
Our turn finally came in late October when we switched Google Fiber from Time Warner Cable. We were happy with TWC, and rarely the outages and slowdowns that many people complain about. However, TWC seemed to putting more effort into convincing us we didn’t need gigabit speeds instead of working to raise their own speeds closer to gigabit.
Our previous setup differed from the typical TWC setup because we were using TiVO instead of the cable setup box.
Yep, it’s fast. We usually 900 down/800 up with ethernet, and 200/150 with wifi. Those speeds don’t have a noticeable difference on web browsing, but there are certainly a few key areas where the speed does make a big difference.
- Netflix and Amazon Instant Video rarely buffer or stall
- Uploading photos and movies to places like Flickr or YouTube. The synchronous upload speed is awesome. This would seem like low hanging fruit for TWC.
- Cloud backups are much faster to initiate, and take less time to update. Sharing backup space on CrashPlan with other Fiber friends is very easy.
Overall performance is better than TiVO. There is less lag when changing channels and very little pixelation or stuttering, even on HD channels. However, the TV Box is often slow to wake up after the TV has been off for a while, sometimes requiring a power cycle of the TV box.
It is fast and easy to use. The HD channels in the lower numbers, as opposed the high four digit numbers on TWC. Local VHF stations on their actual channel numbers, another welcome change from TWC.
This was my biggest hesitation in giving up TiVO. I have been a happy TiVO user since 2005. I briefly tried the TWC DVR in 2009, but quickly went back to TiVO. Google Fiber’s DVR works well and is comparable to TiVO in its ease of use. The only significant missing features are 1) remote scheduling of recordings via a web site, and 2) the ability to learn viewing habits and record suggested hows to discover.
The service includes a very good iOS and Android app that functions as both a remote control and a remote viewer. A free Nexus 7 Android tablet is included with the TV service. Navigating or searching the guide is great on a tablet or phone. You can even watch recorded DVR shows right on the device. This app only works when the device is connected to the local network. It will not work remotely.
Media storage and server
The Storage Box includes shared folders for photos, video, and music. Upload files to these folders and they show up in the on-screen guide. This has a lot of potential, but so far I have accessing these media to be slow and buggy.
This is a two-stage process. When your neighborhood’s time comes, Google Fiber crews will be out and stringing wire from the pole to your house. You will notice a new access box on the exterior of your house, likely near your electric meeter. Two-three weeks later Google contacts you to make an appointment for in-home installation.
In-home installation includes running the fiber into your home and connecting it to a small fiber box that plugs into a wall socket. Coax cable then runs to the Network Box, which is the hub of the system. A Storage Box and TV Box connect via ethernet.
The two install techs spent about three hours all together. After the hardware was installed, they then made sure the network was running and that they explained and demonstrated everything. My system took several hours to download the TV guide and get up to full Internet speed.
Video on Demand
The service includes Netflix, Vudu, and its own video on demand, which we have not tried yet. Unlike TiVo, Google Fiber does not include Amazon Instant Video. We have kept the Roku for this reason.
The Network Box is the hub of the system and serves as the wireless router. The Storage Box holds 1TB of data – including the DVR and your own media files. If you have extra TV boxes elsewhere in the house, they can serve as wifi extenders. The Network Box has an optional advanced interface that lets you tweak settings, DNS, etc. It even includes a feature to update several dynamic DNS services for remote access to your network.
Impact on the neighborhood
The process of distributing fiber hasn’t been without some problems for my neighborhood and other neighborhoods. On some streets the fiber runs underground, usually under the sidewalk. It is not uncommon for Google’s contractors do bad job patching and repairing the sidewalks. Many people don’t like the proliferation of the big network cabinets around the neighborhood, both from Google and AT&T U-verse. Some Google cabinets have even been placed illegally and blocked the sidewalk. Fortunately the city and Google do a good job of fixing these problems.
On other streets the fiber runs along the power lines. In older neighborhood like mine, Google’s contractors are snaking cable through dense tree cover. There have been some problems with their contractors cutting power lines and disrupting electricity service. There have also been some cases where they have been too aggressive with tree trimming and upset neighbors.