Grande Communications makes big headlines with gigabit Internet service

Grande Communications, a small, regional Texas ISP, is the latest company to offer gigabit-speed Internet to residential customers, beating no less than AT&T and Google to the punch in the city of Austin.

The company's president, Matt Murphy, told the Austin American Statesman that gigabit services would be offered to customers in selected neighborhoods in West Austin this week, for a stand-alone monthly cost of $65. That price -- which does not require customers to sign a contract -- could drop with bundling and package deals.

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"We've always made a dedicated effort to have the fastest Internet speeds in all the areas we serve, and that's what we're doing here," he told the newspaper, which reports that Google Fiber and AT&T's U-Verse service -- which both offer gigabit Internet speeds -- won't be up and running in Austin until this summer.

It's an impressive feat, according to Gartner Research director Akshay Sharma, but he questions whether gigabit service is overkill for residential users.

"It's newsworthy, of course, but is there really an app that needs a gig? No," he said. "Not too many people have a data center in their house." Even HD video streaming won't make a gigabit connection break a sweat, according to Sharma, who says HD streaming demands about 10Mbps.

Beyond its debatable utility for the home user, he said, the main reason that gigabit service is still very rare is that the infrastructure required to provide it to large numbers of customers is "not pervasive."

"The hurdle is, you've got to aggregate all this traffic. And if it's truly at a gig, and each person has it, and you have a hundred people, well that's 100G, and 100G is state-of-the-art on transport," Sharma said. "There's still not a whole lot of that in the ground."

For customers in West Austin, however, the new service is apparently just around the corner -- gigabit speeds will be available within a week.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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