Where's my gigabit Internet, anyway?

For Americans used to roughly 10Mbps broadband connections, the idea of gigabit Internet can feel a little like science fiction. Streaming 4K video without hiccups? Enormous file downloads happening in seconds? Oh, sure.

And while you might think businesses would be eyeing very-high-speed residential Internet connections as a boon to a workforce that increasingly prefers to work at home, the truth is that it's not that big a deal, at this point.

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Matt Davis, an analyst at IDC, said that a gigabit connection is overkill for the tasks most home-based workers in the U.S. perform."Unless you're doing medical imaging, or you have to run extraordinarily high-quality telepresence like video conferencing sessions or something like that, you're not going to need anywhere near a gig," he said.

Of course, bandwidth needs will still grow in the near future, according to Davis. And the current quality of some home connections can be a problem.

"I think the problem with the work-from-home crowd is that a significant percentage of them are in areas that get less than five megs or something like that," he said. "I would say that the upstream issues will loom a little bit larger, as people tend to want to upload files to the cloud, and as they become more dependent on real-time cloud applications."

All this is not to say that gigabit connectivity won't eventually reach us there is even a small but growing group of Americans for whom it's already here. Municipalities from Texas to Minnesota, and from Vermont to Nevada, are all seeing gigabit providers sprout up like fibrous little buds.

Those, however, are mostly either local governments offering services only to their residents, or limited promotional deployments from companies like CenturyLink and CSpire. Google Fiber and, as of this week, AT&T are the only major national players with active plans for gigabit residential services. Google Fiber is currently available in Kansas City, with plans afoot for Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah, and more expansion in the works. AT&T announced that it will offer gigabit service to the Triangle area of North Carolina.

But those two may be it for the general public's foreseeable future, as no other major U.S. ISPs are planning home gigabit service.Time Warner Cable confirmed that it's working on advanced technologies in its R&D labs that will eventually provide gigabit speeds and beyond, but doesn't currently offer more than 300Mbps anywhere on its network for residential customers.

Time Warner Cable confirmed that it's working on advanced technologies in its R&D labs that will eventually provide gigabit speeds and beyond, but doesn't currently offer more than 300Mbps anywhere on its network for residential customers.

A spokesman highlighted that there are likely multiple issues contributing to the lack of general gigabit availability.

"There [are] major capital costs involved in upgrading broadband networks," he said in an email to Network World, noting also that many present-day wireless routers can't make use of a gigabit's worth of bandwidth.

A spokesperson for Comcast said that while the nation's biggest residential ISP will continually increase speeds for residential customers, there are no immediate plans for gigabit Internet. The current top speed is 505Mbps, which is only available in select areas.Like most of the ISPs mentioned in this article, Comcast has business offerings that meet and exceed the gigabit barrier.

So does Verizon, whose FiOS service is the most widespread fiber-to-the-home offering in the U.S. Even with fiber-optic technology, however, Big Red doesn't have gigabit residential service.

"Fiber networks deliver the optimum broadband and TV experience for consumers," said spokesman Bill Kula. "Google's use of fiber, now in a few markets, validates the decision we made 10 years ago to build a powerful all-fiber network to meet the communication needs of consumers today, and years to come."

But if you want gigabit speeds, you'll still have to look elsewhere.

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

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