If anybody doubted there's growing -- perhaps unprecedented -- competition in the business of fiber-optic Internet service to the home, look at what cable giant Comcast announced Thursday.
Comcast said it will offer residential 2 Gbps service, known as Gigabit Pro, to more than 1.5 million customers in Atlanta starting in May. Pricing wasn't announced, but Comcast also disclosed in a blog on its website that it will expand this service to additional areas nationwide, making it available to about 18 million homes by the end of the year.
While Comcast has upped its Internet speeds mostly over coaxial cable (with fiber at the backbone), 13 times in the past 13 years, the Gigabit Pro fiber service puts it in competition with Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower, but at double its rivals' speeds. Comcast's service will be symmetrical, meaning the 2 Gbps speed is both up and down link. Comcast currently offers a fiber-optic service to the home at speeds up to 500 Mbps, but hasn't dislcosed how many customers are on that plan.
Separately, Google Fiber also has expansion plans that include Atlanta, along with three other metro areas. Google has already deployed its service in the Kansas City area, as well as in Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas. In the Provo and Kansas City areas, businesses also get the service.
AT&T GigaPower has also launched in part of the Kansas City metro area and several other cities in Texas and North Carolina. AT&T plans to serve Atlanta as well as 10 other cities.
Verizon recently announced plans to bolster its 100 Gbps fiber-optic network in metro areas, but didn't say where. Some analysts interpreted that move as Verizon's getting ready to support fiber-optic services to the premises of homes and businesses.
Comcast's Gigabit Pro will be sold to any home within close proximity of Comcast's fiber network and will require installation of professional-grade equipment, the company said. The nature and cost of that equipment wasn't described.
Mercien Jenckes, executive vice president for consumer services at Comcast, said the cable provider has spent a decade building a 145,000-mile national fiber backbone. He also said that Comcast is testing DocSIS 3.1, a next-generation 1 Gbps networking technology that Comcast plans to deploy early next next year.
"Over the coming months and years you can expect us to be aggressive, but deliberate, about rolling out gigabit and multi-gig services across the country," Jenckes said in the blog.
Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst, said Comcast's move was expected. While the "vast majority of users will never need this much speed," Kagan said that people working from home will be likely customers.
Cable television services have "crested and are falling, " Kagan added. "Companies like Comcast stay relevant and hot by offering fast Internet connections."
According to its website, Comcast has 22 million cable TV and Internet customers in 39 states. Last year, the company entered a deal to purchase Tim Warner Cable for $45 billion.