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Google Takes on Buffering Issues

May 30, 2014

Google Takes on Buffering Issues

By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer

Google (News - Alert) Fiber, when it first emerged to the delight of folks in Kansas City, Kansas, was regarded as a game changer in its field, a way to potentially break the various local monopolies held by cable companies around the United States and give everyone a shot at high-speed Internet access regardless of location. But Google Fiber isn't perfect, and that's a point that was recently driven home by some buffering issues that cropped up. A new report from eWEEK showed just what kind of fight Google was waging against the troubles plaguing its fiber network.

Google Fiber's director of network engineering, Jeffrey Burgan, ran down some of the key points of what was going on with Google Fiber, and how the company was working to face down these issues and make the service as potent as its speed ratings would suggest. Burgan noted that the various packets involved in Internet traffic often have to travel down several networks in order to reach the end user, so there can be slowdowns at points not necessarily related to Google Fiber. But Google, meanwhile, has specifically designed its network to make those slowdowns minimal.

Still, that can result in some slowdown in traffic rates that really aren't related so much to Google as to everyone else. To help minimize that, however, Google works with some content providers to essentially shrink the distance between Google Fiber and the content providers' networks. For instance, Google reportedly works with YouTube—not surprising given Google's hand in YouTube—as well as Netflix and Akamai (News - Alert) to help drop the distance between networks. This isn't, however, traffic prioritization, just traffic improvement. It's almost like Google worked with Netflix and the rest to build a store closer to the apartment complex that is Google Fiber.

Google also uses “peering”, a practice that allows content providers to hook up directly to the Google network in a bid to get traffic to the end user faster. Essentially, with peering and the like, Google offers up some floor space in Google Fiber facilities so that content providers and the like can actually put the equipment necessary right inside a Google Fiber building, hooking up to the network that much faster and dropping the “distance”, so to speak, that the traffic needs to cross.

While some might say that this is just a violation of net neutrality principles in a roundabout fashion—the effect is largely the same in prioritizing traffic as it is offering floor space to certain companies to reduce the transmission distance—as long as Google can offer up that kind of service to all the content providers who are interested, then to not take advantage of Google's offer is just self-destructive, not a violation of principles. Indeed, it's really enough to make one wonder why more companies aren't doing this. Sure, some might say, there's a problem in getting smaller providers sufficiently in contact with places like Google to co-locate hardware, but how much of a problem do smaller video content providers have with buffering video?

It would seem, indeed, to be one of those situations where everyone comes out ahead. Google Fiber gets a better reputation for providing quality video, video providers get to provide a better product and move ahead of the competition, and there's still room for smaller, niche players to get in on the action. Google Fiber may well ultimately prove to be a game-changer in Internet service provision, but it will take some time to get it fully running.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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