After months of building hype for its services, Google Fiber is offering high-speed internet to its first Raleigh customers and opening a retail office in the city.
The tech giant is now offering its fiber services to homes in the area around North Hills known as Midtown, mostly along Six Forks Road and the Beltline. In doing so it provides those residents a high-speed alternative to AT&T, which already offers the same speeds for the same price in Raleigh.
As part of the rollout, Google Fiber is opening its regional office in the former 518 West restaurant space at the corner of Jones Street and Glenwood Avenue in downtown Raleigh.
“This will be a place where people can come experience the future of the internet,” said Erik Garr, Google Fiber’s regional manger in the Southeastern United States.
Fiber internet is highly coveted because it’s much faster than other internet service. Google’s moves come about two years after the company announced plans to make Google Fiber available to seven Triangle municipalities – Raleigh, Durham, Morrisville, Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill and Garner.
Raleigh becomes the second area with access to the service behind Morrisville, where the company launched fiber services about four months ago. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said residents ask her about Google Fiber’s plans “all the time.”
“People have multiple family members and multiple devices,” McFarlane said. “Broadband this high speed is the next big important piece of infrastructure along with roads and water and sewer.”
Google Fiber representatives said the company doesn’t provide information to the public about its customers and declined to give an estimate on how many Raleigh residents in the Midtown area will be able to sign up. Residents can enter their address in the company’s website, fiber.google.com/cities/triangle/, to find out if they’re eligible.
Google’s product is likely to be popular around North Hills because it’s an affluent, tech-savvy community, said John Kane, CEO of Kane Realty, which built North Hills.
“A lot of people aren’t happy with the current options,” said Kane, whose company installed Google Fiber in The Dartmouth apartments. “Google coming to the market is a big deal. I can’t wait to get them in my house, I’ll tell you that.”
Google Fiber offers residential customers speeds of 1,000 megabits per second for $70 a month, enabling users to download a high-definition movie in 40 seconds. AT&T, Google Fiber’s biggest competitor, offers the same speed at the same price, while Time Warner Cable offers 300 mbps for about $65 a month.
Google customers can bundle their 1,000 mbps package with television service for $160. The company also offers a slower internet speed of 100 mbps per second for $50 a month, which customers can bundle with TV service for $140 a month.
Garr declined to say how many Morrisville residents have signed up for Google Fiber since September, saying only that the company has been “humbled” by the interest. The company decided to launch first in Morrisville because it’s closest to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, where its main cables are buried.
Google for months has been laying fiber throughout the Triangle. The company decided to connect to Midtown Raleigh next because the fiber network “just came together faster there,” Garr said.
Eligible residents can sign up for service between Wednesday and March 30. Google Fiber limits residents to sign up periods because it makes installation work more efficient and helps the company move on to the next town more swiftly, Garr said.
The Google Fiber office on Glenwood Avenue will open at noon Wednesday, offering a space where Triangle residents can go for their customer service or to try the company’s high-speed internet. The space will be open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
To build anticipation, Google covered the office windows as it renovated the old brick building.
The company replaced carpeted floors with hardwood, dinner tables with modern furniture and wall-mounted photos with television monitors and a large Raleigh-inspired mural. Store visitors can seek help from Google employees who work while sitting on the couches or at two long tables where anyone can plug in their computers to access 1,000 mbps internet.
“Given the number of tech people who live and work around here, we expect lots of folks to come in and try the gig ... and experience the product just by plugging in,” Garr said.
Google Fiber also uncovered some windows that had been bricked up to allow for more natural light, since the company plans to make the space available for community events. Google will host its first event, which will celebrate the start of Black History Month, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday as part of Raleigh’s “First Friday” event throughout downtown.
“We will showcase some artwork from Victor Knight, the Raleigh-based artist who did the mural on our wall,” Garr said.