The Gigabit Wars entered a new phase this week, with word that Cox Communications is now also planning to bring gigabit-speed Net connections to its consumer customers by the end of this year. The move challenges similar plans by Google and AT&T.

Pat Esser, president and chief executive officer of Cox, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday about his company's plans. He pointed out that Cox has delivered gigabit broadband to commercial customers "for years." Cox is the third-largest cable company in the U.S., with about 6 million residential and business Relevant Products/Services customers in the U.S.

He added that the company is "working out our road map now for the residential side of the business, to bring gigabit speeds to our customers, this year." Esser said that this has "always been part of our road map," and that, since other companies were "making a lot of noise," it was time for him to start speaking out about Cox's plans. It's not yet clear, however, how Cox intends to actually deploy Relevant Products/Services the capacity -- whether through fiber to the curb or to the home, for instance.

Google, AT&T

Those other companies to which he is referring are Google and AT&T. Last week, AT&T announced an expanded rollout for its service, with speeds up to 1 gigabit a second. Their new schedule includes as many as 100 cities and towns, including Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

AT&T intends to start deployment of the high-speed service to at least some of the new rollout areas by the end of this year. Many of those markets already have fiber to the curb, with copper cable for the final leg to the home or business, through the company's AT&T U-verse service for Net and television. The company said it intends to lay new fiber to the curb, but also to replace the copper, creating all-fiber networks as Google has been doing.

Google has been conducting a smaller rollout of gigabit-speed fiber-based Net service in Austin, Texas, and Kansas City, Kansas, among other locations. Google, which has said it expects to dramatically expand its rollout sometime this year, and AT&T also appear to be going head-to-head in several markets. AT&T, for instance, is now targeting Kansas City, where Google is, and is considering putting fiber in Nashville, which Google is also considering.

More Wi-Fi Hotspots?

Both AT&T and Google have been pushing public Wi-Fi hotspots, an added value for the cities that also increases the respective companies' footprint. No word yet on whether Cox also intends to expand its commitment to high-speed public Wi-Fi.

Many of AT&T's targeted areas are also covered by competitors Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Their $45 billion pending merger is a big incentive for AT&T to get its areas wired, and customers settled, before the new giant fully gears up. AT&T executives have told investors as much.