2011/05/27

Google Gigabit Overview

Google announced in February 2010 their plan to "build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States," with the goal to "offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people."

Google invited communities and individuals to nominate their city for consideration with a March 26, 2010 submission deadline. Over 1100 cities requested that Google consider them for selection as a location to install gigabit internet access. The selection criteria were that Google wanted a community where they could:

  1. Build efficiently.
  2. Make a positive impact on the community.
  3. Develop relationships with local government and community organizations.

After a year of suspense, on March 30, 2011, Google announced their first ultra high-speed broadband network would be built in Kansas City, Kansas (KCK). The announcement caused great rejoicing in KCK and much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the other 1100 communities.

Now that we know where the first Google Gigabit rollout will happen, a plethora of follow-on questions come to mind.
  1. How much will gigabit internet access cost (and will it be symmetric)? Will the greatly reduced speed of 100 Mbps be available for a mere pittance?
  2. When will gigabit access be generally available in KCK? It will take time to string fiber, and the roll-out will likely happen in stages, but how long will it take until a large percentage of the 140,000+ residents of KCK have 1 Gbps available to them?
  3. What kind of an economic boost will gigabit access bring to KCK? It seems to be a generally accepted concept that high-speed internet access enables or accelerates many types of businesses, but because community-wide gigabit networks are not the norm, how long will it take to realize economic benefits that are clearly a result of Google's ultra high-speed broadband experiment?
  4. What cool new services, products, businesses and 'killer apps' will Google Gigabit bring? KCK will no doubt see an influx of new businesses and an expansion of existing businesses. Initially, that activity will be similar to what's been seen in a few other areas that have already rolled out gigabit access, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee. But the truly cool, amazing and genuinely intriguing stuff that emerges from the Google Gigabit KCK ecosystem can not be listed in this post because they haven't been developed, or maybe even thought of, yet. The coolest thing about gigabit access in KCK is the opportunity for innovation that Google is unleashing in this Midwestern community!
In terms of 'conventional' businesses, there are identified products and services which can take advantage of gigabit access, such as film post-production and online data storage/backup. An interesting use suggested by a fellow DHMN member is a 'thin client' hosted service for real-time collaborative high-quality graphic design. As Google says, the same way "the jump from dial-up to broadband has led to streaming online video, digital music sales, video conferencing over the web and countless other innovations that have transformed communication and commerce," Google expects that "new products and services will emerge as Kansas City moves from traditional broadband to ultra high-speed fiber optic connections."

One thing to keep in mind regarding the Google Gigabit experiment is that the majority of the internet will still not have gigabit access. This means a resident of KCK with an internet connection on steroids will be dealing with slowwwwww (known in the rest of the USA as normal) speeds which are 50 to 100's of times slower than a gigabit when connecting to their friend in Appleton, Wisconsin and most other parts of America. And the KCK resident's experience will still be throttled by other bottlenecks in the global 'internet' system, such as overloaded servers which are hosting a particular website, ISP bandwidth throttling, slower speeds on mobile devices, etc. Living in the land of uber-fast internet therefore presents these opportunities:
  1. Development of a user-friendly set of network performance monitoring tools that tell KCK residents (and others globally with ultra high-speed broadband) why their connection seems slow.
  2. Building or using awesome innovations for leveraging gigabit in community-wide applications, such as local gaming (interactive, augmented reality, etc) and increased telecommuting and telecollaboration for KCK companies because employees will now have network access at home that is as fast as the onsite company network.
  3. Building more extensive global connections to people and organizations which also have ultra high-speed access, such as those on Internet2 and in countries or regions with pervasive FTTH (fiber to the home) like parts of Scandinavia and 'wired' countries such as South Korea.
The next couple years will be exciting times for people in KCK who want to be involved in blazing fast internet speed, for the Google Gigabit team and for tech enthusiasts everywhere who are cheering for this experiment to be a resounding success.

Minnie Ingersoll from the Alternative Access team at Google said, "One of the things we learned from municipal Wi-Fi is we need to have an engaged, excited community." It will be interesting to see how Google and KCK work together to create that "engaged, excited community" which will ensure a successful gigabit experiment for Google!

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