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Summary:

Google plans to launch a fiber network in Kansas City with the goal of seeing what people there can do with a gigabit connection. But as one city that already has a gigabit network can tell you, the answer so far may be, “Not much.”

New tech to cram more bits in your hertz.

Is tech company incubator Lamp Post grooming the next Facebook?

Google plans to launch its fiber to the home network in Kansas City on Thursday with the goal of seeing what people there can do with a gigabit connection. But as one city that already has a gigabit network can tell you, the answer so far may be, “Not much.”

For the last two years, Chattanooga, Tenn.’s public utility (EPB) has offered customers a gigabit fiber-to-the-home connection costing roughly $300 a month, so I touched base with a group of investors and entrepreneurs who have built a program to try to see what people can do with that fast a connection. So far, the limits of equipment, the lack of other gigabit networks (much of the Internet is reciprocal so it’s no fun if you have the speeds to send a holographic image of yourself but no one on the other end can receive it) and the small number of experiments on the network have left the founders of the Lamp Post Group underwhelmed.

This was the first year that Jack Studer, a partner with the Lamp Post Group, a tech incubator in Chattanooga, and Brian Trautschold, a cofounder at Akimbo, opened their doors to two groups of people from outside the city excited by the prospect of a gigabit connection. The two welcomed a group of 21 entrepreneurs on May 14 and a group of 11 students on June 11 into the incubator. The aim was to get both groups thinking about gigabit applications and opportunities. While Studer was reluctant to out the business plans developed by the entrepreneurs ahead of the upcoming demo day (August 9, for those who want to check it out), he shared some of the things the students were developing. They include:

  • Instant universal translation
  • Facial recognition in real time at a point of sale or security point
  • A better, easier to use electricity systems for the home that incorporates the smart grid as well as device management for consumers
  • Workstation apps as a service, such as delivering Photoshop or other CPU-intensive applications via the cloud

Many of these are interesting, but as most people are probably thinking, none of them look like the killer app for a gigabit network. And Studer is well aware of this. He said that so far he’s happy with the program, but he does wish it could see more people participate and produce bigger ideas that really take advantage of the network. In our conversation he explained what needs work.

More brains, more people: This is the first year of the program, and Studer explains that the 30 people who are in the program so far aren’t really enough to generate the kind of creative firepower to remake the world with a gigabit in mind. “We have 30 people, but we need 200 to 300,” Studer said. He also said it was challenging to get mentors to come from outside Chattanooga, especially people from tech hubs, to discuss ideas and influence the people. He said the program has had some good people, but not the quantity he had hoped for.

Better equipment: Another problem with delivering a gigabit is that most computers can’t handle the speeds. “We have bought a lot of SSDs this summer,” quipped Studer, because hard drives aren’t fast enough to store the bits coming in via a gigabit pipe. Think of it like trying to fill a paper cup from a fire hose.

More gigabit users out in the rest of the world: The other challenge, which Studer and I had discussed prior to beginning the program, was a lack of gigabit connections elsewhere in the country. Prior to bringing in entrepreneurs and students he was looking for someone to test out Chattanooga’s network connections and equipment, but it was hard to find people, and some weren’t clear what he was trying to test exactly. And as Google builds its network and other efforts such as the Gig.U university broadband plans come online, this problem may gradually disappear.

New tech to cram more bits in your hertz.

Clearly Google may not have the challenges of finding smart people to play with its network — it’s a company that has plenty of genius employees as well as the clout to bring in engineers and geeks from any other tech firm it wants. It builds its own gear so the technical challenges experienced by Chattanooga may not be as much of an issue for the search giant, but the experience in Chattanooga indicates that the mentality of “If you build it, the gigabit applications will come,” may require both more effort and time than people realize.

Of course, apps and broadband speeds evolve in fits and spurts, so it’s hard to say what will trigger the next killer app or when. All we can say for sure is we won’t get gigabit apps until we have gigabit networks. Until then, we can have fun, filling up those pipes by running concurrent gaming and video streams.

  1. Google is having all kinds of trouble with their searches showing multiple results from the same place. This filling up pages of search results from one place instead of showing relevant results. My point being that Google either has too much brain power or just can’t focus where it needs to, so I don’t see them sticking with something long enough to “not” screw it up. Search is their bread and butter and they still can’t figure that out, so I have little confidence in anything else they do… I totally understand that creating bigger “apps” and such is a problem when the only place you can use it is in house, but then you have people like Verizon and other telcos ripping people off and screaming “Your using too much bandwidth”, so this puts doubts in people’s minds about the value of building things that use lots of bandwidths because of cost. Never mind the telco are now trying to reverse history but selling smaller chunk of bandwidth for more than what unlimited cost. This is a huge deterrent to innovate anything that uses bandwidth more intensely. Sure the Gigabit network is land line based, but the telcos have an influence on innovation as well.

    Google needs to fix their search first, then worry about the other things.

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  2. Google has an interesting opportunity here that this other company does not. Google has the power to tap this gigabit pipe directly into the Google backbone, which means they will be able to deliver all of their services at gigabit speeds. They will be able to use this community to test true video editing on YouTube. True photoshopping on G+ (picasa). New bandwidth intensive features for Google Apps. They can also test free city wide white space internet for Android devices, to test insane mobile speeds.

    Personally I would love to see what G+ Hangouts could do with live streaming HD over this nextwork. I can not wait to see how local news groups will use this.

    To say For the Chattanooga, Tenn.’s public utility (EPB) has tested gigabit is kind of a joke. You can not truly test it at a cost of $300 a month. That is not a consumer price point so it is not a shock that adoption was low. That is like Mercedes saying there was low adoption rates for their SLS-Class AMG. A $190,000 car. Well of course there will be low adoption for anything you price out of the high adoption range.

    The main thing I am interested in seeing is the true cost to build this network out. I am hoping to see the telcos each their words, seeing as how “high cost of build out” has been such a big reason for screwing people over.

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  3. alexwebmaster1 Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    This is very exiting! Looking forward for the google fiber project to expand to Texas!

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  4. Stacey, Not sure “not much” is an accurate description of what’s happening in Chattanooga. A couple of major examples of gigabit uses include EPB’s Smart Grid (http://www.smartgrid.gov/recovery_act/news/chattanooga_small_city_smarter_grid ) that is already proving to be a fairly significant application by reducing power outages to thousands of their customers during bad storms and tornadoes. Dr. Jim Busch, a highly innovative radiologist has a practice where images from 14 hospitals and clinics are read in real time ( http://www.radiologydaily.com/daily/diagnostic-imaging/ultrafast-internet-link-boosts-radiology-group/ ). UTC’s Sim Center is developing a disaster mitigation system application (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRg3RhUGewM ). While it is true that very few of EPB’s customers utilize 1gbps, their minimum offering of 30mbps symmetrical service are causing their customers to see amazing efficiencies in their lives and businesses.

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    1. Ken2 – the experience has been extremely fruitful. Incredibly smart, creative, and hungry people have come to town and been here working all summer (like Toni of Banyan below).

      I think Stacey is really getting at some miracle application hasn’t been developed that will accelerate the adoption of ultra high broadband nation (world) wide.

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  5. Our team, http://getbanyan.co, has been working in Chattanooga for the summer. We have been building our application at the speed of gig.

    EPB has provided whats advertised here, and its available at the price point they say. I would strongly urge any startup looking to build gigabit scale applications to consider working here.

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  6. Faster networks have enabled Google — which furnishes the dollars for Ms. Higginbotham’s paycheck — to intensify spying on its users, via its spyware scripts, Web bugs, and cookies (such as the ones on this page). Therefore, she advocates them. But practical applications that benefit USERS? Nope. The human senses don’t have a gigabit of bandwidth.

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    1. You must think we’re really dumb. You must think we didn’t hear you say “Google furnishes the dollars for Ms. Higginbotham’s paycheck” the first 5,000 times you said it.

      You’re the one that’s dumb, Brett Glass. Either that or YOU’RE the one who’s being paid by somebody. Enjoy being a jackass much?

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      1. This was not a useful response. I did not know of the author’s relationship with Google. Thank you, Brett, for pointing it out.

        $300/mo for Internet is also not useful.

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  7. You can’t fault EPB and Chattanooga for 1 Gbps costing $300/month. The US is far behind other developed nations in access, speed, and price — see the New America Foundation’s report at http://oti.newamerica.net/publications/policy/the_cost_of_connectivity , which includes Chattanooga and Bristol, VA among the worldwide cities examined. It just costs more to do it on these shores.

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    1. You couldn’t fault them if they charged much more than that. My company pays $12,000 per month for a 1 GBps connection, and it is a bargain for our area. The bandwidth is just not available for less.

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  8. gigabit networks won’t have to worry about using too much bandwidth, so the budding entrepreneurs will blossom, and new apps invented, and new uses for the internet found. We are building our own gigabit network in the uk and are looking to Kansas for another sister network to talk to when it kicks off tomorrow, and if anyone wants to game with us from Chattanooga we’re up for it… another two weeks or so and we should be live at B4RN. Keep the faith people, this is the future…
    … free from the throttling and capping of the old phone lines. Fibre to the Home.

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  9. There is plenty going on in Chattanooga. As a whole the community is aligned to prosper ahead of others. I look forward to a healthy competition between Kansas City and Chatt. http://www.Friendeo.com moved to Chattanooga to see how gig would impact personal entertainment. There are real infrastructure requirements to enable personal entertainment and Friendeo is building it with the help of the gig network and its leaders.

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  10. Jason Russell Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    I work at UTOPIA in Utah and we made a 1-gig residential service available last month. This isn’t a “killer app,” but it’s real-world application that shows the benefit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smBX_6STML4

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  11. Killer app = pirate ALL the movies!

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  12. I felt like I was reading about a different competition than the one I’m taking part in. This gig is awesome. The energy and interest is high. I’m pumped up about it.

    I’m lucky enough to be the captain of a team that uses the gig in their app, and while it may take a while to develop fully, it will be killer when it does.

    Be careful if you allow yourself a knowing chuckle about businesses built around ultra-capacity. We’re excited its here and one day it will be everywhere. I’ve paid my dues in Northern California and Boston – I like it here, and I’m so glad Chattanooga is doing this.

    Mike B

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  13. @Tim, Rich’s response was valid and warranted. Brett Glass is an anti-Google troll that posts an anti-Google/anti-Stacey comment almost every time she writes about something even remotely related to Google. I think he works for Microsoft or Apple, or possibly some media company jealous of Google’s profits, or got fired from Google.

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  14. Jack Studer Friday, July 27, 2012

    It should be clarified that Lamp Post is only hosting the student portion of the GigTank. The entrepreneurs program is being run by colab.is

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