Don’t wait for the killer app for gigabit networks. The speed is the app. That’s the lesson several businesses and entrepreneurs living in gigabit cities can teach us.
In 2001, a decade ahead of the pack, Springfield, Missouri’s public utility offered a gigabit service over its Springnet fiber network. Very few people knew what a gig was, let alone worried about the lack of gig applications. But the local hospital right away understood that the true app was the speed of the connection, according to Springnet’s Manager of Network Architecture/Support Todd Christell.
The hospital relocated its radiology department to a central location in town, and used the gig connection to enable the main facility, the ER, the clinics and other locations to send their x-rays to the radiologists. “The revolutionary aspect was that we gave them a way to grow their business by integrating the capabilities of our network, which became an extension of their local area network,” states Christell. Regardless of how remote they were, from day one personnel could access and manipulate data as fast as if they were sitting next to the server. This immediate benefit justified the hospital’s investment.
Christell believes few people fully understand what a gigabit is and the value it delivers. Thus the Springnet staff must educate customers on how to maximize and find new uses for the speed they order, which for many businesses is around 40 Mbps symmetrical.
“For us, the speed is the app,” says Concordia Bank Senior VP Corey Hall. Headquartered in Concordia, Missouri, they were one of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative’s first gig customers in 2012. “We have four locations and each had a server and software to manage, maintain and upgrade. We quickly cut back to one server, which saved costs for hardware and software, plus the speed opens endless possibilities to do new things with technology we already have.”
The “next big thing” in gigabit apps
According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, over over 40 communities have gigabit networks. Christell sees potential for immediate and limitless benefits in cities that bring new gig networks online and create direct links to existing gigabit networks. Existing gig cities can directly connect with each other to expand the benefits they are already receiving.
At a Kansas City broadband conference Kansas City Startup Village and Chattanooga’s GIGTANK (both dedicated to creating new entrepreneurs) lamented not being able to maximize their gig networks for joint software development, because the connection between cities was so slow. His curiosity piqued by these comments, Christell researched Springnet’s data traffic and discovered their data could bounce around for literally 1,000 miles around the U.S. before ending up at Kansas City — a destination 200 miles away. This convoluted routing of data causes the type of delays and expenses hampering the Kansas City and Chattanooga folks were lamenting.
The logical resolution to eliminate the delay was a direct link between cities. One of Springnet’s redundant backups is a leased fiber line that runs to the same carrier hotel that Google uses in Kansas City. Springnet now connects to Google fiber at the hotel. Similar to Hall at Concordia Bank, Christell believes this direct-city link offers endless possibilities given projects he’s observed that connect gig networks to other cities.
A gig can make collaborative gigs possible
Legendary musician and Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett performed a duet from a studio in Los Angeles with BR549 founder Chuck Mead on stage 2,100 miles away in Chattanooga using a direct gig connection. There was only a 67-millisecond delay between musicians. “Imagine being able to perform a critical operation with an expert team of surgeons assisting via video from connected gig cities,” says Danna Baily, VP of Corporate Communications for EPB, which operates Chattanooga’s gig network. “Or having several gig cities direct-connecting their smart grids for real-time energy management across a region?”
Mike Bradshaw, executive director of CO.LAB, which owns GIGTANK, is directing a project linking Chattanooga’s network directly with the gig network at the University of Texas in Dallas for 3D manufacturing. “The need to constantly exchange massive amounts of data between 3D printers while building complex products requires the huge network capacity plus near-zero latency that you get with direct gig connections. The manufacturing benefits of this project is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible once more of these direct connections are in place.”
Christell feels that finding a way to create these direct connections between gig cities requires a lot of legwork. You have to find people in remote cities who feel it’s in their interest to connect. Then explore connectivity options between the cities. “The usual big national provides may not be the best options, so be willing to find alternative ways such as leasing fiber from private companies, universities, etc.,” Christell says. The bottom line is, don’t wait for “that one app” to justify moving forward with gig networks. Give people speed and turn them loose. They’ll find their own killer apps to justify the investment.
Craig Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies, host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation and a broadband industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter (@cjsettles) or via his blog.