Tuesday, November 01, 2011

US broadband test beds: exploring 1Gbps possibilities

As I mentioned in my previous post, here is a quick overview of three projects in the USA trialling 1Gbps broadband connectivity for homes and businesses.

The first example is the high-speed optical fiber network developed by EPB offering services to over 100,000 homes and businesses in the metropolitan Chattanooga and surrounding rural areas. From an EPB press release:
"Powered by Alcatel-Lucent’s gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology, Chattanooga’s new network will accommodate speeds of up to 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps), which is more than 200 times faster than the current national download speed average. Every home and business within EPB’s 600 square-mile, nine-county service area will be able to access the network, making it the most comprehensive product of its kind in the United States...EPB, Chattanooga’s municipal electric utility, is using its fiber-to-the-home network as the backbone for its Smart Grid which will provide increased power reliability, greater operational efficiency and more power management tools for the utility’s electric customers. In addition to its Smart Grid functions, the fiber-to-the-home network can also provide communications services to business and residential customers, including very high-speed Internet access, (high-definition) IPTV and phone services."
Important as the "smart grid" functionality described above is, the fibre infrastructure is capable of delivering much more: the 1Gbps broadband service for homes and businesses was launched in September 2010. This from Ars Technica:
“…(EPB) uses the fiber to power its own "smart grid" electrical program, and deploying the program everywhere adds value to the electrical system. But once the fibre's in place, it can be used for TV, Internet, and phone service without digging any new trenches; indeed, even upgrading the entire network to support 1Gbps service was relatively inexpensive, since it only required an electronics upgrade at central locations.”
A refreshing example of joined up thinking. EPB readily admit that takeup of the 1Gbps service is so far limited, it is sanguine about the future potential of the service. From the same Ars Technica Article:
"...(EPB) "hasn't been flooded with calls" for the service, says David Wade, Chief Operating Officer...Indeed, even this may be overstating current demand; only 6 or 7 Chattanooga residents and "several businesses" have ordered the high-end service, which launched with a $350 per month price tag...This doesn't particularly concern Wade. "We knew that the capacity had to be there before people could start creating applications that could utilize the capacity...It's like bringing electricity to the Tennessee Valley" in the early twentieth century, he said. (EPB was founded in 1935.) Before power arrived, there were limited applications for it, but stringing power lines to every home and businesses provided a huge boost to the local economy and spurred all kinds of additional use. Just as with electrification, EPB has decided to run fiber to every home and business, including the third of its customers outside the city, because the benefits of fiber connections don't decline with population density…While few customers buy the 1Gbps tier, many use slower EPB Internet services, but at least the network is ready for the future at relatively minimal cost.”
Customers' use of upload bandwidth is interesting:
"Network speeds are real—if you pay for 30Mbps, you get 30Mbps—and are symmetrical (the same speed in both directions). Chattanooga has also seen surprising use of its upstream connections, even though some question just how much uploading customers want to do. "If you're limiting upstream traffic, you're not going to see upstream traffic," Wade counters.”
In keeping with this spirit of innovation, a competition was recently announced to " to foster the development of gigabit per second Internet applications and business ventures" - more in this EPB press release.

The second example is Google's fibre to the home project in Kansas City, as mentioned on this blog previously here. Following Google's original project announcement in February 2010, it was revealed in March 2011 that Kansas City had been selected as the location for the initiative. The project's homepage is here and there have been some interesting announcements on both the Google Fibre Blog and the Gigabit City website. I was very pleased to see this in one of the sets of FAQs on the Google Fibre Blog:
"Q: What schools will receive free Internet service? Will you include religious and private schools? A: As part of our agreements with Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, Google will connect hundreds of educational and public entities as we build out our network. Each city will determine those locations."
This post suggests things are still at the planning stage, with a view to service launch in early 2012, while this one describes some of the demand stimulation activities being undertaken with local businesses (see here for details of further similar activities). So not much to report as yet, but definitely a project I'll be keeping an eye on.

Finally, the Case Connection Zone, a research project with the goal of bringing 1 Gigabit Internet connectivity to the neighbourhoods surrounding University Circle and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. According to this press release, the project served as a prototype for the Gig.U initiative (another project to watch) described in my previous post. The Case Connection Zone was featured in chapter 7 (research and development) of the US National Broadband Plan, published in March 2010:
"America’s top research universities continue this R&D effort today in their efforts to experiment with very fast 1Gbps networks (gigabit networks). For example, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, with 40 institutional partners, vendors and community organizations, is planning a University Circle Innovation Zone in the economically impoverished area around the university to provide households, schools, libraries and museums with gigabit fiber optic connections. Case Western expects this network to create jobs in the community and spawn software and service development for Smart Grid, health, science and other applications, as well as foster technology, engineering and mathematics education services."
Much more information in this presentation, this blog post and also on YouTube.

These projects offer an interesting insight into the possibilities offered by high speed broadband connections. These words, from the Ars Technica article about EPB's 1Gbps service in Chattanooga, neatly encapsulate the common philosophy and approach that underpins all three of them:
"...build it for the future, not the present, and then encourage people to grow new applications that take advantage of abundance rather than conform to scarcity."
That last bit feels the right way around to me: while we need to be pragmatic about the capabilities of the marketplace and the economic realities of rolling out next generation networks more widely, we also need to create space for innovation, rather than limit our ambitions to the constraints of the present.

1 comment:

  1. There's a fourth project. It might have preceded the other three, so it may be the zeroth project. It's an entrepreneurial effort in Albuquerque called CityLink. http://www.citylinkfiber.com/
    The founder claims he was the first to offer gigabit to the home, and he has the lowest price in the US for gigabit service (69.95 USD I think).

    David Isenberg -- http://isen.com/blog