In early June, Mozilla, probably best known for its adorable vulpine mascot from the Firefox web browser, came to town to talk about the virtues of high-speed gigabit Internet connectivity and what can be done with it.

In addition being a longtime leader in the free and open web movement, Mozilla’s foundation has recently been connecting tech enthusiasts, digital literacy advocates, and other leaders through its Hive Learning Networks and gigabit city-based programs in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; Lafayette, La.; Eugene, Ore. and Kansas City, Mo.

The Hive’s neighborly outreach, plus the recent arrival of gigabit broadband Internet service to Charlotte, is what brought Mozilla our way. Google Fiber Charlotte and NC Hearts Gigabit, an outgrowth of Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, were pleased to host a small gathering for the half-day workshop. 

Kicking things off in the Google Fiber event space in uptown, the workshop got an appropriately techie start by first defining gigabit. So, what is that, exactly? Well, giga is derived from the Greek word for giant, and, yes, it’s pretty big.  A gigabit is a thousand megabits, which is a thousand kilobits, which is a thousand bits. 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 equals a gigabit, one billion bits per second.  (Bit, by the way, is a basic unit of information, and generally refers to speed of upload or download in bits per second.  Byte, meanwhile, generally refers to storage capacity – the quantity of data.)

Open Broadband's Kent Winrich and Alan Fitzpatrick demonstrate buffering at the Gigabit 101 Workshop.

Open Broadband's Kent Winrich and Alan Fitzpatrick demonstrate buffering at the Gigabit 101 Workshop.

So, while gigabit bandwidth is fast, it’s also capable of accommodating a large volume of data, which means the transfer of data is pretty seamless.  No dreaded buffering or blocking like that depicted in the picture to the right).

You (and many people working or playing around you) can do a lot of stuff, fast and reliably, on the Internet with a gig.

Mozilla’s facilitators led the group through a series of activities designed to visualize the possibilities of a world at high speed.  They asked the group to rate their awareness of various gigabit-related topics like 4K video and the Internet of Things. They dazzled by showcasing gigabit-enabled success stories from Chattanooga and Kansas City, where next-generation applications being built there are making possible everything from scientific research to artistic collaboration.  The power of gigabit, it turns out, is both terrifically abstract and enticingly within reach.

After tantalizing and demystifying, the conversation turned pragmatic: sorting out what is working in the Charlotte region when it comes to using technology to meet community needs – and what isn’t. The event participants, ranging from digital inclusion and workforce developments advocates to smart city wonks and civic techies, each had a stake in the conversation.  And they arrived to the meeting already sharing a common understanding that digital networks hold the power to enable more and better outcomes for the communities they serve.

Yet the workshop also offered a welcome opportunity to challenge pre-conceived expectations.  Namely, that while the digital revolution has long promised straightforwardly positive advancements in economic development-- new jobs created from technological innovation, the decentralization of work to anywhere with an Internet connection – the reality is, it’s been a bit more complicated in the execution. 

Moreover, the arrival of gigabit fiber Internet service to the home, scarcely a teenage phenomenon in the fast-moving tech world, has made it seem that – as regions, as cities, as communities -- we’re still far from turning the ideal into the real.  The upshot, fortunately, is that there are ways to get there – at least when Mozilla is your tour guide.

Christa Wagner Vinson presents the NC Hearts Gigabit story

Christa Wagner Vinson presents the NC Hearts Gigabit story

As Charlotte powers forward with its own gigabit networks, we hope the region will continue to work hard to find solutions for the complexities the Internet Age throws at us. This will mean helping people get jobs wherever they are, and with the skills they already have, using digital platforms; innovating the new financial products that can support broadband expansion, as well as mobile financial services that meet the needs of underserved groups; helping small business deploy technology strategies that make them more productive and competitive; and helping our region win the race for the jobs produced by Industry 4.0 so that we’re talking about up-skilling rather than job killing.

Sure, there’s a lot about the world of gigabit that is whizbang and gee-whiz (witness: augmented reality).  And that stuff is pretty marvelous.  But, in the end, for community and economic developers and those we serve, the real opportunity is discovering what we actually want out of technology -- after all, merely a tool -- and how to get it. From application development to community development, and everything in between, we have a lot of work to do. 

And, hey, if you’re reading this blog, you are an agent in that change. Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, and its new offshoot, NC Hearts Gigabit, a project of CLIC-NC, look forward to continuing the buzz around the enormous opportunity of the gigabit. 

Who knows, we got the Hornets back, maybe we can be a Mozilla Hive City one day, too.

Alan and Christa, along with Catharine Rice, and Deb Watts, are the founding members of NC Hearts Gigabit. Follow us on Twitter here: @NCHeartsGb

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The following is a guest post by Christa Wagner Vinson and Deborah Watts

Christa Wagner Vinson is an economic developer and Principal at Wagner Vinson Consulting.  Deborah Watts is a Partner with Broadband Catalysts, a technology policy consultancy.  Previously, she was Owner and Principal Partner of the Technology Development Group.

Co-working spaces, business incubators, technology and innovation centers, accelerators for entrepreneurs.  No matter what you call them, says Business North Carolina’s September issue, organizations offering services like these are helping revive the state’s economy.

Some are strictly shared work environments.  Others are offering financial or technical services to early-stage businesses.  The trend of co-locating independent workers has definitely caught on in North Carolina’s largest cities, inspired in part by industry leader WeWork and smaller franchises that have mushroomed around the country in recent years.

What’s become a new way to work in our state’s metro areas is also beginning to get off the ground on Main Streets and in smaller towns.  The recently announced GIGworks in Belmont, in Gaston County, and the Coworking Station in Holly Springs, outside of Raleigh, are examples.

As we think about ways to support business creation and growth, however, there are a few things we hope entrepreneurs, co-workers and small business owners of all types (and the communities that support them) will consider.  

1. Partnership: Building an Innovation Ecosystem is a Public-Private Partnership

We have 40-plus years of combined experience in economic development statewide and in the Research Triangle in particular. As practitioners, we appreciate the success of the Research Triangle Park as one of the world’s most famous technology development intermediaries.  But we acknowledge that its design exemplifies the now-outdated idea that innovation is best nurtured in isolated labs and in cloistered, park-like environments. 

Time passes and models change.  It’s now abundantly evident that partnership -- not isolation-- is the emerging prototype for success.  Innovation is, in fact, more likely to emerge at the intersection of disciplines, technologies and markets.  RTP has begun to write its next chapter, informed by a strategy to encourage the cross-pollination of ideas.

How does this apply to the comparatively recent efforts to spur new business growth in technology and other industries elsewhere in the state? Critical partnerships underscore the efforts underway across North Carolina.

Across the state, phoenix-like efforts are giving rise to creative enterprises that will become economic engines from the remnants of yesterday’s textile and furniture plants and tobacco warehouses.

The GIGworks innovation and coworking space is being built in Belmont, NC. Photo credit - Terry Cox, Executive Director of GIGworks.

The GIGworks innovation and coworking space is being built in Belmont, NC. Photo credit - Terry Cox, Executive Director of GIGworks.

In Belmont, the arrival of a brewery-restaurant as the first tenant in a Main Street redevelopment site can only mean beer-loving micro-entrepreneurs are not far behind.  Gaston County is increasing its focus on startups, an effort anchored by an ultra-fast internet-supported incubator in downtown Belmont currently known as GIGworks.  According to a recent newsletter, GIGworks will be a collaborative public-private project that supports entrepreneurs from launch to scale.

Coworking Station in Holly Springs, NC. Photo credit - Kathryn Trogdon of The News & Observer.

Coworking Station in Holly Springs, NC. Photo credit - Kathryn Trogdon of The News & Observer.

In southwestern Wake County, Holly Springs is working to leverage its proximity to the Research Triangle, and recent completion of a town-funded fiber optic network, to attract footloose workers (and innovators). A linchpin in this strategy was to repurpose the town’s oldest commercial building, originally built as a train station in the 1890s, into the Coworking Station.  It will provide a collaborative workspace for people in all fields to lease.

The amenities typically associated with the co-working movement -- bottomless coffee pots, ping-pong tables and, of course, beer -- will bring tenants in the door.  But it is the human resource capacity of communities that get them launched.  Sustaining the effort and positioning it to make a community competitive requires ongoing and meaningful efforts to knit together public and private assets to take the best strategic advantage of what’s locally available – and to create vibrant futures.    

2. Policy: A State Broadband Plan that Goes Further, Faster

Such business incubation efforts will be boosted by strategic alignments.  They will also be bettered by the right tools (namely digital infrastructure). Main Street businesses need high-speed Internet to scale.  High-tech businesses depend on high-speed Internet to innovate (even from the cloud).

The release of the state’s first broadband plan in June 2016 was an important acknowledgement that the new toolkit of economic development requires high-speed Internet.  The plan also acknowledged that, due to North Carolina’s particular geography and settlement patterns, ubiquitous broadband is a challenging goal.  Communities will have to lead from within to get to the broadband deployment they need.

Some communities will have more and better choices.  Other places will need to organize their business community to concentrate demand and show providers they are willing and able partners. North Carolina’s Office of Broadband Infrastructure provides assistance for conducting such demand aggregation efforts.

Beyond geography and the state’s rural-urban profile, there are other challenges to broadband being all it can be for economic development. House Bill 129, enacted in 2011 by the NC General Assembly, is seen by many as burdening the capacity of local governments to broadly deliver broadband. In too many underserved communities, the promise of locally-driven efforts to spark entrepreneurship could very well depend on thoughtful reconsideration of this restrictive law. We need to get the policy right in North Carolina.  

3. People > Pipes: Infrastructure Isn’t Everything

And then, there’s people. One of economic development’s maxims is that a region’s assets are only as good as the ability to harness them.  Kansas City, Chattanooga and Cleveland are each undergoing a digitally-led revitalization effort.  They are funding innovation districts and becoming ground zero for attracting global innovators that require ultra-high-speed computing environments, such as the companies recruited to Chattanooga’s Gigtank.

Coordination and collaboration are hallmarks of their approach.  Here’s how the three communities are harnessing their assets, as presented at the Smart City Innovation Summit one of us attended this summer.

·      A coordinating body spearheads with the support of political leadership and technologists

·      Projects are place-based and depend on, as well as encourage, densification

·      Leadership acknowledges that the value of the local digital infrastructure assets will take time to become relevant (but it’s better to muddle through than not to have them)

·      Each community abides in the belief that leveraging digital infrastructure will create a “new template for regionalism”

If there’s one thing that the innovation hub, tech center, or co-working-with-benefits efforts indicate: it’s smart to spark growth from within.  At the same time, let’s not be so internally focused that we lose sight of the value-add of working collaboratively. For smaller communities in particular -- that often lack the scale to take on state policy revisions independently or the population to support large co-working facilities -- collaboration beyond the borders may be the fastest and most sustainable route to success.

Thank you to Christa and Deborah for this guest post! For more information on the two innovation and coworking centers mentioned in this article, see the announcement of GIGworks, and the announcement of Coworking Station

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Charlotte has a tremendous opportunity to leverage our technology infrastructure and become one of the world’s leading Smart Cities. You can read about the City of Charlotte’s initial plan in this 2016 report Beyond Traffic: Smart City Challenge.

First, a little background: The term “Smart City” refers to the integration of multiple technologies and data sources to manage city assets. The ultimate goal of a Smart City is to improve the quality-of-life for its citizens by increasing the efficiency of the services it provides. Charlotte is part of the national Smart Cities Initiative launched last September to make it easier for cities, Federal agencies, universities, and the private sector to work together to research, develop, deploy, and testbed new technologies that can help make our cities more inhabitable, cleaner, and more equitable.

Charlotte is rich in talent and resources in broadband infrastructure, data science (see 10 Things to Know about Data Analytics in Charlotte), data centers, and IoT. As a result, we are perfectly positioned to benefit from the opportunities Smart City provides.

This article explores what you need to know in the following areas:

  •         Opportunities for our city
  •         Issues and Concerns
  •         Lessons to be Learned

Opportunities for our city:

1.       Smart Energy

a.       Lighting. Smarter use of lighting, particularly use of LEDs, can lower costs. When no people are in the vicinity, lights can be dimmed or turned off. Lights can also blink, and/or change colors when conditions dictate – a traffic accident for example. Some cities are using lower color temperature LED bulbs (low Kelvin) in accordance with American Medical Association guidance.

b.      Envision Charlotte became a national role model for energy savings in an urban environment, and became the role model for Envision America. This Charlotte initiative has reduced uptown energy use by 16 percent since 2011.

c.       Dallas Innovation Alliance and Envision Charlotte announced “For Cities, By Cities,” a new collaboration that will bring cities together from around the globe over the next two years to workshop steps to become smarter, more sustainable, and efficient. Convening in Dallas, Texas in 2017 and Charlotte, North Carolina in 2018, the conferences will feature city officials sharing their perspective with peers about lessons learned regarding what works, what to avoid, how to get started, and how to define success.

d.      Smart Grid is another energy savings project. Through outage detection, disaster recovery processes, support field operations, and smart meters, the city can work around outages and get services restored faster.

2.       Transportation

a.       Multi-model transportation becomes intelligent in a Smart City, with real time location of buses and streetcars. Technology also helps with fleet management, with sensors that measure idle, jackrabbit starts, and the GPS location when using a fuel card.

b.      Smart traffic lights – cameras can detect traffic flow, keeping traffic moving faster, and ideally resulting in fewer accidents.

c.       Did you know Charlotte has over 1500 video cameras deployed across the city? These cameras monitor traffic, provide real-time views of streets, and have license plate readers that alert when they recognize stolen tags. In 2015, the city’s Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) recovered over 300 stolen vehicles through use of this technology. The RTCC primarily focuses on crimes in progress and priority alerts. All the video cameras have pan-tilt-zoom capability, so RTCC officers can follow incidents and relay information and intelligence to officers in the field. For more information, see this 2014 case study on Charlotte’s RTCC.

d.      Smart parking – with sensors embedded in parking spaces, cities can reduce the time drivers take in finding spots. On the enforcement side, cities have an opportunity to raise revenue with fines for cars parked after their expiration time.

3.       Smart Data

a.       Open Data Portals are becoming the norm for a Smart City. This means having a data repository that anyone can access. See Charlotte’s Open Data Portal.

b.      Esri and ICMA sponsored a nice report about Charlotte’s Open Data Portal effort (read the report here.) Kudos to Twyla McDermott, Corporate IT Program Manager, City of Charlotte for spearheading the initiative.

c.       Code for Charlotte, part of the Code for America network, is a nonprofit working to bridge the gap between residents and local government. They use technology, education and advocacy to increase civic engagement in Charlotte. The goal is to make government and community services as simple, effective and easy to use, for everyone. To join the effort, attend one of their free weekly hack nights on Tuesdays at Industry Charlotte – check out the meetup here.

d.      Smart City technology provides the ability to generate new data from sensors. Examples include pollution and pollen levels, which can be made available to citizens who are sensitive to environmental changes.

e.      Open data also means the ability for citizens to report issues. Services can be improved, and authorities can respond faster to issues.

f.        Running data analytics on open data can yield insights on improvement opportunities. Stratifyd is a successful Charlotte based data analytics company, and this blog post demonstrates how anyone can quickly and easily use their platform to analyze and visualize the data. They have a 14-day free trial, so feel free to try it.

g.       Open data also has business use. Imagine a restaurateur deciding where to locate a new restaurant. Using traffic data from a Smart City data portal one can pinpoint good restaurant locations that have high volumes of traffic at specific times on specific days.

h.      The City of Charlotte and UNCC are part of the MetroLab Network, a Lab focused on the intersection of big data and human services. The Network’s mission is to pair university researchers with city policymakers to undertake research, development, and deployment projects that improve our infrastructure, public services, and environmental sustainability. 

4.       Smart Infrastructure

a.       Smart City infrastructure captures high volumes of data, but converting raw data into information is the key to improving services. This is where data analytics comes into play, providing insights into the big data to determine the critical few items of concern.

b.      Sensors can detect lead content in water, and measure it in real time.

c.       Sensors can measure the water level in streams, in real time. Smart Cities have the ability to associate flood conditions to traffic lights and lighting systems, alerting citizens of issues and directly them safely away.

d.      InfoSense is a Charlotte startup success story that implements acoustic technology to detect blockage in sewer lines. The Charlotte Business Journal ranked InfoSense #1 in the 2015 Fast 50. They are a terrific example of Smart City technology improving city services and efficiencies.

e.      Crowd control is another area where Smart Cities can use technology to improve services. When crowds form, access to food and drinks, restrooms, and trash removal are important. Sensors can detect when crowds gather, alerting authorities that a surge in services in needed at a location.

5.       Smart Mobility

a.       For communities to benefit from the Smart City opportunity, data has to be mobile, interoperable, not constrained. The term “open data” describes transparency and availability in source information. In the case of Charlotte, one can pull data in csv format, making it easy to import into Excel or a data analytics program for analysis. Other cities have achieved a high degree of usage of their open data portals. Recently Chattanooga reported over 1.3M views of their portal in the first 9 months of 2016.

b.      Cities need to balance this opportunity against privacy issues. Data anonymization removes personally identifiable information from data sets, so the people whom the data describe remain anonymous.

c.       Charlotte joined Philadelphia and 20 other cities to launch a new initiative focused on ensuring responsible and equitable deployment of smart city technologies. The cities have committed to a common set of guiding principles that emphasize privacy, security, sustainability, resilience, equity and efficiency in their use of these technologies.

6.       IoT Devices

a.       The Internet of Things provide us with reams of data. Integrating this data with social networks is a means of providing proximity information. While typically seen in social apps like Foursquare, proximity data can also be used to point out tourist attractions nearby, or when the next bus is scheduled to stop, or the open and close times of nearby stores.

b.      Sensors and beacons are the IoT devices typically mentioned for Smart City applications. The data collected on the devices needs to be transported to a storage device over a broadband network. In Charlotte, this can be fiber, or wireless connections. Once the data is stored, it can be analyzed for useful insights and real-time alerting.

c.       Charlotte has an active IoT meetup group sponsored by SnapAV, Logical Advantage, and huckster.io. To join click here. Organizers include Dan Thyer, Graham Hardy, Jenn PariseJoe Mullins, Mike Lisankeand Rob Skoon.

d.      Charlotte is collaborating with the larger NC Regional Internet of Things (NCRIoT.org) organization based in Raleigh. Charlotte recently held a RIoT event at UNCC’s uptown campus on August 2, 2016

 

Issues to consider when rolling out Smart City technologies include:

1.       Intellectual Property: Who owns the data collected by the city? Who owns the data reported by citizens? Is all data open and freely available, or is some information restricted?

2.       Security: The opportunities and capabilities listed previously sound great, but what happens if hackers access the system of lighting and traffic signals, or water flow, or smart grids to reroute energy? Could ransomware apply to cities as it does to businesses and individuals?

3.       Privacy of personal information. Data anonymization needs to be part of the design of the Smart City. Deciding where and when to anonymize the data is important, as well as replication of the data for backup purposes.

 

Lessons Learned from other Smart City deployments:

1.       Data deluge. Smart Cities have found that as they deploy technology, the need for larger data storage and bandwidth become evident. When will the data be stored? How long will it be retained? How will data be analyzed? Cities are finding that data is consuming more computing resources, and like the line in the original Jaws movie, “we’re going to need a bigger boat”.

2.       Smart Cities have found the need for strong cross-functional collaboration. All citizens need to have access to information, and cities need to collaborate with businesses and organizations.

3.       Multi-vendor technology will become the norm, making integration key to success.

4.       Much of the Smart City technology is bleeding edge. This is an immature market, with protocols needing to be standardized across vendors. Kansas City is road testing the Internet of Things for Smart City, and you can read about their efforts here.

Charlotte is getting national and international recognition as a Smart City. One such example is this article from GovTech.com.

It is clear that Smart City has many opportunities for Charlotte, but it is still early in the technology life cycle, and there many issues that need to be considered. We don’t know all the answers, but we do know the future of Smart Cities is going to be exciting!

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The following is a guest blog post from Christa Wagner Vinson, Principal at Wagner Vinson Consulting, and Tom Snyder, Executive Director of North Carolina Regional Internet of Things  

Recommended reading for IoT

Gigabit, city-wide networks, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) -- components of the next-generation Internet economy -- will play a significant role in the way metro areas, and the individuals and businesses located there, conduct business in the coming decades.

The innovations that will propel what is being called the fourth industrial revolution represent hundreds of technology providers, thousands of jobs and trillions in investment and opportunity.

These were just some of the themes discussed at Tuesday night’s RIoT, the Regional Internet of Things community first launched in Raleigh that is now traveling the state to convene an ever-larger cohort of tech workers, enthusiasts, companies and investors.

One of Tuesday night’s speakers, Jeff Sural, director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office, discussed the state broadband plan released in June (download here).  It announced North Carolina’s ambitious goal to be the first “gig-state” in the nation, making the case that networking communities from every corner of North Carolina with high-speed Internet is the most important economic development investment we could make as a state.

Here in the greater Charlotte region, lit up by fiber from Salisbury to Gaston County and in between, it is clear that we have all of the ingredients to grow and sustain a thriving “gigabit community.”  Further, the Charlotte metro, together with the 21st century technology infrastructure of Triad and Triangle – and the industries it attracts -- could rival the San Jose / San Francisco corridor in leading the development of new technologies and companies, particularly in IoT.

Product and service application development made possible by gigabit infrastructure will deliver advances across industries, including regionally important sectors like financial services and healthcare. Addressing financial technology -- fintech -- at Tuesday’s event, Queen City FinTech founder Dan Roselli pointed out how IoT will simplify economic transactions and provide data leading to smarter financial decision-making. 

Especially when approached regionally, gigabit infrastructure is an economic development opportunity on many levels, supporting existing businesses as well as the supply chain of that existing industry base targeted by economic developers.

With additional resources, gigabit assets become a tool to attract talent, entrepreneurs and technology companies that will in turn help revolutionize even those industries not typically thought of as “digital.”  Agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals – these industry sectors all have significant presence in North Carolina and will be profoundly impacted by IoT advances.

Community development -- including the important work around digital inclusion going on in greater Charlotte – will be another key ingredient.

A theme echoed by NC RIoT’s closing speaker, Jeff Jackson, state senator from Charlotte’s 37th district, was the idea that digital networks compel geographic and political collaboration, too. Gigabit is a catalyst for collaboration.  Will our region use its new gigabit infrastructure to encourage cross-municipal collaboration as the fullest expression of the networked digital economy we live in now?

* Note: In order to achieve gigabit internet speeds you need to have a computer, modem, and AC wi-fi router that support the speed. We recently purchased a gigabit wif-fi router for less than $100 (TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router) and have been pleased with the results.

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The following is a guest blog post from Jeremy Wanamaker, CEO of Complete Network Support in Charlotte.

The arrival of low-cost Gigabit Internet is going to be a game changer for small and midsized businesses.  Cloud service adoption has been steadily gaining traction over the last few years, but the widespread availability of Gigabit Internet service will kick it into overdrive.  Low quality Internet connections have hampered cloud service adoption because of poor user experience.  Cloud-based email and browser-based SaaS run well over cable or DSL.  However, real time and high-performance applications such as hosted phones and video conferencing often suffer from poor performance when run on a low-end connection.

((* Note: In order to achieve gigabit internet speeds you need to have a computer, modem, and AC wi-fi router that support the speed. We recently purchased a gigabit wif-fi router for less than $100 (TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router) and have been pleased with the results.))

Internet speeds available from Time Warner Cable/Charter in the Charlotte region.

Internet speeds available from Time Warner Cable/Charter in the Charlotte region.

Until recently, small businesses had two options for Internet service.  At the low end of price and quality are cable and DSL.  Typically costing less than $500 per month for Internet and phone service, these circuits provide adequate bandwidth for email, web surfing, downloading software, and streaming audio.  These low-cost connections do not include service-level-agreements (SLAs) or guaranteed bandwidth.  They share total bandwidth across multiple addresses, and are susceptible to weather-related service degradation and outages.  Some low-end services offer high download speeds (in Charlotte up to 300Mbps with Time Warner Cable - see chart below), but offer relatively slow upload speeds.  Cable and DSL customers often find the advertised speed is not the observed speed. 

Megabits per second in telecom can be compared with megapixels in digital cameras.  More is not always better.  Just like a high-megapixel camera with a low-quality lens will deliver mediocre pictures, a high-speed Internet package with a low-quality physical connection (i.e. cable or DSL) will deliver a low-quality Internet experience.  Conversely, a high-quality 10Mbit Internet circuit generally delivers a better user experience than a 100Mbit cable Internet circuit.

High-end Internet options for business include T1, T3, and fiber-optic circuits.  T1 connections are very low bandwidth by today’s standards, at 1.5Mbit/sec, and the cost is often around $500/month.  The benefit of T1 over cable or DSL is guaranteed bandwidth, lower latency, and a service-level-agreement, usually around available bandwidth, latency, and uptime. 

Fiber-optic Internet from legacy telecom providers such as Windstream, Level 3, and various regional telecoms offers speeds up to one gigabit, but the price-point is usually out-of-reach for consumers and small businesses.  While prices on these legacy fiber circuits are dropping, they are still very expensive.  It’s not uncommon to see a 10Mbps fiber circuit for $1000/month.  Like T1 circuits, legacy telecom fiber circuits are very reliable.  Service levels and bandwidth are guaranteed.  Other voice and data services, such as PRI and MPLS can be added for low-latency, high-security connections between business offices.

Google Fiber, AT&T Gigapower, and the slower but still pretty fast Verizon Fios are each “new fiber” products.  These new fiber providers offer the high-speed and high quality of legacy telco fiber, at a price that is similar to cable and DSL. 

Advantages of these new fiber connections include:

  • High speed up to 1 Gigabit per second.  You can download a 100 Gigabyte 4K movie in about 15 minutes.  For those checking my math, 1 Gigabyte equals 8 Gigabits.
  • Low and predictable latency.  Latency is the time it takes a data packet to make a round trip across the Internet.
  • Low cost.  About $100/month for 1000 Mbps.  Legacy providers charge $1000 for 10 Mbps.  New fiber providers offer 1000 times better value!
  • Symmetrical bandwidth.  When download speed and upload speed are the same, the connection is symmetrical.  While not important for web browsing and email, symmetrical bandwidth is important for some cloud services.

Now the disadvantages:

  • No service-level-agreement.  This means the quality and speed of the service is not guaranteed.
  • Internet only.  Private data (such as MPLS) and legacy voice circuits (PRI) are not available.
  • Limited service areas. 

Although the disadvantages, on particular the lack of SLA, might make some businesses anxious, there is no question that the value of the “new fiber” providers is extremely appealing.  So the question becomes, how will this new capability enable small and midsize businesses in new ways? What killer-apps will it enable?

First, Gigabit Internet services will enable widespread adoption of cloud services, including those services which have until now performed poorly in the cloud. 

Adoption of cloud-based SaaS will continue to expand, particularly email and vertically-targeted ERP and CRM applications.  These applications are typically delivered via a web browser or lightweight desktop application.  These types of applications do not typically require high-bandwidth Internet circuits, so Gigabit Internet will not necessarily help speed their adoption.  However, it will improve the perceived performance and stability of SaaS applications.

Cloud-based IT Infrastructure services will be enabled by Gigabit Internet.  While some cloud-based infrastructure services, such as cloud-based backup, have been available for over a decade, running a full stack of infrastructure in the cloud has not yet been widely realized.  There are two reasons for this.  First, the available bandwidth to host infrastructure in the cloud has not been available at a price-point that small and midsized businesses can afford.  Second, renting cloud-based infrastructure does not deliver enough cost-savings to justify the investment.  Gigabit Fiber solves the bandwidth piece.  As the cost of delivering cloud services continues to drop, the cost of renting IT infrastructure will too, which means Infrastructure-as-a-service will finally become a viable option for small and mid-sized businesses.

Hosted business phone service will finally become as reliable as traditional PBX.  Hosted voice, with the phones on the desk and the phone system in the cloud, has been a mixed bag, with poor performance happening if it is run over DSL or cable Internet.  Voice traffic is extremely sensitive to latency, and low-quality Internet circuits are often incapable of delivering low and predictable latency.  Hosted voice on a high latency circuit leads to audio interruptions and dropped calls.  Some businesses tried and abandoned hosted voice because of quality problems that occurred due to high latency.  Gigabit fiber will enable reliable hosted voice service.

High definition video conferencing will also become more commonplace.  The cost of videoconferencing has dropped tremendously as newcomers such as Zoom and Bluejeans aim to take market share away from the traditional players such as Cisco and Polycom.  HD videoconferencing has been proven to lead to better participant engagement than teleconferencing.  I can personally attest to its effectiveness because I use it every day to connect between our Charlotte, NC office and our Albany, NY office.  Once small businesses realize the power of video conferencing, and have the Internet circuit to enable it, the technology will become as commonplace as teleconferencing is today.

Without a doubt, other cloud-based services, including must have “killer apps” will become available as Gigabit Internet deployment becomes widespread.  As Gigabit Internet starts to make inroads into homes and apartments, mobile workers will become even more enabled.

While Gigabit Internet will change the way we use and consume information services, there is a risk that adoption will be limited due to low availability.  Verizon Fios was the first generation of low-cost fiber-to-the-premises.  Those people I know who have access to Fios love the service.  It’s low cost, extremely fast, and extremely reliable.  Unfortunately, the roll-out of Fios services was spotty in many markets.  People found that their neighbors had access to Fios but it was unavailable for them.  Verizon also would not publish maps of service areas or expansion plans, leaving potential customer to wonder if they would ever get access to the service. 

According to several broadband industry blogs, the deployment of AT&T’s Gigapower product suffers from similar availability issues.  AT&T claims deployment is ongoing in several cities, but they provide no maps or statistics about availability.  The only thing potential customers can do is check availability at a specific address.

Google Fiber is being more transparent about deployment and availability.  Google Fiber has made significant progress in its first-wave cities, including Austin, Kansas City, and Provo, even publishing maps of “fiberhoods” where fiber is available.  The Google Fiber rollout in Charlotte has just begun and the map of fiberhoods is not yet available.  However, here is a map of apartments where fiber is available or soon-to-be-available. 

This map gives those of us eager to get Gigabit Internet an idea of where the service will be available first in Charlotte.

Google may also be considering alternative methods for delivering their Gigabit Internet into homes.   Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt hinted that wireless technology may be in play for last-mile delivery of Internet (read about it here).  This could rapidly increase the speed at which Google is able to deploy their high-speed Internet service.

If Google and its competitors can figure out the last-mile delivery problem, adoption will become widespread.  Once there is a critical mass of Gigabit Internet subscribers, killer-apps will doubtless begin to appear, leading to more demand from consumers.  Gigabit Internet will be seen as necessary rather than just nice-to-have, similar to the way smartphones have completely supplanted traditional cell phones.

The next decade will be the most exciting yet for the technology industry.  Gigabit Internet, combined with the emerging technologies of augmented and virtual reality, Internet-of-things, cloud services, and ever-faster computers will enable further gains in business productivity and greatly improved entertainment options. 

We at CNS are excited about the opportunities Gigabit Internet brings to our business and our clients’ businesses.  As a Google Fiber Technology Partner, we are excited to help our customers in Charlotte take advantage of the opportunities Google Fiber offers

Thanks to Jeremy Wanamaker for this guest blog post. If you want to talk to Jeremy, contact him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Email.

 

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