Aug 21 2012
By Craig Settles
A lot of people don’t get it when communities start demanding – and then building – gigabit networks. “Who needs a gig?” and “Nobody needs a gig!” are frequent refrains.
These catcalls totally miss the point. This whole drive for a gigabit is not about the one person pushing the envelope – or hogging the bandwidth – but rather, it’s about hundreds and even thousands of people using bandwidth-intensive applications simultaneously.
Large telecom and cable companies that offer too little Internet access service for too much money paint gigabit service as a waste because most individuals don’t require a gig to run applications. When you look at the gigabit applications that were highlighted recently in Chattanooga, or listen to the apps people in Kansas City plan to run on Google Fiber, you see why fiber networks are must-have technology for large and small communities.
Putting a gig in your tank
Chattanooga has the largest public-owned gigabit network in the US, covering 600 square miles. GigTank, a start-up accelerator in the city, brought eight teams of entrepreneurs and 11 students who formed their own teams into a 14-week summer program to develop gigabit software.
Two weeks ago at GigTank’s Demo Day, over 500 financiers, business execs, broadband experts, technology leaders and super geeks gathered to see what kind of applications are possible when creative minds are freed of network capacity limitations. The results were impressive, both for the capabilities of the apps and for what everyone learned about the need for speed.
Banyan took home a $100,000 prize as the entrepreneur team with the best app, a version control and collaboration application that helps researchers more effectively build and manage research project teams. Currently, a researcher in California generating a terabyte of data could fly to London to hand-deliver the data in less time than it takes to deliver it over the Internet. Banyan’s software delivers a terabyte in an hour or two over a gig network, depending on network congestion and other factors.
A student team created Babel Sushi to win the $50,000 prize for best application in their category. Babel Sushi enables users to speak into a computer and be instantly translated into the language of the country they’re visiting. The app simultaneously does word-for-word translation, translation of slang, idioms, etc and further translation into the dialect of the region of the country. Any community’s tourism board and local business associations immediately can see the value of such an app and the resulting spike in tourist dollars, along with a spike in network data traffic.
Reviewing these and other fruits of long days and sleepless nights reinforces the thought (hope) that any policymaker concerned about local economies should stand solidly behind any effort to help communities deploy the fastest networks possible.
Iron Gaming took home the $10,000 Warner Brothers Digital Media Award for their social gaming technology that creates a new gaming experience through live competitive events and interactive streaming content. Creative individuals spending time with these interactive features should see how similar apps could enable individuals to master disciplines from car mechanic to literally rocket science. But imagine how much bandwidth you’d need to support 500 high school students running these kinds of apps right after dinner.
Ariagora is an entrepreneur team whose app shifts the Kickstarter model of crowdfunding to a new direction by transforming donors into investors in rock bands and other music groups. Fans and families receive stock for their donations, as they would in a traditional IPO, which they can buy and trade on Ariagora’s marketplace.
Corpora generated some media attention for itself even before Demo Day with their real-time intelligent agent that uses Twitter status updates and other public data to model the health of individuals by geography, and providing insights into the spread of illness. Twitter messages by themselves hardly require any bandwidth to speak of, but a threat of an epidemic moving down the east coast could cause backbone-breaking traffic within affected and infected cities. This would not be a time to discover the network can’t handle the capacity.
HD Fantasy Sports is building the next-generation fantasy football game. Their live HD video technology personalizes, socializes and enhances users’ experience in some interesting ways. Similar to Iron Gaming, the entertainment-driven data traffic potentially could pale in comparison to traffic created by using this technology for medical, educational and business communication apps.
Silver Communities’ Argentab provides elder care facilities with tools for accurate recordkeeping and on-the-job training. This app is reflects the broadband picture given it incorporates mobile devices that heavily rely on wireless access. Large incumbents’ wireless infrastructure already suffers from data overload brought on by the explosion of mobile devices and apps. Fiber-to-wireless access points is a rational way to tackle an increase in apps similar to Argentab.
The students were no slouches in the Apps That Need a Gig Department. Besides Babel Sushi, Team Gallery (another student team) created an app to provide software to people on their own terms by enabling them to buy “pieces” of the program through more flexible pricing and licensing agreements, rather than expensive all-or-nothing deals. As designed, you can buy or rent big software packages for a month or two, get streamlined versions for mobile devices, and possibly run on operating systems not supported by the full application. Besides cutting users’ costs and opening new markets for vendors, Team Gallery might have the solution to hardware compatibility issues.
As we see more fiber network infrastructure being built that can support a gig, expect more applications that push the boundaries of our imagination. But along with that comes a need for bandwidth that likewise will increase. Tomorrow’s call won’t be for a gig but for 10 gig and beyond.
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