Chattanooga’s Gig has a national network of new connections
Here’s more from my conversation with Mike Bradshaw and Alex Lavidge about how the Gig Tank startup accelerator—and its context—have changed over the last three years. We talked about a lot of things in the last column but not the elephant in the room. For space reasons, I left out GENI.
Earlier this year, UTC, in partnership with US Ignite and the Enterprise Center, activated a network server rack called GENI, for Global Environment for Network Innovations. For now, GENI is a network of 60 research nodes in universities.
It’s been described as a “virtual networking lab” for the experiments in network architecture that will lead to the next iteration of the Internet. Without something like GENI, experiments would have to run on the actual Internet and risk breaking it.
Although there is an increasing number of locations around the country where gigabit bandwidth is available (Atlanta has even announced two gigabits) Chattanooga’s community-wide gig is still unique.
“We are now the only metro-wide ultra-high-speed network connected to 60 tier-one research universities, all of which are potentially nodes for their own region-wide installations,” says Bradshaw.
“None of these 60 research institutions are connected to a very large number of potential users, but the backbone of that network is going to be sort of the ridge line off of which the next big pockets of gigabit networking occur.”
Perhaps you think the point of all this giga-bragging is for Chattanooga to be—and remain—the firstest with the mostest. Don’t. It’s not.
GENI is also the first time Chattanooga’s Gig has had somebody to talk to. Why is that a big deal?
Sure, individuals and companies who buy a connection to EPB’s one-gigabit bandwidth can upload and download much faster, but they are limited by the speed of the bandwidth connected to the computer on the other end of the conversation. (Just because you can listen fast doesn’t mean I can talk fast, right?)
To get some perspective on the conversation between someone with a gig and someone with a slower connection, I asked Keith Campbell, President of 3D Operations, a bandwidth intensive company that went through Gig Tank last year.
His company converts MRI images into 3-D printing files, two types of huge files. What happens when they need to transmit 10 files that are 450 megabytes each? Sending to a gig user inside Chattanooga’s network takes four seconds. A 50-meg connection takes 90 seconds, and a 6-meg connection takes 12 minutes.
No matter how much Campbell might tap his foot, drum his fingers and say, “Come on!” the overall transfer can’t go faster than the connection on the other end.
“Now our connection to 60 points across country is as fluid and instantaneous as our connections within the wall,” says Bradshaw. “Up until this year, maybe late last year, the rest of the world has been saying ‘What could you need a high-speed network for? Prove the case.’ That’s kind of a big ask, right?”
He says it’s the same type of conversation that happened in the ’90s with broadband based on coaxial cable or in the early 20th century with the electrical grid. Who would ever need that?
“People walk up to me now and they go ‘Well, doesn’t it bother you that there are networks like Chattanooga’s all over country, or there soon will be?’” says Bradshaw. “No, it doesn’t bother me at all. As a matter of fact, this is the window that we’ve been waiting to open before the Gig’s significance would really be felt here.”
Bradshaw sees a three-to-five-year window for Chattanooga to explore its first-mover advantage and set itself up for whatever the next chapter is. He wants Chattanooga to be the place large companies want to come when they’re ready to go beyond their own lab testing—moving from a test kitchen to a model home—rolling out a pilot product in a place that can connect a few thousand pilot users in one community through ultra-high bandwidth.
“Three years ago, there was a large camp of very responsible people who said, ‘You simply don’t need that kind of bandwidth. Where are the applications that are going to run on it?’” says Bradshaw. “You had to have a lot of effort going on around the country that changed the conversation from ‘Why do we need this?’ to ‘What are we going to do without it?’ And that’s happening now.”
Lavidge met recently with Philip Rosedale, the founder of virtual reality pioneer Second Life.
“They are positioned for the VR headset revolution,” says Lavidge. “Last year, VR sales were practically zero, and conservative estimates for 2016 are $2.6 billion. I think Chattanooga could have a really interesting play: 9,000 customers sounds like a great test market. VR headsets need a lot of bandwidth.”
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic web site in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com. He splits his time between Chattanooga and Brooklyn.