The buzz from Kansas City has been crazy these past few months as Google has both unveiled and begun implementing its landmark Google Fiber project. For those who haven’t yet heard of it, Google Fiber is Google’s ambitious new project that has just launched in Kansas City that provides 1 gigabit upstream/downstream speeds to neighborhoods in Kansas City. Google and its spokespeople are confident that this will lead to new online innovations in Kansas City, and they’ve already begun to roll out benefits to local schools and other organizations that could benefit from the service. Not only does Google envision its fiber network helping kids get involved in digital learning by sending HD video for advanced placement classes to schools that don’t offer it, but it’s also envisioning other uses for high-power fiber in the community: telemedicine, for example, where arrays of high-definition cameras, powered by fiber, could allow doctors to make remote house calls.
While Google’s plans for the fiber network are impressive, forward-thinking, and extremely charitable, it doesn’t seem like the search giant is trying to become a major player in the ISP game. Rather, they’re upping the ante- they’re trying to show how infrastructure can be created and implemented in order to bring fast, affordable broadband to residential neighborhoods. They’re banking on the fact that current ISPs won’t want to be left in the dust and will also make improvements to their network infrastructure in order to be competitive and not lose customers. Google, in the long run, profits from this because more Internet saturation as well as faster Internet connections for those who already have them means more eyes that are looking at Google ads and more clicks coming from surfers who are getting more pages per minute.
It’s that prospect which is, in many ways, more interesting than the Google Fiber project in and of itself: the fact that Google Fiber may spur a new level of communications infrastructure investment in the US. The US ranks a dismal 28th in world broadband speed, and Google’s furious blitz into Kansas City suggests that it’s not impossible for US broadband companies to actually roll out 1 gigabit internet speeds to major urban centers in a very short time period. The idea that businesses and residential homes in the same area might have access to the same gigabit internet connection is actually a fairly exciting and innovative one that will have a great deal of impact on enterprise networking.
The biggest and most major aspect of this increase in speed is, of course, accessibility to data. Many companies have work-at-home schemes, but many of their work-at-home employees, like programmers, developers, or CAD designers, are hamstrung by slow residential speeds: they might have to actually be on the network to do any meaningful work. 1 gigabit internet in the home and the workplace would eliminate that bottleneck entirely, and employees would be able to work at home with nearly identical speeds to the workplace (especially since many corporations have only just upgraded to 1 gigabit switches in the workplace). This means that the networking team is going to have some work cut out for them as far as improving support for remote employees or telecommuters, and new infrastructure and processes may have to be implemented to handle the new complexities involved with more employees working from home.
The lack of a data cap and impressively fast speeds also raises more flexibility in the cloud computing area as well. Many companies are forced to keep data on-site because they need the speed of a local network- with a gigabit internet connection, however, the cloud opens up as a possible source of use. A one terabyte sized backup that used to take days to backup now takes only a couple of hours, and even gigabyte-sized files can transfer in just a few seconds. For small businesses and enterprises alike, this opens up new questions about the viability of the cloud and storing data on it, including new considerations of price, convenience, and accessibility for company data.
All of this talk of 1 gigabit internet in major urban centers is of course conjectural at the moment. With Google’s foray into Kansas City and its plan to expand into neighboring Kentucky soon, however, it may not be as far off as we think. As a result, any good enterprise in a major urban area should at least consider that it’s a very real possibility that gigabit internet will be in their area soon for both residential and commercial homes. They should think about what that means for them as a company, and how it’s going to change and impact their services and the way they run their business!