In the land of the Mega, the Giga is king.
Durham is entering the era of gigabit Internet speeds with Frontier Communications’ plan to give the Bull City the first superspeed service, with more than a little help from Raleigh entrepreneur Jim Goodmon.
So is it any surprise that Goodmon’s American Tobacco Campus, just across Blackwell Street from Goodmon’s Durham Bulls baseball stadium and just south of Goodmon’s Diamond View office building, is getting first dibs on gigabit Internet?
No. Goodmon likes to be first in technology, as in first to broadcast TV in high definition way back in 1996 at WRAL Channel Five.
What’s surprising about gigabit Internet – that’s a billion bits of binary code a second coming to Durham before Raleigh gets it – is its provider, Frontier Communications.
AT&T said publicly more than a year ago that it was working on municipal agreements to string fiber in the Research Triangle. About the same time, Google made noises about bringing gigabit here, having had success with fiber in Kansas City and a few other cities.
Frontier is a relatively new player in the Research Triangle. The firm seemed to come out of nowhere to claim first dibs with not only the American Tobacco Campus, but also the Research Triangle Foundation. An office building, 800 Park Center, will house Frontier’s gigabit headquarters in the Triangle.
The race, however, is not always to the swift. Frontier faces formidable challengers in AT&T and Google, the latter with some of the deepest pockets of any corporation on the planet.
For gigabit speeds to work, fiber has to go the “last mile” to homes and offices, replacing obsolescent copper cable. That last mile is costly, and prices for gigabit service reflect it.
Frontier’s early adopters who sign for the full monty will pay $219 a month. Of course, Frontier is offering a sliding scale of Net speeds, which is a good thing because a billion bits a second is overkill for most of us.
As a measure of that, Netflix, which consumes a third of the nation’s Internet bandwidth after sunset, claims it can deliver 4K video (four times the definition of 1K, today’s standard) at only 15 megabits a second. A lot of digital compression has to happen for Netflix to do that, but most people wouldn’t know the difference between 1K and 4K or, for that matter, give a toot.
Still, if megabit Internet is good, gigabit has to be better. And it will be, especially for real-time imaging, businesses, online gamers and the swelling ranks of Americans who enjoy video calls.
Gigabit delivers the data packets that comprise everything flowing through the Internet much faster than megabit can. That’s because data packets don’t necessarily come in a linear stream, which means some might take the long way around, arriving a millisecond or so late for the host computer to accurately reassemble them for display on a user’s screen.
How the gigabit race here will play out for Time Warner Cable (or Time Warner-Comcast, should the FCC unwisely allow the telecom giants to merge) is the stuff of a bookmaker’s odds.
I expect TWC will boost its internet speeds, as it has in the past when it feared competitive pressure. And with AT&T and Google knocking at the door, the pressure is here.
In the long run, consumers will benefit immensely from the changing Internet landscape. This is a bigger leap than going from two cans and a wax string to 4G wireless. Gigabit Internet is a world waiting to be revealed in ways we can barely imagine today.
Two decades ago, the Internet boom led to the laying of tens of thousands of miles of fiber across the United States. When the tech bust came in 2000, much of that fiber up to that last mile went unlit and remains so today. But not for long.
Durham, fasten your seat belt: Zero to 60 at the speed of light is ... well, a lot faster than I can compute.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.