Who's Building the Next Gigabit City?


The gigabit trend in the technology space has been hard to ignore as of late, and Comcast, Cox, Brighthouse, Suddenlink, Mediacom, GCI, and Midcontinent, among others, are leading the charge. More and more providers are deploying gigabit services, some even offering 2-gigabit connections, and reaching customers nationwide. But why do we need gigabit services, and how would this Internet speed improve our quality of life anyway?

The answer to this came about in several different ways at the Gigabit Cities Live conference, hosted by Light Reading, earlier this week in Charlotte, N.C.. While we may not all need gigabit speed today, there will come a time when we will, and it's important to plan ahead. Not to mention, people already demand it. There will always be a demand for more bandwidth as our digital necessities continue to advance and technology evolves. Panelists also touted the benefits that can come out of telehealth and long-distance education as a result of a gigabit connection. With there being a limited number of education and health experts in the country, a network with that kind of capability can break distances and give people access to the expertise they need.

More notably, executives from cable operators, Internet service providers, state and city leaders from North Carolina, and nonprofits dedicated to closing the digital divide concurred that the infrastructure of a gigabit service is a magnet for innovation and economic development. People who once would have lived in Silicon Valley will now consider other areas because of the entrepreneurial opportunities linked with advanced connectivity.

Cable operator Cox was there to talk a bit about Gigablast, the provider's gigabit service which debuted two years ago in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha, and has expanded to parts of Rhode Island, California, Arkansas and Kansas, to name a few markets. Cox also plans to deploy the services to more areas by the end of the year. Matt Hayes, executive director of access engineering for Cox, said the provider looks to leverage DOCSIS 3.1 as much as possible as they move forward: "We will go as wide and deep with DOCSIS 3.1 and with FTTH as well." Hayes also relayed that the plan is to continue to help and empower customers, in a sense, to take control of managing their networks. "It's about 'unlocking the myth for the customer,' and creating the portals for them to see issues with their system and be able to solve issues on their own."

Comcast also continues with Gigabit Pro, their service that uses DOCSIS 3.1 technology, rolling it out to cities including Atlanta and Nashville, and is expanding to Chicago, Detroit, and Miami. Rob Howald, vice president of network architecture at Comcast, commented that customers shouldn't be able to notice a change in architecture. DOCSIS 3.1 technology allows users to access the speeds over their existing connection.

Challenges for expanding rollouts for all types of providers remain in terms of scaling a gigabit infrastructure, especially in the remote areas of the country where it’s first important to close the digital divide, as Commscope Vice President of Network Strategy Erik Knovall pointed out. But overall, all representatives were in agreement that the competition we are starting to see in communities nationwide for gigabit services is a good thing, and one that spurs the innovation we need to move forward.

"It's hard to predict the speed wars of the future," said Howald. But the gun has already fired. As technology evolves around people and their demands, the race is on for 10, 50, 100 gigabit cities.