Excitement around the Triangle is palatable. This is one improvement that even our embarrassingly regressive politicians won't be able to exploit or undermine. Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel-Hill are on the vanguard of a nationwide change. Not quite as early as the lucky folks of Kansas City, but on the second wave nonetheless. As Google's infrastructure begins to take form, it's a great opportunity for residents to do a little spring cleaning and become familiar with all the benefits that Google Fiber allows and the competitive advantages it will bring to our region.
Advantages Of A Fiber Optic Life
For those rock dwellers, lets start by quickly familiarizing you with the concept. In the macro view, it may not seem as earth shaking as my intonation may convey... but trust me - this is a game changer. Google's Fiber service is a simple concept and one that has tossed around by our community leaders for quite some time. It just took a little forethought for a market leader to actually make the investment. The first city blessed with this investment was Kansas City in 2009 and the tech industry improvements have been well documented (Kansas City Star: "AT&T to Match Google Fiber Speeds, Prices" & Yahoo: 3 Ways Google Fiber is Helping Kansas City). The second round will be reaching the Triangle region of North Carolina, Austin Texas, and Provo Utah. This expanded connectivity touches numerous macro concepts, but will also do quite a bit to improve the day-to-day lives of it's residents.
No More Media Buffering
Let's start by identifying the most obvious perk we're receiving... Speed. A decade or so after the internet's genesis, users found themselves in an awkward predicament. We were all trying (and hoping) to squeeze data that was never intended to fit in phone lines, through phone lines. Imagine playing a song for a friend across the phone.. Not so clear. Now imagine trying to squeeze an HD movie through that same plumbing. That's when we were introduced to the concept of "buffering". One of the most evident perks of Google Fiber will be the loss of that.
There are a few other existing software technologies that have been dragged down by buffering and will flourish in it's absence. Video based communications will be one large benefactor. Skype and Facetime are the most universally adopted, but business people relying on GoToMeeting or Cisco Teleconferencing will also be rewarded. Streaming audio and video will also take advantage of the expansion almost instantly - Meaning your Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, iCloud, and YouTube apps will be exponentially more user friendly.
True Cloud Storage
Cloud is more then just a buzzword, but few people really know why that is. Tech folks can explain it easily in just one word - Redundancy. "Cloud Storage" is based on a simple premise - If one server goes down, there should be another ready to take it's place. This concept relies on different method of mirroring & redirecting, but functionally - it just means when one server is down another takes its place. This allows a network drive to operate just like a hard drive, but it does require one thing - a fast connection. With the addition of fiber network, apps like Dropbox, iCloud, SugarSync, Box, and Google Drive are now viable options to avoid saving anything to disk.
Most people never think about it, but a server’s physical location can also have a sizable effect on network speeds. Since this improvement is primarily client side it doesn't actually mean a server is any closer, but it does make them all easier (and faster) to reach. This streamlining of network traffic has a compounding effect. No matter what speeds you're dealing with, connecting to servers will now require less network bouncing to pass through. As these "fast-lanes" start to grow around the country, those higher speeds cause less overall network fatigue, in turn giving every internet user a faster connection. This concept is very similar to homes that produce solar energy. Not only are they requiring less power, they're indirectly causing less regional grid stress.
Custom VPN Network
Now were getting to the fun stuff - imagine being able to build your own custom VPN network. The technology is already there and it's fairly easy to learn in a day or two, but it has been relegated to the worlds of large businesses and universities because the speed hasn't been there. If you're not already familiar, think of a VPN as a tunnel from you to your network (or just read up on Wikipedia ;). The exclusivity of this connection provides it's biggest perk - Security. Once the connection has been breached, the whole thing shuts down. Like an underwater tunnel - If a drop of water is detected, the whole operation is closed to the public.
The balance of security will always be a sliding scale, but our current state leans heavily in favor of the "dark side". People are frightened of internet security... and they should be. Usable VPNs are an arrow in the quill that the public desperately needs. When you research the topic you can easily see all the benefits here, but if you're not a tech nerd just imagine confidently checking your email or logging into a credit card website from a public WiFi. Since these personal VPN servers are really just a gateway, you don't need a high performance machine to set this up either. Any dated Gateway that is currently occupying closet space can do the job... insert gateway pun here.
Which Tools Really Harness the Advantages Of Fiber Optic Life?
While we patiently await the infrastructure build and that great old Italian restaurant called "519 South" undergoes it's metamorphosis (see image), there is plenty of preliminary setup we can do. Clean off those old computers, get all your passwords updated, move your emails from POP to IMAP, take a little time to configure that SSL security… basically make all of those changes you temporarily put off that you promised you'd come back to once you got everything working... then forgot about ;) Google also provides email updates to keep you in the loop about their timing estimates (signup here). If you're willing to upgrade your apps a bit, these are a few of our favorite services that you may want to consider (or reconsider) before the big move.
This is certainly just my opinion, but I believe antique monopolies like Time Warner and Comcast have been a drag on the overall economy for quite some time. They take a hundred dollars from us each month and offer very little in terms of progress. One additional competitor obviously doesn't fix the sector as a whole... but it is a great start. Saying that these dinosaurs are a little scared of the competition is an understatement, whether viewing the lobbying dollars they've put up for restricting entry, their attempted powergrab that is squelched for now, or the conveniently timed "higher speeds" they're already advertising for. They're spokespeople till say it is a natural progression, but reading the situation as a whole - it's easy to see that they're just beginning to see the writing on the wall. The market still needs some streamlining but the days of price gouging, laughable customer service, restraining competition, and resting on an infrastructure that they never really built but are willing to charge us for could be nearing an end. That might be reading into the situation quite a bit, but it's now a possibility and I couldn't really say that just a year ago.
Thanks for stopping by.
Graphic Designer and Web Developer from Raleigh, NC. Classically trained in Applied Economics and currently running the dynamic design firm that bares his name.