Gigabit Cities

Chattanooga Charts Killer Gigabit Apps

What do you do with a gigabit? At a time when the average American connects to the Internet at speeds under 15 Mbits/s, what could anyone possibly need a gigabit for?

As the poster child for gigabit cities, Chattanooga is a leader in the search for killer gigabit apps. The Tennessee town has had gigabit service since 2010 when municipal-owned utility company EPB Fiber Optics switched on its fiber network for homes and businesses throughout the region. Since then, the city has worked hard to encourage startups and big institutions alike to take advantage of the broadband infrastructure to create new business opportunities and solve real-world problems.

"Entrepreneurs today need a highly caffeinated, dense city to live in," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke at Light Reading's Gigabit Cities Live event. (See Gigabit Cities: I've Seen the Future and 6 Steps Towards a Gigabit City.)

Chattanooga has been happy to oblige, packing motivated individuals and companies into a downtown Innovation District and partnering with organizations like US Ignite to host hackathons and multi-day business launch competitions. After years of encouragement and support, the work has started to pay off. Chattanooga is finding unique answers to the question of what to do with a gigabit network, and it's showing the rest of the world how high-capacity broadband infrastructure can change the face of a city by connecting businesses, people and the government in new ways.

Gigabit business
One of the gigabit success stories Chattanooga Mayor Berke likes to tout is the evolution of Southtree, a company founded in a dorm room in 2006 with the mission of digitizing personal memories stored in old-style media formats like videotape and film. When the business started, its founders shipped digitized media to customers on DVDs and flash drives. Recently, however, Southtree has expanded its service to offer users access to their digital files in the cloud. Cloud storage allows customers to share content easily with friends and family, and gain access to personal media from anywhere with an Internet connection.

The rollout of Gigabit broadband access networks is spreading. Find out what's happening where in our dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel here on Light Reading.

Of course, most customers don't have gigabit networks to use for streaming or downloading their files. However, because Southtree has gigabit broadband, it can upload media at a higher resolution than any of its competitors. The company can deliver the sharpest, most vivid personal movies and images thanks to Chattanooga's gigabit network.

That company that started out in a dorm room? It's now located in downtown Chattanooga and has 107 employees.

Gigabit education
In education, teachers and students are just beginning to recognize the potential of super-fast high-speed networks.

Without a doubt, the most visually impressive gigabit app that Chattanooga can boast is a telemicroscopy application used by students at a local high school. Thanks to a partnership with the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (USC), biology students at STEM School Chattanooga are able to stream 4K video of material under a microscope in a USC lab. Simultaneously, a USC professor can teleconference with the high school students to answer questions about what they see and how it pertains to their own studies locally.

In one joint experiment, students compared a sample of pond scum from California with one from their hometown environment. Video of the California pond scum under a microscope was streamed to a large-screen display for close-up examination next to the Chattanooga sample.

The USC partnership is possible not just because of Chattanooga's gigabit network, but also because there's high-capacity infrastructure running (in a roundabout way) between the USC campus and Chattanooga. The online video is transferred first from California to Atlanta over a 100 GB Internet2 connection, and then from Atlanta to Chattanooga on a 10 GB circuit before ending up on EPB's gigabit last mile.

USC professor Richard Weinberg acknowledged during a demo at the recent US Ignite Smart Future 2015 Summit that he has hopes of bringing the USC partnership to more schools in the future, and even of connecting streams from multiple microscopes. "I imagine eventually someday a global network," said Weinberg.

Gigabit government
Many private Internet service providers focus on television and other entertainment applications as a way to drive broadband usage. However, while Chattanooga has grand ambitions for its gigabit network, Mayor Berke also wants to make clear that one of them is not to be the go-to provider for premium television.

"I have no desire to compete with any private entity so that we can provide HBO. That's not the point of our network," said Berke at Gigabit Cities Live.

Although EPB offers TV services, Berke is much more interested in improving local business, education and government services.

When EPB built its gigabit fiber network, its main purpose was to support new smart grid applications. With its power metering equipment, EPB used to get two million data hits per year for use in measuring electricity consumption. Now that the company has Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) in place -- backed by a gigabit network -- it gets 16 million data hits per day. The city can respond faster to storms and other natural disasters, and anticipate resource needs before a problem develops.

Chattanooga is also turning broadband around as a government-backed service for low-income families. Just a few weeks ago, EPB announced it's offering an Internet service with speeds up to 100 Mbits/s to every Title I family in the region for only $26.99 per month. The dollar figure is exactly the cost of what it takes EPB to deliver the broadband service.

While Chattanooga is now the face of the gigabit city movement, it took a while for the town to find its footing with gigabit applications. Now that the city has made progress, it wants to share what it's learned -- share what people can do with a gigabit connection -- with its citizens, and the rest of the world.

"Chattanooga is not trying to hold this to ourselves," said Berke.

It's a good thing. Because the gigabit genie is most certainly out of the bottle.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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HighTechVideo 5/27/2015 | 7:00:41 PM
Shameless Plug for Southtree??? Regarding:

However, because Southtree has gigabit broadband, it can upload media at a higher resolution than any of its competitors.

Someone needs to get their facts straight.  

1.  Southtree is certainly not the only video transfer company that has a Gigabit Fiber connection in their facility.  We're not living in the stone ages.

2.  According to their website, Southtree doesn't even provide high definition files for their customers.

There are many video transfer companies that have Gigabit / Multiple Gigabit Fiber connections in their facilities and many of these provide not only high definition files, but also files in ProRes (not MPEG-4).

Shame on the author for printing such nonsense and false advertising for a company that has over 50 Better Business Bureau complaints.  Go tour their facility and see all the consumer equipment that they use for video transfers.  It is a joke.

mhhf1ve 5/26/2015 | 10:02:36 PM
Quantified Self tools... There are already a bunch of "quantified self" tools like Fitbits and health trackers that are available -- and I imagine that 1G service will make these devices much more useful as they can record all kinds of data, all the time. Google Glass might not be a successful project now, but when smart watches and robotic personal assistants are everywhere... having a constant video recording going all the time won't feel so creepy.

Just watch:

mhhf1ve 5/26/2015 | 9:56:22 PM
glad to see they're looking beyond premium TV channels... I, for one, am optimistic that when 1G service is ubiquitous, that a Twitter-like version of 4K video will be everywhere... And it will be like "Napster for video" on steriods. 

I'd also think that a lot of home/business security services will have to up their game quite a bit if Dropcams streaming 4K videos are widely available....
Duh! 5/21/2015 | 12:05:26 PM
Re: You don't need 1Gig for that.... Well said.  I've been trying to make the same point for a long time.  To add:

4k with HEVC requires 15-20 Mb/s, according to credible sources.  There was a press release from a UK company that claimed they could compress 4k to 5 Mb/s.  That's an order of magnitude less than 1Gb/s.  I haven't seen credible estimates of the data rate for a high quality video conference.  Would it really be greater than a few tens of Mbit/s?

None of the applications cited are useful for residential and small business broadband customers. 
  • A data center business like Southtree surely could get dedicated fiber to a nearby IXP without EPB (begging the question of why they aren't renting space in a colo facility). 
  • The microscopy application is very nice, but it's about the municipal fiber network, not EPB's consumer offering. 
  • Smart Grid applications are important to EPB's electric power system, but all of them produce infrequent short messages, not high rate streams.
  • It's good that EPB is attempting to close the digital divide, but they're offering 100 Mb/s, not 1G.  And even that is well in excess of what is needed for homework, and basic transactions. 

Truth is, there really aren't a lot of consumer and small business applications that can generate data at  greater rates than an order of magnitude less than 1G.  There are few niche scenarios, like the on-call radiologist who reviews large images from home, rather than having to be in the hospital for an otherwise quiet shift.  But these don't justify a gigabit build-out.

The case for a Gig is really about latency. At rates around a Gig, serialization delay (the time it takes to squeeze all of the bytes of a packet into the wire, a bit at a time) becomes small as compared to the end-to-end propagation delay (distance divided by the speed of light in fiber) at typical distances. For file transfers and ABR video, that means that the user will see about the maximum possible throughput.  For real-time streaming and games, it means that the user will see the minimum possible delay almost all the time, and little delay jitter.

The other case for a Gig is that FTTH infrastructure runs at a Gig.  You can't buy fiber endpoints at lower speeds (except for end-of-life BPON gear).  There'd be insignificant cost savings from building lower speed equipment.  And for non-incumbents who don't have any existing copper or HFC, there is no sense in building new networks with anything but fiber (or wireless).  So once a EPB made the commitment to building a residential/small business service, Gig became a no-brainer.

Of course, this is really, really hard to explain to a non-technical audience.  And if it takes a little BS boosterism to get investment in FTTx, then I suppose it's best for us techies to cringe a bit and keep our mouths shut.
seffros 5/20/2015 | 3:32:35 PM
Re: You don't need 1Gig for that.... Of course you are right, Mari.  4K plus simultaneous videoconferencing is intensive. But since LR, among many others, has already run articles questioning the true visual value of 4K in the average home, with the average-sized screen, and since high-quality simultaneous videoconferencing, while it surely is of value in a corporate or classroom setting is not something likely to be done a lot at home (Skype quality seems to be doing just fine) aren't we in danger of hyping this stuff so much that we will eventually be called out by the likes of Consumer Reports for hawking stuff to customers they just don't need and are ulikely to use?  Verizon is already trying to get me to pay $10 more per month for 75/75 rather than 50/50 service and tech bloggers have already pointed out that there is no practical difference between the two for almost any user except the extra $120 per year FiOS ads have convinced us to spend. I think we are in danger of being accused of excessive consumer hype not because the technology isn't "neat"... but because we are enticing the average customer to pay for something they don't really use.  4K is a great example.  When HDR sets come along (which don't have to use any significant additional bandwidth) then folks will see a difference, but suggesting they get or need to build 1Gig systems in their community today in order to watch streaming 4K video, well....
msilbey 5/20/2015 | 2:29:36 PM
Re: You don't need 1Gig for that.... 4K video streaming with simultaneously teleconferencing gets pretty bandwidth intensive. On the higher-quality uploads, you're right, the issue is really about practicality. The capacity the company has to upload high-resolution media presumably makes the process feasible in a way it wouldn't otherwise be. 
seffros 5/20/2015 | 2:00:09 PM
You don't need 1Gig for that.... Neither example given in the article (uploading video, streaming microsopic images) requires 1Gig or anything close to it. There is no technical logic to saying one company can upload "higher quality" video than another because it has a 1 Gig connection available.  It may be able to upload "more" in a "shorter period of time" but data is data, and the quality of the resulting video does not change. It's not clear that, once the material is in the "cloud" the time issue is relevant either. As to pricing, one might want to ask how much debt is not being calculated into that "not one penny more" pricing.

1 Gig is wonderful, but we have yet to figure out what it is really useful for other than a "family" that wants to stream dozens of movies to separate devices in the home all at the same time.  It would have to be a very big family.  InternetII has been around for years, and it's very useful for connecting supercomputer venues together. Whether that translates into a need to promote 1Gig in the home is still a very significant question that may verge on taking advantage of most consumers for the benefit of a few. 

mendyk 5/20/2015 | 9:59:28 AM
Re: And not a penny more I wonder how that measures up against delivery costs of other broadband providers. It sounds a little on the high side.
msilbey 5/20/2015 | 9:56:26 AM
Re: And not a penny more That's what EPB calculated. Apparently there's a rule that it can charge less than the cost of delivery.
mendyk 5/20/2015 | 9:52:13 AM
And not a penny more Does it really cost exactly $26.99 a month to deliver 100Mbit service?
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