When Google Fiber, the billion-bits-a-second Internet service for businesses and consumers, arrived in Kansas City in 2012, a house owned by Matthew Marcus was the first location to publicly get it. Marcus, an entrepreneur and one of the co-leaders of a startup and entrepreneurial community called Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV), says the difference between gigabit Internet access and the relatively slow and clunky service they had was immediately apparent.
“Accessing our remote server in the cloud was so fast, it was like you were sitting in front of it,” Marcus says. “That was fantastic.” Marcus and the other entrepreneurs in KCSV immediately began dreaming about how to leverage faster Internet into new products, new services and new ways of doing business.
Since then, Google has begun introducing its high-speed Internet service to consumers and businesses in a few other cities in the United States. In some parts of Austin, Texas, for instance, where Google Fiber began soliciting signups late this year, small businesses can get gigabit service for $100 per month. National Internet service providers such as AT&T, as well as some smaller, regional operators, have also rolled out gigabit offerings of their own.
Speeding Things Up
The businesses that sign up for ultra-fast Internet can expect an impact in areas ranging from management and operations to new product development and customer service. For instance, significantly faster Internet access—gigabit is approximately 100 times faster than the current average Internet service in the United States—seems certain to make cloud-based computing more feasible. “If a lot of my business is done in the cloud," Marcus reasons, "a faster Internet connection is better because we're able to access and utilize those cloud services much, much faster.”
Video is one of the most bandwidth-intensive Internet applications, and demonstrations of ultra-fast Internet have often involved stunts such as downloading a feature-length, high-definition movie in as little as a few minutes. While that's an obvious plus for consumers, high-speed gigabit access could encourage companies to use it for everyday practical business purposes as well.
“Videoconferencing ability is the easy one,” says Aaron Deacon, managing director of KC Digital Drive, a technology-oriented economic development nonprofit that's a joint effort of both Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. More access to higher-quality videoconferencing is already encouraging Kansas City firms to allow more workers to work from home. Generally, Deacon sees this trend expanding to make collaboration between geographically separated workers much more widespread, routine and intensive than it is today,
Deacon also says businesses can use gigabit Internet with customers, for such things as video service calls. “Imagine if you could call the hardware store to see if they have a tool or a screw, and the guy walks over and says, 'You mean this one?'” Deacon says. “The ability to use that in a customer service contact is fairly transformative.”
A Kansas City security firm is already using gigabit Internet to connect its security cameras. Marcus notes that one Kansas City business that sells photos of participants in marathons and other sporting events has found that uploading large batches of photos to the cloud can now be done in hours instead of days. Additional examples of uses cited include better access and transfer of high-resolution medical images, faster connections for network-enabled household appliances and other "Internet of Things" devices, and enhanced cloud-based video games.
At the moment, in cities where gigabit Internet has been around for a while, the transformative effect of ultra-fast access appears to be largely unrealized. This is due in part to the newness of the technology and to its still very limited spread. Until more consumers have similarly fast connections, for instance, companies aren't willing to devote resources to developing applications that exploit the capabilities. So while ultra-fast Internet seems likely to affect the future of business, so far that future is cloudy. “In Kansas City, people are still trying to figure out what that looks like,” Marcus says.
Meanwhile, putting the technology in the hands of business owners and consumers has begun, which is a necessary first step, according to Marcus. “Until you provide it," he says, "it’s tough for people to innovate and experiment and dream.”
And now, while consumers who use it to download movies and businesses who use it for videoconferencing make incremental changes to the way we use the Internet, Marcus is pondering the ways gigabit Internet will revolutionize business. The eventual result, he expects, could dramatically affect the way he operates or innovates in his next company.
“Unfortunately,” Marcus says, “I haven’t been able to wrap my head around a commercially viable idea yet.” But he has hope that he and other entrepreneurs will use this new technology in ways we haven't yet imagined.
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