By Greg Mills
As I mentioned in my article yesterday, I live in Kansas City, Kansas, where Google is planning to launch a state of the art "1 Gigabit fiber optic Internet" system as a test. As news of this development came out questions came up that are slowly finding answers. The cost per month for residential service is expected to be similar to what broadband cable Internet costs now. That is from US$30 to $50 per month.
One older city council member was quite upset that he only had 48 hours to decide how to vote on accepting Google's offer. I suspect he would slam the door on the Publisher's Clearing House $10,000,000 award team, as to not encourage door-to-door salesmen. Who needs all those tacky balloons anyway?
Yesterday I mused that the bottle neck for such blinding speed for a lot of people would be their computers and Wi-Fi routers, and that turns out to be true. The notion that one small fiberoptic strand coming into your home could do such magic is breathtaking. I messed up the name of Apple's new I/O port and called it "Lighting bolt" when I should have said "Thunderbolt" -- sorry about that.
The information page on Apple.com regarding the Thunderbolt port has a chart that explains how 1 Gigabit shakes out for Apple hardware. USB 2.0 can handle unto 480 megs per second. That is about half the speed of 1 Gigabit. Firewire 800 can throughput 800 megs per second or 80% the speed of 1 Gigabit. An Express Card can handle 2.5 gigs per second. USB 3.0 (not supported by Apple) can handle 5 gigs per second, and "Thunderbolt" can handle up to 10 gigs per second. A Gigabit is 1000 megs. One gig is 1,000,000,000 bytes of information per second.
What that means is that if you have a 250GB hard drive, like I do on my MacBook Pro, theoretically the entire contents of my hard drive, when full, could be moved through a Thunderbolt Internet connection in 33 minutes if the other end is also up to Thunderbolt speed. Actual speeds are negotiated between the sending and receiving device to prevent errors in transmission. To stream the entire contents of my hard drive would take 250 seconds through the fiberoptic Internet coming to town.
My hard drive has a link speed of 3 gigabits and a negotiated link speed of 1.5 gigabits per second. Theoretical maximum speed limits are almost never used, but create a robustness that isn't commonly even taxed.
The input/output speed limitation for my fairly recent MacBook Pro is its ports. If I run it connected to a modem that converts the fiberoptic to FireWire, I would get up to 80% of the speed available on the new internet system.
If I had the brand new MacBook Pro that comes with a Thunderbolt port I could plug it in and get the full 1 gig-a-second connection, if all is perfectly up to speed on the network. That is only 10% of the theoretical screaming speed the new Thunderbolt port is able to handle.
Recent Ethernet ports can handle 1 Gigabit connections, but you would need a modem to convert the fiberoptic to Ethernet and then hardwire from the modem to the location where you want to use your computer. That is OK for a desktop computer but not ideal situation for a laptop or iPad.
Going now to Wi-Fi, as most people hook up to the Internet with wireless routers these day.s There are a number of standards for Wi-Fi known as 802.11 specs. The fastest spec for Wi-Fi right now is 802.11n. That standard tops out at 600 megs per second -- or 60% of what the incoming 1 gigabit speed allows. My MacBook Pro thus has the same limitations on it's Wi-Fi speed, as the AirPort Extreme has, 600 megs per second. That is still close to 100 times what I have now on my Time Warner Cable modem.
There are always faster Wi-Fi specs under development, and the next standard is 802.11ac. That new standard under development will top out at 1 gigabit per second or exactly what the new fiber optic system will support. I will be watching for Apple to adopt the 802.11ac specs to be ready for Google's fiberoptic network. Future Airport Wi-Fi routers will come with Thunderbolt ports and 802.11ac standards.
Another standard under development is called "WiGig" which is topping out at 7 gigabits per second. One thing to remember: once the fiber optic threads are up and running, tweaks and software upgrades to the system will allow the fiberoptic cables to increase speeds dramatically. Who knows how fast fiberoptic internet will go a few years down the line?
Right now, 1 gigabit is pretty darn fast. To some extent as we reach these sorts of speeds, faster isn't even noticeable most of the time. It take sophisticated testing to measure the difference when new chips come out. Sure they are faster, but the difference is really not that noticeable in everyday use. It isn't like the old days when you had to wait for your computer to do things.
I have sought access to the 20-page agreement Google is negotiating with the city council and will post an update next week on all this. Anybody out there that already has 1 gigabit Internet?
That's Greg's Bite for today.
(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He's also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: www.CottageIndustySolar.com Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg's art web site at http://www.gregmills.info He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)