Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

High In Fiber

April 2010

By Mike Gould

Here's a great word for you: narapoia. This is the opposite of paranoia: it is the feeling that there are people working behind the scenes, conspiring to help you out. This is the feeling I got when I learned of the Google effort to speed up online connectivity, possibly right here in Ann Arbor.

Not For Everybody
What this involves is pulling a new kind of "wire" to your house - a fiber optic cable that transmits data up to 100 times faster than the broadband connection you now receive from cable or DSL services. Often called "the last mile", the final leg of getting the ones and zeroes from your provider to your home can be the costliest segment of a network.

This involves telephone poles with metal boxen (1 ox, 2 oxen - 1 box, 2 boxen - old geek joke) nailed to them, expensive rolls of fiber optic cable being strung up everywhere, and Larry the, um, connectivity guy running around with a cherry picker installing the above, above. (Actually, that should be Lucy the connectivity gal, as the last few visits from Comcast repair people to my last mile have been conducted by women. But I digress...).

So to pull this off, you need a lot of expensive gear, cables, and personnel. Google would like to provide this for everyone, but can't afford to, so they are soliciting interest from communities across the US to act as guinea pigs in a pilot program. We would like to be such beta testers. Oh, yes, would we ever.

What's In It For Us
Let me explain this in a song (very approximately to the tune of John Lennon's "Imagine")

Imagine there's no wait-time
No frickin' ticking clock
Every time you click a link,
The Web will finally rock.

Imagine all the people
Cheering way out loud
Every time they download something
Stored up in the Cloud.

Imagine all the apps awaiting
Your band is broad at last
You may think I'm a dreamer
But I'm just a geek in love.
Let's let Google do their thing
And the world will finally download big honking files really fast.

Long song short: you get ever so much faster downloads. And, more importantly for us web workers, faster uploads to the web sites you are building. A movie you buy from the Apple store shows up in minutes instead of hours, the GigaBytes of photos you are backing up to a cloud-based server are sent out zippy quick - that sort of thing.

This is also being touted in helping transition Michigan from a manufacturing economy to one concentrating on digital services. A bigger pipe means more tech companies and workers will be attracted here to take advantage of the better connectivity.

(GeekSpeak: a "pipe" is a cable through which data flows - the bigger your pipe, i.e., the more traffic it can handle, the faster the bits and bytes get to their destinations. Optical fiber is currently the biggest pipe out there for the last mile.)

What's In It For Google
Google wants to sell applications and other services that run from its servers and is restricted in doing the really cool stuff because of the lousy Internet speeds we currently have to deal with in this country. Google has, well, googols of dollars in the bank and is itching to improve its position by spending them in ways that will improve its bottom line a few years down the pike.

Since Larry Page, a Google co-founder, is a UM graduate, and since Google has a major presence in Ann Arbor, it would seem that we have a pretty good shot at getting our hands on some of this pipe-age, but we are going to be competing with communities across the US. And some of them have a better track record of getting community-wide networking out to local business areas - can you say Wireless Washtenaw? I can't either.

Possible Downsides
This is a toughie, as it looks like we could get a major digital infrastructure boost for very little cost. There will still be a monthly connection cost, and it is supposed to be competitive with Comcast et al; we'll see. And I wonder how well this will be supported: Comcast has a big support center out near Zeeb Road, fleets of cherry-pickers, and years of experience in the upkeep of wires on a stick. Google has up until now been a software company; it remains to be seen how well they can maintain the physical layer of their new endeavor.

Help Yourselves
So if you think the above sounds like a good idea, please go to the Google site below and nominate your community, be it Ann Arbor, Dexter, Brighton, or wherever. More connectivity mojo is almost always a good idea. Unless you are one of the turtles in those ads on TV.

Referenced in this article:

A2 Fiber home page: http://www.a2fiber.com/

Nominate your community for Google Fiber: http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/public/options

Video: http://www.youtube.com/a2fiber

Mike Gould is a former mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser lightshows into lunch boxen, is a member of the FacTotem constellation, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

Readers Reply
As a new item in this column, I will be featuring readers' responses to issues raised in past articles. Responding to last month's column about the iPad, a reader named Jack wrote in commenting on the iPad's lack of camera:

Mr Gould, The one omission in your recent review of the iPad, IMHO, is the lack of a camera (and microphone?) built into the device. This is not so much to take pictures, but to utilize the wifi capability to use a Skype application and see to whom I am speaking. This assumes there is a built-in microphone as well. Of course there would be other uses for these additional bits of hardware, if they were included, but Skype is the only one that would interest me.

To which I reply:

Hi Jack; Yup, a lot of people have expressed concern about this. I believe this may be obviated by the use of a USB plug-in camera. There is a microphone on-board:

http://www.apple.com/ipad/specs/

Maybe Apple will include a camera in future models; there is evidence to suggest there is room on the circuit board for such an add-on.

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