Arizona State University and Tempe are working to build an ultra-high speed computer network in the Valley that would make today’s high speed service seem as pokey as dial-up.
The venture is dubbed Gig U. and it could boost speeds by up to 1,000 times. Proponents of this extra capacity say it would make the Valley a hub for start-ups, research and web-based businesses that need speed to move huge amounts of data quickly.
The local push is one of 29 across the nation to boost speeds in university areas and make those communities more economically competitive.
The nation needs a more robust network because U.S. Internet broadband speeds have fallen behind some places in western Europe and southeast Asia, said Frank Timmes, an ASU professor and director of advanced computing.
“They are kicking our butts. It’s not maybe — they are,” Timmes said. “And that’s because they’ve nationalized what they’re doing. They’re building their information highway like we built our Interstate highways in the 1950s.”
Businesses and researchers face limits today because big data sets, such as genomic information, need to move faster, he said. Faster speeds will drive advances as new firms and researchers can share information in ways they can’t do today, Timmes said. In some cases, they may not even be able to imagine what’s possible now.
“There are going to be new businesses that you haven’t thought of just because you will have businesses that have the capacity of moving that kind of data along,” he said.
This is Tempe’s second push for better broadband, following its effort to be the city Google chose for its Google Fiber project. Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek were among 1,000 communities to apply for the experimental high-speed network that the company since decided to build in Kansas City, Kan.
Fred von Graf worked on Tempe’s Google Fiber application and said the demand is only growing for more bandwidth. Von Graf, who founded the Tempe technology incubator called LaunchSpot, said Internet providers are reluctant to pour money into an ultra-high speed network. Their reasoning is understandable but frustrating to von Graf.
“There’s really amazing technology out there but the current providers aren’t investing in it because they’ve already invested so much in their existing infrastructure,” he said.
With Gig U., universities and cities are exploring various broadband technologies and will then seek bids from telecommunications companies. The upgrade would be funded by the telecom firms, which would recoup their investment through user fees.
Some of the fiber optic cable needed for faster broadband is in place but more would need to be installed. Von Graf said more research needs to be done because an experimental wireless technology could eliminate the need for costly fiber optics.
The improved networks may serve areas close to ASU at first but the goal is to expand it through the community. The service should be accessible to people starting businesses in their homes too, said Tempe Councilwoman Onnie Shekerjian.
“We just want to be sure that even the small businesses starting out in Tempe have all the tools they need starting out,” she said. “We don’t want the speed of the Internet to be an issue for them.”
Shekerjian chairs Tempe’s Technology Committee.
Von Graf said only a few places in the Valley have broadband that’s substantially faster than what most businesses and homes have available. His LaunchSpot location in west Tempe is one of them, and that’s been key to attracting some technology firms there.
His concern is as companies here grow, they will move to California’s Silicon Valley because higher broadband speeds are more available there. The Valley has the talent to keep technology companies here but that won’t matter if broadband speeds are subpar, he said.
“If we had the technology that we’re talking about,” he said, “that would be an amazing factor that would help retain jobs in Arizona.”
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