Gig U Hopes to Seed Development With Ultra-Speedy Campus Networks

Twenty-nine U.S. universities are hoping that Gig U, a project that brings ultra-high-speed Internet access to campuses and the surrounding areas, can spur economic growth and research development to their communities.

The initiative will arm universities and neighboring hubs with Internet speeds up to 1 Gbps (gigabit per second), enough to download a full-length HD movie in seconds. For many of the participating universities in the “heartland,” areas such as Indiana or West Virginia, the hope is that high-tech start-ups will be drawn to new areas and spawn economic development.

Targeted sectors are energy, telecommunications and healthcare, industries which rely heavily on research and speedy network connections to do business. There, high bandwidth and speed can be crucial for collaboration, since many researchers share high-resolution images and data sets across labs.

Leaders hope improved networks can make the U.S. more attractive to global start-ups, developers and investors. The U.S. currently ranks 30th in the world for broadband availability.

“America’s university communities, like cities and towns nationwide, need expanded access to higher-speed broadband networks to stay economically competitive in a world where other nations are rapidly expanding the speed of connectivity. Getting to faster broadband speeds nationally has to have a starting point,” Kevin Davis, director of service management and operational integration at Duke University, one of the universities involved with Gig U, told TechNewsWorld.

Gig U is still a work in progress, and the 29 universities initially signed on will help as the project grows and learns what attracts investors and how to design the best business models.

Some of the participating universities include Arizona State University, Indiana University, University of Alaska, University of Chicago, University of Kentucky, University of Montana, University of New Mexico and West Virginia University.

Universities Provide the Core

Leaders at these universities, and at telecommunications companies and non-profits nationwide, believe the university is the ideal location to build a buzzing research or economic community based on a speedy network.

“University communities are key engines for economic growth in America; many of the companies that power our economy today started in a university research lab or dorm room,” said Davis.

Many universities across the country, even some of the ones included in Gig U, already have ultra-high-speed access on campus. The problem is that when students or faculty go home and don’t have that access, or when neighboring businesses are just a few blocks away from those speedy connections, high-level work can’t get done.

“The lack of comparable Internet access in the communities that host universities creates logistical challenges, but it also means that there’s a built-in market in our communities, we think, for private-sector entities to find latent demand for next-generation networks,” said Davis.

Worth the Resources?

It remains to be seen whether Gig U’s high-speed access will be enough to draw start-ups to untraditional locations nationwide, when the same networks exist in more convenient areas.

However, the spirit of collaboration in the university atmosphere is often a huge draw to researchers, especially when it’s still unknown just what kind of powerful innovation high-speed Internet can lead to.

“In the early days of the Internet, none of these usages could be envisaged because bandwidth was not available for them — nobody thought the Internet would be used for medical diagnosis using imaging. And we are still in the early stages of Internet development,” Ian Peter, Internet historian and technology strategist at Ian Peter and Associates, told TechNewsWorld.

Others contend that when high-speed access is granted, the initial goals often become blurred and the access leads to unintended consequences — though that may not be an entirely bad thing.

“The history of the Internet gives many examples of how greater bandwidth has given rise to new applications and uses. We are now in an age where high-speed broadband is giving rise to many new applications and creative industries; gaming and medical research come to mind,” said Peter.

Participants of Gig U are excited about unforeseen developments, as well.

“We think university communities are the places where many of those new, unforeseen uses won’t just be dreamed up, but that some of the solutions to them may grow out of our communities, too,” said Davis.

Ultimately, said strategists, universities should jump on board with offering ultra-high-speed access to keep up with innovation and development worldwide.

“Universities that don’t have high bandwidth will fall behind academically over time,” said Peter.

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