In 2010, Google Fiber was projected to be a transformative initiative that relied on the Field of Dreams philosophy (“if you build it, they will come”) that lies at the center of some of the biggest debates about strategic infrastructure financing. It was a huge investment to enable a game-changing leap forward for a batch of regions and towns across the U.S. making affordable ultra-high broadband available to everyone in the community and creating a new platform for innovation and economic development. Almost ten years and nine locations later, further rollout has stalled, and many observers have written off the initiative as a failed experiment.
But perhaps the goal was never actually for Google Fiber itself to be the pathway, but merely the proof of concept. By making enough progress, we’ve seen that incumbents and competitors alike have accelerated their investments, and new industries and applications have been enabled by this newer, faster platform such as distributed virtual reality and the Internet of Things, which some argue may have taken years longer to develop into their current forms but for the existence and the promise of the Google Fiber “experiment”. Local governments have come to recognize that restrictive and inefficient approaches to overseeing network installations must give way to bolder plans.
More Fiber, More of Everything
Moving down to a more granular examination of the impact of the network, it is widely accepted that, if nothing else, you future-proof by always building out more fiber. There are a range of technologies today, and there are more coming, that are guaranteed to drive ever-higher demand for bandwidth, reliability and speed, and there are a range of advances being within the technology of network infrastructure itself, and the architecture that defines how it connects, that are only realized in a world of fiber connectivity.
There are decision points in the life of a business or corporation in which gaining an edge through innovation, connection and access to resources will undoubtedly have a material long-term impact on its competitiveness and success, or perhaps its very survival. These can manifest in stark opportunities – the ability or not to deploy or consume solutions, services and products that rely on a base level of network performance. Examples include ultra-high video and virtualization, real-time and remote management of control systems, telemedicine and gaming services.
More insidiously, it can be the marginal and almost unperceived impacts of lower-performing systems that can prevent businesses from capturing full value in the marketplace. Fractional lags, video interruption and poorly performing apps drive frustration and inefficiencies that are individually too small to quantify but collectively serve as a brake on progress.
Top of the Needs List
Businesses experiencing relocation or opportunities to expand to new locations must raise to the top of their criteria the performance and modernization of fundamental network elements, including proximity to backbone and hubs, and presence of fiber as close to last mile as possible. Other businesses must find ways to gain access to the most advanced networks through facilities improvements. Investments may be enabled in a variety of ways, with public policy and financing underpinning many local rollouts towards broad economic development and job creation goals.
In small and large steps, regions are implementing fundamental upgrades to network quality, and recognize the transformative opportunities they provide. These transformations manifest in individual businesses that can do things that couldn’t do before, in towns and cities that can competitively attract new research, new ventures and new talent, and individuals who can build dreams of new technology and systems.