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The Need For (Broadband) Speed

Undoubtedly, you've seen this video announcing Google Fiber. Very clever use of The Cars song Just What I Needed.

You might wonder: why do I need to be able to download and upload at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second? Isn't that a bit excessive?

I remember the days before I knew about the Internet. I was dialing up bulletin boards on a 300 baud acoustic coupler modem. Everything was a text-only affair. The few times I downloaded anything, I expected a long wait that ties up both my computer and my phone line. For example, a 143k floppy disk image for an Apple II took nearly an hour, as I recall.

In college, I got my first taste of the graphical Internet--I had already had a taste of the text-based Internet by high school. I played with the first versions of NCSA Mosaic, Netscape, and other web browsers. On 19 inch color screens. On HP Unix Workstations. On T1 lines. It was a dream compared to the dialup and black and white screens I had to endure otherwise.

The first "broadband" I had at my house was an ISDN modem in the late 1990s. Cable Internet wasn't widely available back in those days, so that's what I could get. Twice the speed of a regular dialup modem (yes, I could get 2 channels back then).

I finally got something that fit the modern definition of broadband at home about 10 years ago. I finally moved someplace that offered Internet service through the local cable company. I can't remember exactly how fast it was, but it was on the order of single digit megabytes per second with very restricted upstream bandwidth--restrictions that have since lifted over time.

Today, on Comcast, my broadband speed test shows a nice, happy 35mb/s download and 5mb/s upload. And at least for what I do today, that seems fast enough.

But that is very short-sighted thinking.

Take the computer I was using with my 300 baud modem: an Apple II. It ran with a 1 megahertz processor, it had up to 64k of RAM, and a couple of 143k floppies. Graphic capabilities were relatively limited. Sound was little more than a piezo speaker capable of rudimentary sounds.

Today, I can hold, in the palm of my hand, a battery-powered computer that runs with dual-core processors at gigahertz speeds, a gigabyte of RAM and gigabytes of storage capable of reproducing on a touch screen images taken by the device itself, playing any song in the world with excellent fidelity, and able to connect to a worldwide network of other computers.

All of these things are possible because people innovated, making the computers faster, cheaper, smaller, and connected via wireless networking. I don't know if any of the people who built the components that make up these devices had any idea the innovations those components would help bring about.

The same way we have no idea of the things that will be possible as we move from broadband connections of single digit megabits per second to hundreds and thousands of megabits per second.

We can guess or dream about the possibilities, of course. The only way to find out is to actually build it. While there are plenty of companies that wish to slow down the inevitable, namely the existing incumbent telcos and cable companies, it will be built. Whether Google does it or some other company does, it needs to be built.

Who knows what we'll miss out on if we don't.


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Parent, Writer, Podcaster, Coffee Achiever, VoIP/Telco Curious, C-List Information Security Celebrity, and Mobile Phone Connoisseur residing in Gig Harbor WA US. Sometimes NSFW, always a 49ers fan.