The 'gigabit' debate

Who needs a gigabit speed connection?

That was one of the most common responses to yesterday's discussions on the impact of Ultrafast Fibre's 'giganet' announcement. And it's a perfectly rational argument but one that is ultimately flawed and definitely one that will delay both UFB uptake and the digital transformation of the New Zealand economy.

its probably 2 decades since the idea of a 1 gigabit per second network entered my consciousness, my agency was working with the team at the recently launched Xtra and one of their esteemed geeks breathlessly told me that gigabit Ethernet switches were coming and they were going to revolutionize dial-up internet!

I went back to thinking about selling residential dial up.

Fast forward a decade to 2004 and I was sitting in the advanced networking stream at TUANZ's 2nd National Broadband Conference in Hastings (I was there on a guerrilla marketing mission for CityLink using Tee-shirts as a weapon!). I was in the room with Simon Riley and many of the fathers of the Internet in NZ (Messr's Houlker, March, James, Hine etc) listening to the father of 'Canarie' (Canada's advanced research network) Bill St Arnaud share his wisdom.

The discussion was around Bill's insistence that advanced networks needed to start at 1 gb/s, one of the workshop participants said 'gigabit, meh! our network hardly ever runs at more than 10mb/s,'

Bill smiled and gave a one word answer 'Overhead'

I was already struggling to keep up, so I played dumb (I had the lowest IQ in the room) and got him to explain what he meant, so he patiently explained that files (data sets in e-science speak) were getting bigger and bigger and were mostly moved on external media (disks, tapes, CD's, DVD's and even whole hard drives) but with gigabit you could save money and time moving these over the network and still keep all your other users happy.

The penny dropped for me, my agency had also seen this happen, in the late 90's we'd been spending literally tens of thousands of dollars a month on cycle couriers, digital printing, external hard drives (remember Jaz drives and Zip disks?) this was normal and we recovered the costs in our charges.

But in 1999 we moved to an office that had CityLink running past the window, we were installed on the weekend we moved in, and an edict was issued that our first method of moving files was to be digital transfer.

in these days of the cloud, Dropbox, Xero and Saas you're probably yawning into your decaf latte and thinking what's the point.

Well the overhead in our digital homes is rapidly increasing, we all generate and share digital media and support increasingly busy home networks, all media is heading on-line and so are big chunks of healthcare and education.

One case in point, Ultra High Definition TV's are coming, if you look at one in Harvey Norman's or Dick Smith's this weekend, take a look around the back - there's a pretty grunty dedicated PC pumping out a Weta grade video stream. Guess what - you can't broadcast UHD! 

So in the not to distant future if you want the best seat at an All Blacks game it'll will be coming to you in UHD over your 1gb/s UFB connection (and they do like their rugby in the gigatron).

Just like every other step we've taken in home connectivity, we'll use all the capacity and we'll be looking for more.