Gigabit in Austin
In the span of a year, Austin moved from being the Live Music Capital of the World to becoming the Gigabit Internet Capital of the World with three companies — Google, AT&T and Grande — promising to bring speedy service to Austin.
Currently, only a portion of Grande customers have privileged access to the gigabit Power 1000 service (which launched in February), and the rest of Austin is patiently waiting for even the smallest hint of gigabit news. But when it finally debuts across the city, will Austin consumers know how to utilize a gig to its full potential?
At the Broadband Communities Summit on Tuesday, providers discussed how there’s still plenty of work to be done to bring the service to the city. Dahna L. Hull, the vice president and general manager of AT&T Services in Austin, gave a keynote address along with Matt Murphy, CEO of Grande Communications. Mark Strama, the head of the Google Fiber rollout in Austin, was scheduled to speak but canceled due to laryngitis.
Many are speculating when and where Google Fiber will first roll out, and AT&T is still looking to launch Gigapower later in 2014. Grande beat both to the punch just over two months ago with the launch of its Power 1000 service.
"A gig is where it’s at," said Murphy in his keynote, adding that Grande jumped ahead of AT&T and Google with what he described as an "incredibly robust Austin fiber network." Grande spent more than $1 billion to invest in gigabit internet; already having an established Austin fiber footprint allowed the much smaller Grande to compete with the $140 billion that Hull said AT&T has spent to develop its Gigapower services nationwide.
Both representatives cite that greater speeds will become increasingly important in the coming years. "In 2012, video usage was about 35 percent of internet traffic, and by 2017 it’s going to be 50 percent," said Hull. "Video is really, really important in the future of the internet and we have to do it with great speed. We’re excited right now to have a service without buffering.
"But the experience of not having the buffering circle is just the start of it, and as we move forward and have amazing video interactions from consumer to consumer or within a family, we’ll also have a major difference in work interactions for people who work from home. That can certainly help in a city with a bit [of highway] traffic."
Hull further stated how having amazing speeds for both downloading and uploading can greatly affect commerce and Austin industries, whether it’s health care, gaming, filmmaking or the general workforce. Murphy also expressed his feelings on how speed could greatly affect entertainment.
"My house was the first gig house in Austin, which is certainly popular with my kids," said Murphy. "The speeds are unbelievable, and frankly, most people’s products at home can’t take it yet.
"We haven’t seen a major difference in customers’ usage when they pick up a gig package, but we are seeing a need to educate the customer. We have a gig going from the network to the router in the home, but when people do a speed test on their iPads, they want to see that speed, but the environment is not allowing for it," Murphy explained.
"In Tarrytown where we launched, there are multi-million dollar homes that don’t have the wiring to support this. We can do a rewiring in the house, but speeds get degraded close to 50 percent over wireless."
As the three major gigabit players plan to roll out across Austin, it’s still up to residents to upgrade many daily facets of their lives — and to decide what exactly they will do with these super-fast speeds.
"As I go to cocktail parties and talk to friends and neighbors, nobody knows what to do with this, but they like it," Murphy said. "And they like to brag about it. But this is where it’s going."