Google fiber is coming to Austin (and your business)!
This week, Google announced that they are bringing Google Fiber to Austin after a successful launch and continuing rollout in Kansas City. Hot on the heels of that announcement, AT&T announced that they, too, will build a 1 Gigabit Fiber Network in Austin. If the result is anything like it has been in Kansas City, where small groups of startups have coalesced in the neighborhoods with early access to Google Fiber, this move could give the Austin tech startup scene a nice little jolt.
For a comparison of the speed differences between normal broadband and Google Fiber, a typical Time Warner Cable, Grande Cable or AT&T U-Verse plan offers less than 50Mbps down and less than 3Mbps up while this new Google and AT&T Gigabit fiber will offer over 20 times the speed at 1000Mbps both up AND down. Considering we can, with little loading time, stream HD video from numerous providers on the old “slow” plans, you might find yourself wondering “Why would Austin even need anything quicker?” and “What will this actually mean for Austin startups?” but to answer either question we need to talk about where the internet is going in general.
For the past few years, we've seen many computer paradigms being shaken up, particularly as we move more and more of our technology to cloud hosting setups like Rackspace, Amazon Web Services or Google Compute Engine. Moving to cloud-based setups has greatly simplified the process of starting and running businesses of all sizes. Instead of worrying about plugging in servers and swapping hard drives (or paying someone to do it for you), these cloud providers typically abstract out the underlying information about their services and provide you a high-uptime, high-bandwidth hosting setup that can easily scale with you as your business grows. While this has been great for new products and businesses and has been the key to services like Netflix Instant Watch or Heroku, internet service providers like Time Warner Cable or Comcast have been slow to increase the speed of consumer and commercial broadband internet accordingly.
While we've been lucky to have a (minimal) amount of competition here in Austin already, with three ISPs available (TWC, Grande and ATT U-Verse) and gradual speed increases over the last few years, we've always significantly lagged behind the speeds attainable in other countries like Sweden, Denmark or Japan. Because we're still at such a slow baseline as a country, we've had to spend a lot of time and energy making sure our sites are performant enough to reach both the high-speed users and the lowest-common-denominator users (such as those on painfully slow wireless networks). It is not uncommon for Web developers to spend a significant amount of time trying to eke a few extra milliseconds of performance out of their applications to try to ensure a good experience for all possible users.
Because consumer internet speeds have been so slow, certain types of business ideas have been close to impossible to achieve so far. Many of the services that we use today on the server-client model (like Netflix) could potentially become based on P2P models instead, saving businesses potentially millions in hosting costs as they rely on their users automatically sending data to other users. Products like the Google Chromebook that bill themselves as net appliances could finally cut the tether and store ALL of their data online, including the low-level OS and other services, making them lighter, faster and with a much longer battery life.
If you're an entrepreneur or small business in the Austin area, you are positioned well to take advantage of this high-speed internet revolution from this nascent stage. If you have a business or an idea that depends on large amounts of data moving from server to customer or server to server, you'll see instantaneous speed benefits from high speed fiber-based internet without doing anything but switching services. If you have an idea that currently requires large hosting bills, you could, at least with local customers to start, begin experimenting with different architectures that can help release the chokehold on your business. Even simple business models like doing in the cloud quickly what the consumer's pc does slowly (like video rendering) or cloud backups could easily take advantage of these speed benefits to make their products more worthwhile to the end-consumer.
We're still very early in the high speed fiber revolution. The more people who are signed up, the more we can focus our businesses on taking advantage of this new freedom to send large chunks of data quickly. If you already have a business here in Austin, great, you are ready to go, if you are thinking of opening a business in Austin, great, you have (yet) another reason to do so, if you are operating a business in another city that is under the stranglehold of the old ISPs and their slow speeds, this might be a reason to consider shifting your business plan and possibly your location.