Connecting a Gig City
December 2013
Peggy Smedley, Editorial Director

The benefits offered by ubiquitous fiber-optic networks have been highly publicized. They’re renowned for the long distances they cover, as well as their cost effectiveness, lack of electrical interference, and their ability to handle a host of tasks.

Many point to the way in which the high bandwidth rates and improved latency of such networks help enable that realtime, always-on connection necessary for many emerging areas of M2M. We have heard about large businesses, governments, and even educational institutions tapping into the benefits of the gig’s super-fast fiber loop. For example, Lit San Leandro, San Leandro, Calif., has 10-gigabits-per-second, which equates to 2,000 times the average U.S. connection speed, but it’s only for businesses.

Today, however, it seems the excitement is building and communities are jumping on the gigabit bandwagon. Gigabit connections are proving to be instrumental in revitalizing the economic development initiatives of a community, as well as sparking tech innovation and attracting entrepreneurs to a given region.

A recent report from Navigant Research reveals the smart-grid market will grow from $33 billion in 2012 to a whopping $73 billion by 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate of 10% for the smart-grid market.

So far, there are more than a dozen gigabit cities around the country, with more locations on the horizon. But only one has been dubbed the Gig City: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Typically when we think of technological innovation, places like Silicon Valley come to mind. But Chattanooga civic leaders are making a serious run at having their city become a tech hub that can be emulated by other communities across the nation.

“As the technology becomes more widely embraced, even more cost savings will be achieved and we want others to know about that,” explains, J Ed Marston, vice president of marketing and communications, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

This past August, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Chattanooga, Tenn., hosted a group of media outlets, including Connected World magazine, to educate the media groups about the overall value of its citywide fiber-optic network.

Tennessee’s fourth largest city-owned municipal electric utility EPB (Electric Power Board) installed its fiber-optic network in more than 160,000 households and businesses in a 600-square-mile service area.

Since completing the installation in February 2011, speeds have more than met the current needs of homeowners and businesses alike. Many are proudly singing the praises of broadband and see brighter days for the community in the years ahead.

Digging into the technical details, when compared to metal wires, fiber allows signals to travel with less loss. In the case of Chattanooga, the city is currently providing up to one-gigabit-per-second, which is 200 times the speed of the national average.

As a result, EPB is improving power delivery and reliability to opt-in customers and reducing the length of power outages throughout the city. Since installing 1,200 IntelliRupter PulseClosers, otherwise known as an overhead distribution system protection, power outages have been reduced by more than 40%, says Danna Bailey, EPB’s vice president corporate communications. These self-healing devices anticipate transformer overloads by measuring power through the smart grid.

Bailey explains, “There are smart and there are smarter, and as we tell you about our system, I think you will understand why we sometimes refer to it as a smarter grid because it is highly automated and very robust.”

Up to this point, much of the notoriety of ubiquitous fiberoptic networks has been seen in areas including energy, digital signage, and home healthcare, among others. The need for faster speeds has necessitated homes and businesses to become more connected. Today, the need has arisen to provide faster Internet to the home. Now, FTTH (fiber to the home) gives residents a much faster option to connect the home. The same control network the city utility uses has been transformed to deliver high-speed Internet connectivity for home and work.

In addition to the smart grid, the city uses the SimCenter to further enhance the city’s infrastructure by offering advanced applications for public safety and transportation in Chattanooga. The emergency response operation center with communication and display uses the latest technology for situational awareness to coordinate emergency responders. This control center provides very detailed visuals of dynamic data from mesh networks and sensors, such as weather patterns, monitoring and control of traffic signals, and video feeds from traffic cameras placed throughout the city.

Together, these location-specific data points offer public-safety professionals and municipal leaders with immediate access to vital data and a more complete understanding of what they’re facing in the field.

From connected ambulances to connected law-enforcement solutions, first responders can have access to realtime data, allowing them to respond to situations quickly and accurately.

In addition, Chattanooga city engineers have already replaced the 28,000 traditional halogen street lights with LED lights and sensors that adjust their output based on ambient light. In the months ahead we will see even greater adoption of fiber-optic networks. The city officials admit Chattanooga has dozens of apps and sensors to manage the complicated connections on the city’s gigabit fiber network.

What’s more, fiber networks are quickly becoming a calling card to attract entrepreneurs; it’s improving city services. Government officials also hosted a GIGTANK, a fiber-optic network integration project. The goal of this event was to espouse the value that fiber communications bring to residents and businesses in the form of new jobs, technology innovation, and budding inspiration, among others.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke has a vision that the city will lead regional expansion of fiber-enhanced broadband as a model of tech innovation driving more investments in the area making Chattanooga more attractive for businesses and entrepreneurs. His goal is to change Chattanooga’s “perception” and be known as a tech incubator, and perhaps even one day be recognized as a city for innovation.

But even more importantly, he wants to change how residents and businesses perceive themselves in terms of being ranked on major lists. “In Tennessee we talk a lot about how we’re at the end of so many of these lists. When I was in the state legislature in particular, I was spending a lot of time talking about (how) we were 47th in education and were 46th in childhood obesity. You go through some of those particular lists and you struggle quite frankly with that. With the Gig, people understand that we are at the head of the list and that’s a fantastic place to be and our city and our community has embraced it,” he says.

“And so as we look at what that does, you see the GIGTANK yesterday (August 6), you see other events around the city, you hear people excited about the possibilities entailed about the Gig and that really to me is a fantastic opportunity on a city level, not just a business development level,” stresses Berke.

The race for fast service is on. As broadband increases, so will the competition, if Google (with its Google Fiber) and others have anything to say about it. But right now, the residents of Chattanooga appear to be getting the speeds they need faster than they can even use them, at least for now, which opens the doors to a host of new possibilities.

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