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The First Gigabit Wireless City

Glenn Ricart

by Glenn Ricart

On September 19th, Blacksburg Virginia announced that it was initiating public gigabit wireless service to sixteen blocks of downtown and demonstrated coverage on the first block. I spoke at the launch and got to play with as much of the wireless gigabit as my devices could handle.  

 This was remarkable for several reasons.

  •   We now have a wireless gigabit city as one of the US Ignite communities and testbeds.  For all those who have been wondering if US Ignite was a fiber-only club, the answer is now clear: gigabit can be wireless as well as fiber. 
  • The money needed to add a new gigabit fiber to the Blacksburg head-end and to provide the wireless gigabit routers was raised through KickStarter – a social funding site which raised $94,000 to get the gigabit wireless going.
  •  Blacksburg has also received an NSF US Ignite grant to install a GENI rack and work on a health exercise application: FitNet.  This means that Blacksburg joins a very small and exclusive club that is assembling all three elements that have been shown to enable next-gen apps: gigabit to the end user, local cloud (via the GENI rack), and software-defined networking (via the OpenFlow switch in the GENI rack and future OpenFlow switches between the access points downtown).

 The technology needed for gigabit wireless, IEEE 802.11ac is still very new.  Cisco sent some of their first gigabit wireless routers to Blacksburg via overnight delivery so they could be part of the launch.  Still, few people at the launch had devices capable of connecting at gigabit wireless speeds.  The TechPad Blacksburg had brought out a Macbook Air to demo the gigabit wireless speed, but software problems in IOS held the speed down (see http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57590809-263/macbook-air-real-world-802.11ac-speeds-throttled/).

 The wireless gig was also featured at a 500-person technology association dinner, and Bob Summers, the main driver of the gigabit, gigabit wireless, and fitness app received quite an ovation.

  The popular wisdom is that the hot market for apps is mobile devices — phones and tablets and Google Glass.  If true, gigabit wireless backed up with a local cloud and SDN looks like exactly the right dev environment.   Head to Blacksburg.  At least for now, they are a uniquely capable environment among the US Ignite testbeds.