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Faster on ramp to the information superhighway

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: As Jason Deem announces the completion of his latest idea at Nebula Coworking, he’s hoping his clients might be getting a taste of a faster future – fiber.

“It’s critical, particularly for technology businesses but really for any business to have reliable internet,” he said. “As much as we’ve been expanding, the only way to accommodate the bandwidth we need was to go to fiber.”

Though much smaller in scale than Google’s Kansas City project, the gigabit-ready fiber connection unveiled at Deem's establishment in south St. Louis’s Cherokee neighborhood last week reflects the same desire for high-speed linkages. Many think it's the future of the internet as high-end applications, real-time interaction and big data put massive demands on electronic gateways used by businesses.

Fiber has been on the upswing nationally. Having already introduced the concept to Kansas City, internet giant Google is now looking to put together similar projects in Provo, Utah, and Austin, Tex. Elsewhere, a coalition of 30 research universities called Gig.U is looking to help deploy high-speed connections to learning institutions and their surrounding areas as part of a bit to boost innovation.

“This is something that will probably be much more widely spread in two, three, four, five years,” said Deem. “I imagine that eventually, most every business will probably have fiber going to it.”

The excitement behind all the buzz is that places that offer a faster entrance ramp to the information superhighway could become magnets for both new techno-savvy startups and larger, more established businesses looking to do high-volume number crunching and heavy-duty cloud computing.

Here in St. Louis, the Cloud Coalition is already promoting such a project connected with the installation of the Loop Trolley. When completed, the new fiber, known as the Loop Media Hub, is expected to supply a 2.1-mile stretch of that neighborhood with gigabit-ready access.

“Innovative and creative organizations are attracted like bees to honey to this capability because they know the next round of internet applications is going to come out of this high bandwidth,” said David Sandel, president of Sandel & Associates and a major backer of the hub. “They want to be first movers so wherever this capability is they are going to show up.”

Sandel said fiber allows not only for faster speeds but also better access to the growing world of cloud computing, something that can negate the need for expensive on-site servers. He feels that this is only the beginning of a major rewiring of the country.

“It’s inevitable,” he said. “What we’re seeing is a new generation of internet activity being developed right now and it’s around bandwidth. Just like the first round of internet connectivity, it will start small and be in different patches, but once critical mass is reached it should take off in a big way.”

Matthew Porter, CEO of Contegix, a local cloud computing and managed hosting company, said he feels locales like the Loop could eventually become major “connection points” for growing companies, retail outlets and ordinary consumers.

The key, he said, is being able to obtain and process information in real time, something increasingly valuable to many businesses that need to analyze developments and make decisions quickly as they interact with large data sets.

“For them, a moment in time needs to be communicated now, not 20 minutes from now,” he said. “For them, it is the difference between mailing a letter and making a phone call.”

Back at Nebula, Deem said his new fiber opens up big possibilities as he plans to expand into another 10,000 square feet of space in the basement. Nebula has also set up an “open device lab” for web and app developers to test products on computers and mobile devices. Deem expects the idea, ready for launch this fall, to benefit from the high-capacity connection.

Moreover, he’s looking at the possibility of expanding access to his fiber by linking it to an existing network in the neighborhood.

“The big thing that it would mean is that more people would have access to a fast, reliable internet connection that would be very affordable,” he said. “That’s an important thing for Cherokee Street. A lot of the businesses here are running on pretty tight budgets. They are often independently owned and operated, small mom-and-pop shops running on their own.”

David Baugher
David Baugher is a freelance writer in St. Louis who contributed to several stories for the STL Beacon.

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