Within the next four weeks Comporium hopes to flip the switch on its gigabit Internet service downtown.
Customers of the Zipstream service will be able to perform online tasks at speeds 85 percent faster than what is currently offered by Comporium. Gigabit service is capable of downloading 25 songs in a second or accessing up to five high-definition television channels at one time.
The first customer to receive Zipstream will also be the first retail gigabit customer ever in South Carolina.
“Finally a bright spot for South Carolina,” said Jim Bottum, a research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clemson University, of Comporium’s decision to spend almost $1 million on new fiber and associated hardware.
For too long, Bottum said, South Carolina has lagged behind others in installing the high-speed connections needed to compete in an ever-changing and expanding digital world.
One in four South Carolina residents don’t have a home computer, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census, and the connection speed for about one half of the state’s residents averages 4 megabits per second. The U.S. average is 8.6 megabits per second. A gigabit’s speed is 1,000 megabits.
In February 2014, Comporium announced its Zipstream plans. In attendance was state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, who said Comporium’s decision to offer high-speed internet connections were “absolutely innovative and absolutely entrepreneurial.”
When Zipstream goes live, Rock Hill will join a handful of cities nationwide offering retail gigabit service. Kansas City and Chattanooga, Tenn., have garnered the most attention for their high-speed retail services. Kansas City was the first city selected by Google for its high-speed fiber program. Chattanooga’s electric utility put in the fiber cable and the hardware needed to support high-speed service.
In both instances gigabit internet service has helped create a community that draws, rather than exports, young, creative talent, said Sheldon Grizzle, founder of The Company Lab in Chattanooga, which nurtures start-up companies.
“Could it of happened in Chattanooga without the gig? Possibly, but not as fast,” he said.
High-speed internet made Chattanooga more attractive to a mobile workforce, Grizzle said, and helped attract “new investment in young companies that would have never happened before.”
Rock Hill hopes to create the same atmosphere through its Knowledge Park economic development strategy. Creating or attracting high-tech jobs is one of the strategy’s goals. Comporium’s Zipstream service is a key component in bringing high-tech companies to Rock Hill, or in helping home-grown talent develop.
For now, Zipstream is limited to the Knowledge Park area of downtown. It could be expanded to business parks or areas of the county where cable fiber is already installed.
Comporium maintains its Zipstream service is state of the art for retail users. To fully use the gigabit service, some customers will have to update their computers and associated hardware, said Matt Dosch, vice president for customer operations and external relations for Comporium.
The most important computer needs for high-speed internet is the computer motherboard and its data port. Both must be capable of handling a gigabit. Computers must be connected to each other with network cables that can handle the bandwidth. The quickest way to determine if a device is rated for gigbit service is to review the device’s specifications, looking for “gigabit networking” or “1000 mbps.”
Some people, such as Bottum or Dan Limerick of RST Global Communications in Shelby, N.C., suggest that one gigabit service will be quickly eclipsed by others offering more bandwidth.
Limerick’s company already has 3,000 miles of fiber-optic cables throughout North Carolina and is offering 100 gigabit service. “Common sense dictates more capacity,” he said.
So does demand. With each person using multiple devices the need for Internet capacity is growing.
“We will quickly go past one gigabit,” Limerick said. “The service has to be expandable to 10, 100 gigabits. In less than five years we will be talking about a terabit service – trillions of bits per second.”
The key, said Bottum and Limerick, is having a fiber service that’s easily expandable. The amount of data being pushed through the fiber is determined by the hardware on each end of the cable. Limerick’s service is computer based, making it easier to expand the internet speed connection from 1 gigabit to 10 gigabits to 100 gigabits.
Dosch said Comporium is comfortable that 1 gigabit service will meet the needs of residential and small business customers for the foreseeable future. The system can be expanded as the industry develops newer speed standards, Dosch said.
“We’re not done when it comes to Internet speed,” for the general consumer, Dosch said.
For those needing faster data speeds, Comporium will continue to offer dedicated internet service. Winthrop University, for instance, has 1.7 gigabits per second of total Internet bandwidth at its campus and data center locations.
Just two years ago, Winthrop had only 700 megabits of dedicated Internet bandwidth.
Bottum said a high-tech company envisioned for the Knowledge Park could easily require up to 10 gigabits of service
For high-speed services such as Zipstream to succeed they need to meet three criteria, agreed Bottum, Limerick, Dosch and others interviewed by The Herald:
• Reliable connectivity. Zipstream is used by many customers; it’s not a service dedicated for just one customer. That means there could be times when high user demand affect service speeds, Dosch said.
• Speed. Zipstream is designed as a symmetrical service, allowing for high-speed uploads and downloads. Speed can be affected by a user’s computer. Dosch said those using a wireless connection will have speeds slightly less than a gigabit. Wired connections are needed to get to gigabit speed, he said. Fast speeds result in more worker efficiency.
• Price. Zipstream is $99 a month for residential uses, $299 for business. In comparison, residential rates in Chattanooga are $69.99 and $70 in Kansas City.
Aspiring entrepreneurs at the Technology Incubator at Knowledge Park and established businesses such as Revenflo and Insignia of Rock Hill are looking forward to Zipstream’s debut.
The incubator is located at the Citizen Corner building, the “ground zero” of the city’s Knowledge Park effort. David Warner, director of the incubator, said that five of the start-up efforts at the incubator will benefit from high-speed Internet service.
Jason Broadwater, owner of Revenflo, said the connectivity offered by high-speed service is essential for his business. Revenflo, an Internet marketing and development firm, recently looked at uploading pictures and videos from one of its servers to “cloud” computer storage.
“It would take about 1.5 months to back up what we have,” he said. “With a gigbit connection, it would be a matter of days.”
David Stringer is president of the Insignia Group, which assists auto dealerships with accessory sales. Each night Insignia backs up between four and six gigabytes of data from its customers. “It takes hours. With a gigabit speed it could be done in a matter of minutes,” he said.
Higher-speed internet also allows companies such as Insignia to store its information remotely at data farms, Stringer said.
Cloud storage usually relies on shared resources for its customers while a data farm can give a client full-control over a customized data storage.
This reduces the cost of having in-house data storage, “which is a rabbit hole of costs,” Stringer said.
Comporium’s Zipstream service comes as large firms are eyeing Charlotte for high-speed Internet. Charlotte is one of nine cities vying for Google fiber. AT&T recently announced that Charlotte, as well as Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem, are candidates for its gigabit service.
Google is also considering the possibility of a 10 gigabit fiber network, although the location hasn’t been determined.
Under traditional economic thinking such competition would mean Rock Hill would lose any advantage it gained by being first in the region.
But Broadwater says that’s not the way to look at the situation. More people on gigabit service represents customers not competition. For gigabit to work both the sender and receiver had to have the high-speed service, he said.
The actions of Kansas City, Chattanooga, Rock Hill and soon in Charlotte show that “the world is flat,” said Bottum of Clemson. Those who rely on high-speed Internet connections “can go anywhere they want to.”
While Charlotte and other areas are being evaluated for high-speed service, Bottum and others said there is some advantage to being among the first like Rock Hill.
“Gigabit opens doors that are not normally opened,” Bottum said.
Gigabit service, Dosch said, “shows the community is serious about attracting you.”