Speed Demon

Speed skaterI felt very fortunate to turn 62 earlier this month but I would feel even more fortunate if I was Sigbritt Lothberg. Not because she has reached the distinctive age of 75 but because she has the world’s fastest Internet connection. Ms. Lothberg — of Karlstad, Sweden — has a 40 gigabit-per-second connection. That means that, if she was so inclined, she could download a full-length movie to her home computer in less than 2 seconds! That would be 75,000 times faster than what most of us get from a cable modem. Lothberg’s son, Peter, worked with a town official to install the connection which uses a new modulation technique that allows the sending of data between two routers — the specialized computers that move packets of ones and zeroes around the Internet — placed up to 1,240 miles apart. Although this is not a likely scenario, it does show the possibilities for Internet speed. Peter says "she didn’t even have a computer before." Apparently she isn’t exactly making the most of her high-speed connection. She only uses it to read Web-based newspapers, but that is not the point.

The point is that — especially in America — there is not enough competition. While Ms. Lothberg is enjoying lightning speed with her Internet connection, AT&T and Verizon are each spending more than $20 million per year on lobbying. Unfortunately, much of the lobbying is aimed at preventing competition, especially in the wireless area. There is a perception that wireless is inherently much slower than "wired" connections. Actually, the ones and zeroes do not care whether they are moving through copper, or glass fiber, over the power grid, or through the air. The issue is not technology, it is about having widely available and open wireless networks with lots of competition. Some people worry that Google is the next juggernaut, like IBM in the 1960’s and Microsoft in the 1990’s, but if it was not for Google, the spectrum that will be made available for new wireless networks when TV goes digital in 2009, that spectrum would all be gobbled up by AT&T and Verizon to be parceled out according to their (limited) vision of what is possible and in a very proprietary way. If Google and others get a hold of that spectrum we will have an open approach and likely see some breakthroughs in speed and coverage for the wireless Internet.Stay tuned for a WiFi update in the next few days.