Iowa City Stories

May 14, 2010

The University of Iowa’s Network (ResNet) and Fiber Optic

Students living in residence halls at the University of Iowa have it good when it comes to the speed of their internet.

While non-University residents may have to pay an extra-fee to receive ultra-high speed internet, the University provides its own network for students living in residence halls, and at all University computer locations.  What’s best is the charge is included with tuition.

Ashley Stover, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa remembers when she moved into the dorms her freshman year and booted up her computer.

“It was so much faster than what I had back home,” said Stover.  “My parents the old-school dial up modem, so it was really slow.  Not to mention it tied up the phone line too, so if I wanted to talk to my boyfriend on the phone, it couldn’t be while anyone else was on the computer.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was I got in trouble for downloading songs, but I can’t blame the University for that one.  I have since started to pay for my music when I got iTunes.”

Rules and Acceptable Policies

A row of computers at the ITC in the Main Library connected to ResNet

While the University network may be extremely fast, there are strict guidelines that users must follow when connecting to the network.  According to the University housing website, the following rules are the acceptable use policy.

  • Student is responsible for all activity originating from this connection. Student must take reasonable precautions to prevent unauthorized use by others of this connection, and his/her accounts, programs, or data.
  • Students should not engage in activities that consume excessive amounts of network bandwidth.
  • Student must not modify or extend Residence Hall network services and wiring. This applies to all network wiring, hardware, and in-room jacks. The only device you can connect is a personal computer. You may not connect servers of any type, hubs, or network printers.
  • Residence Hall connections are provided for individual use only. Student may not create accounts on his/her computing system that provide campus network access for anyone else.
  • Residence Hall connections are for University-related activities only. Student may not conduct a commercial business via the Residence Hall connection.
  • Student may not run sniffers or any other software or hardware designed to intercept packets or to disrupt the security or operation of the campus network.
  • Student may not participate in illegal activities such as software piracy—either the distribution of copyrighted software or illegal attainment of software or other copyrighted materials—from the Residence Hall connection.
  • Student may not host chat lines from computers connected to this network.

Capable of high speeds

According to Jay Ford, Senior Network Engineer of ITS-Telecommunication & Network Services, the network is capable of some extreme speeds.

“I’ll give you four different scenarios and each one has a different speed capability,” said Ford.  “We have speeds up to 10 Gbps externally (to Chicago and Kansas City.)  10 Gbps mesh within the core of the campus network among key routing locations and data centers.  1 Gbps to and within most buildings, and 1 Gbps to most user jacks.”

With speeds this fast, it comes as no surprise that fiber optic technology is utilized within the network.  I discussed earlier how fiber optic works, and how local internet companies are implementing fiber optic, and the University is no different.

“We already use fiber heavily within the network,” said Ford.  “Fiber to edge user devices is not required because we can provide 1 Gbps on copper, which is much cheaper and better supported in user equipment.”

Ford also added that the University’s network is often times faster than Mediacom.

“Our standard user service is 1 Gbps, full-duplex and symmetric,” said Ford.  “Service offered by ISPs like Mediacom and Qwest is usually in the 3-20 Mbps range, usually full-duplex but often slower in one direction than the other.”

However the University does not plan charge users andoffer ResNet as an option for internet service to non-resident hall students like Mediacom does.

Kirk Baruth, Communcations Specialist at the University IT services, said the University pondered the idea, but decided against it.

“We’ve pondered it in the past on a few occasions,” said Baruth, “But delivering network connectivity to off-campus residences gets pretty far afield from our core mission. Instead, we maintain sufficient external connectivity so we don’t have a problem reaching ISPs that do provide residential access.”

While students at the university are not able to access the internet if they are not in a residence hall or the university-based computer, for those that do use the network on a daily basis, the speed of the network is on par and higher than anything else they can get for the price.

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Mediacom and Their Role With Fiber-Optic Internet

Filed under: IC Stories: Zawistowski, Fiber Optics — Tags: , — RichieZ23 @ 8:28 pm

So what if Iowa City is not picked as a test-market city for Google fiber optic internet?  Those who do not live in UI Resident Halls and are connected to the ResNet university network will most likely have Mediacom as their Internet service provider.

Cable-internet is the most popular form of high-speed internet, and there is only one provider in Iowa City – Mediacom.

However there are other forms of high-speed internet that are not cable-based, such as Qwest which provides users with a DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modem and service, or users can test out high-speed satellite internet, although it is much more expensive than cable internet or DSL.

I discussed in my previous story on how fiber-optic technology works — light is reflected through fiber-optic filaments and transmit data.

Cable-based internet uses your coaxial copper cable line that runs to from node to your house for your internet access. A cable modem connects to the Internet via a cable line, and to your wireless modem or computer using either an Ethernet or USB 2.0 cord.

Installation of Fiber-Optic Network

However, recently, Mediacom has installed a massive fiber-optic network that carries information from their main servers and routers out to smaller networks and nodes.  The last part of the information highway is still a copper coaxial cable however, but the fiber rich network allows for more efficient data transformation.

Phyllis Peters, Director of Communications at Mediacom discusses what Mediacom has done with regards to fiber-optic internet technology.

Because of the fiber-rich network that has been created, Mediacom was able to boost internet speeds of all their customers by 50% in 2009.  However, this is just the beginning for high-speed internet in Iowa.

“By the end of 2010, 50-meg speeds will be in half of our households,” said Peters.  “It will be available — you still have to have the one that wants it.  You do have to pay more, and we have to swap out your modem.  The key thing with the 50-meg or 105-meg speed is that’s the download speed.  With 105 your upload is 10, and with 50 your upload is 5.  Now If you’re using our 12 or 15-meg service your upload is one megabyte.  And the change from one-meg upload to five or ten is what many are saying is the most awesome feature.”

A New Age of Internet

“Again, we’re not just downloading things from the internet today like we were in the early days of the internet,” continued Peters.  “We’re uploading things too.  We’re uploading videos to YouTube, putting stuff on Facebook, uploading pictures to Flickr, so there’s no one else in the state that offers 5 and 10-meg upload speed.”

While many college-aged students use the internet for research for papers, or for casual purposes such as interacting with friends via Facebook or downloading music for their iPod, high internet speeds really become beneficial to those in the professional world.

“In Harlan, Iowa, a smaller town of maybe about 7,000-8,000 people, our fiber network connects right there at their hospital,” said Peters,  “So that radiologists and technicians can send huge files and huge amounts of data and all the new medical applications that need high speed broadband.  They can spend it to all the referral places that are within the Iowa Healthy System.  They couldn’t do that if we didn’t have fiber.”

“We had a video producer who could get more work done sharing videos with his clients all over the world in Toronto and California, that he could get more work done at home than he could at his business, because he had such a faster upload speed.”

Internet Will Only Get Faster

This all sounds great, but there must be suitable applications and routers for the high-speeds to impact the users.

This may be a slight problem right now, but as more and more people switch to higher internet speeds rather it be by choice and paying more, or still using the entry level internet that Mediacom has automatically increased, more and more applications will be programmed and designed to allow more efficient data transmission.

“There are still applications that we don’t have our hands on yet, as they are still being developed,” said Glen Reynolds, IP director at Mediacom.  “However we have our new routers that are much more robust and can handle the 50 or 100-meg input.  Every quarter we have to report as a company our financials and customer support, and every quarter we increase n high-speed internet, so that’s a real engine, but that tells you that people are leaving dial-up and DSL.”

Kyle Parkin, a senior at the University of Iowa discussed when he switched from dial-up to broadband.

“It was so much faster,” said Parkin.  “I was used to using AOL, and back around 2001 when we switched to broadband and it was incredible.  I could download stuff probably ten times as fast as before.  Now to hear they have increased the speeds even more, and 50-meg internet will be available, that is awesome for someone like me who downloads a lot of media.”

Some users may not care about higher internet speeds, as they only do simple things on the internet like check their email, or read the news.  However, the internet is evolving quickly, and soon the web-pages containing email, news, and other bits are going to be much larger in file size.

These customers saw their internet speed increase by 50% in 2009, but for those who use the internet for much more demanding purposes such as downloading and uploading video, web-design, or those in the medical field that Peters discussed, higher-internet speeds should be an important issue.  (All photos are non-copyrighted, and available for commercial use)

No one likes sitting at their computer waiting to get the desired result.  Whether it may be uploading a video to Facebook to show friends, or downloading medical records for emergency surgery, increased internet-speeds are something to look forward to.

Behind all the talk of megabytes, uploads, and downloads is the simple means of communication.  Faster internet speeds allow us to communicate with each other more effectively, and in different ways than before, such as high-definition webcasts,  which is a benefit for all parties involved.

Google to provide internet for select test market cities

Google will be adding yet another task to their resume later this year and is expected to experiment with ultra high speed internet in selected test market cities which will be approved via submitted applications.

Google embarking on a new project is hardly something new, rather it’s something that seems to go hand-in-hand nowadays.

Fiber Optic Internet

Back in February, Google Inc. announced their plans to launch ultra-high speed internet via fiber optic cables in selected test market cities. Since then the response has been extraordinary. Thousands of communities have submitted applications to Google, in hope that the mega-tech corporation would choose their city as a test market.

“Google is launching an experiment to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations in the United States,” said Minnie Ingersoll, Product Manager on Google’s alternative access team.

That’s sounds great, but what exactly is a fiber optic cable, and what does this technology involve?

What is Fiber Optic Technology?

To simplify, fiber optic technology is a revolutionary way of transferring data via cables. Instead of using a copper wire to transmit data like traditional wires today, fiber optic uses mirrored light — that’s right light — to transmit data much faster and much more efficiently.

Fiber Optic technology uses light to transmit data. (Photo by Lawrence Lawry)

However, Google is not looking to build a nationwide network and become a major player in the internet service provider (ISP) game. Even though Google will not be topping any major ISP’s, this is still great news though for everyone — ranging from the tech-junkie, all the way to the college student who simply wants to be able to download movies off iTunes faster.

“Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone,” Ingersoll continued. “We want to see what developers and consumers can do with ultra high-speeds, like creating new bandwidth-intensive “killer apps” and services, or other uses we can’t yet imagine. We also want to test new ways to build fiber networks, and intend to operate an “open access” network.”

Jay Ford, Senior Network Engineer for the University of Iowa ITS-Telecommunication & Network Services, says that fiber optic provides the University with better data transformation than copper.

“It is much more efficient, yes,” said Ford.  “While we still a bit of copper, we have plenty of fiber optic wiring within our network, and it allows us to have a higher optimal flow and less network problems.”

Potential for Iowa City and Surrounding Communities

Iowa City and the surrounding communities saw this as an incredible opportunity, and UI student Karl Taylor started a Facebook group called “Nominate Iowa City for Google Fiber” which currently has over 1,000 members.

The Facebook group also links to the official Google Application site, and also created www.icabc.org — which stands for Iowa City Area Broadband Coalition. Both of these sites are aimed towards representing the Iowa City area and convincing Google to chose Iowa City as a test market.

According to Google, there are many factors that come into play in determining accepted test market cities.

“We’ll use our RFI to identify interested communities and to assess local factors that will impact the efficiency and speed of our deployment,” said Ingersoll. “Such as the level of community support, local resources, weather conditions, approved construction methods and local regulatory issues. We will also take into account broadband availability and speeds that are already offered to users within a community.”

“Above all,” continued Ingersoll, “We’re interested in deploying our network efficiently and quickly, and are hoping to identify interested community partners that will work with us to achieve this goal. We plan to consult with local government organizations, as well as conduct site visits and meet with local officials, before announcing our final decision.”

One thing that stands out to me, is when Ingersoll says, “We will also take into account broadband availability and speeds that are already offered to users within a community.”

It is no secret that Iowa City’s internet speeds are quite low, and as a state, Iowa has one of the lowest internet speeds across the nation. This may help boost the application of Iowa City, along with community support.

Since March 26, applications are no longer being accepted by Google, but during the six-week period in which applications were accepted, the turnout was great for Iowa City.

A map shows the turnout of applications submitted, and although Iowa City doesn’t have the largest area, the turnout was great given the population ratio compared to a city or region such as San Diego.

But out of all the cities that accepted applications, why would Google choose Iowa City?

“The Iowa City area is an advertiser’s wet dream,” said Taylor. “You’ve got a dynamic community of 18-25 year olds — the age bracket everyone wants a piece of. The area is home to a number of entities (corporate and otherwise) that work very closely with “big-name” spenders, like the Federal Government. Our approaches to education are of global notoriety. There’s a nice balance of traditional and modern American paradigms amongst citizens–there’s even a mixture of rural and urbanized environments.“

While Google has not made an announcement on the city(ies) that they have chosen as a test market, those from Iowa City and the surrounding communities must feel that they have a decent chance to be picked. While it will be doubtful to be the only city picked, Google may very well pick multiple cities as test markets, and Iowa City could indeed be one of the cities picked.

“I would love it if Iowa City was picked,” said Kelly Wadell a Computer Science major at the University of Iowa.  “Fiber Optic internet would allow us to tap into immense potential as far as the digital world is concerned.  The speed and efficiency of data transformation would be incredible to experience at your home PC.”

While we are left to play the waiting game on the official word from Google, residents of Iowa City and the surrounding communities should feel like they have as decent of a shot as any to be selected by Google.

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