SDN Blog

Gig-a-ma-what? Sorting through hype about gigabit service

Posted on Monday, June 15, 2015 in Broadband Internet , Member Communities

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GIG Service - Drinking From A Fire Hose

Internet providers, including some that serve the Upper Midwest, have been promoting the availability of 1 gigabit service for their residential customers.

A lot of consumers – myself, included – don’t have a great understanding of what one-gig service means, but it sounds good. That’s got to be really fast, right?

Yes, a gig provides a household immense potential for the speedy transmission of data, experts say. But it’s also a much higher level of service that most residential customers in rural America need, at least for the near future.

'It’s like drinking out of a firehose.'

“It’s like drinking out of a firehose,” says Greg Dean, director of industry relations for the South Dakota Telecommunications Association. “You can get some benefits out of it. Is it more than you need? Absolutely.”

Dean made the remark during a recent meeting of telecom marketing managers in Sioux Falls. Ryan Dutton, executive director of Cronin, a national consulting firm that serves the telecommunications industry, talked about gig service during a presentation. He called it overkill for the current needs of most rural customers.

The availability of gig service might have marketing value, he says, but promoting it also presents challenges because of public confusion about what it means.

Dutton pointed out how Google cleverly uses the phrase “1,000 megabits” rather than “1 gigabit” in online promotions. One gigabit (Gbps) equals 1,000 megabits (Mbps), so the two phrases refer to the same per-second rate of transmission speed. However, 1,000 looks more impressive than 1.

The real value of marketing the availability of a gig or 1,000 megs of service appears to rest largely in the positive impression it creates of a provider positioned to handle the proliferation of electronic devices and growing demand for broadband capacity. Services such as video streaming certainly are increasing demands on broadband networks.

Even so, a 15-Mbps service used to be considered a good connection for household service in rural America. In an online usage guide last reviewed in October 2014, the Federal Communications Commission labeled anything above 15 Mbps as “advanced service.” Six to 15 Mbps was considered “medium service.” One to 2 Mbps was labeled “basic service.”

Four people moderately using electronic devices on the same service at the same time, including one high-demand application such as streaming HD or video gaming, could get by with a medium level of service, the FCC suggests. A family of heavy device users might require advanced service, however.

Discussing connection speeds used in the business world is an entirely different matter. SDN Communications, the premier regional provider of broadband connectivity to businesses and institutions, already provides connections measured in gigs.

“A significant number of our customers are using way more than a gig already,” says Vernon Brown, vice president of marketing and member relations. A gig is almost passe to them.”

Indeed, some of SDN’s clients use more than 100 gigs. But those are large organizations with multiple locations transporting huge files of information. That’s not the situation in any household.

SDN provides a variety of high-tech communications services, but it does not serve residential markets. SDN’s member companies do serve residential markets. SDN’s 17 members serve 80 percent of South Dakota’s geography with telecommunications services such as phone, TV and Internet.

Some SDN companies have the fiber-to-the-home capacity to provide their residential customers with a gig of service, but they don’t promote it. It’s just there, in case anyone decides they need that high a level of service. At some point, maybe they’ll decide to market the service, too.

The SDN website has more details about its history and ownership as well as the products and services SDN provides to businesses. You also can test your computer’s download and upload speeds to see how close you are to the gig threshold.