County Executive Ike Leggett announced Wednesday the completion of the “first link” in Montgomery County’s plan to connect government buildings and local businesses to ultra-fast internet connections.
The new “ultraGig” link connects the internet service provider Atlantech Online’s Silver Spring Data Center to the Silver Spring Innovation Center and provides the building with a 1 gigabyte per second connection—exponentially faster than the building’s previous connection that ranged from 10 megabytes per second to 200 megabytes.
The innovation center is one of four business incubators run by the county. It houses a number of local start-ups.
The move is being pitched as a first step by the county to engage in what has become a mounting arms race by municipalities across the country to provide growing businesses the fastest internet connections possible to compete in the burgeoning tech industry.
“[Ultragig] zeroes in on some of the most vexing challenges we face—supplying reliable, cost-effect broadband,” Leggett said at a Wednesday morning ribbon cutting for the new technology. “It demonstrates that we are the place to be.”
The technology, which is being developed by Washington D.C.-based FiberTower, uses small satellite-like dishes mounted on rooftops to direct pencil size beams that deliver the internet service, according to Joseph Sandri, the president of FiberTower Solutions.
Sandri said the internet service is reliable 99.999 percent of time, a much higher rate than typical internet service providers, even those that provide connections through fiber optic cable buried underground. Another benefit, Sandri said, is that the technology doesn’t require the massive construction and labor costs that installing traditional fiber optic does because the dishes can be installed on rooftops and the connection beamed wirelessly.
Leggett said the ultraGig connection costs the same price as the previous internet service the county paid for at the building.
Montgomery County council member Hans Riemer, an advocate for investing in internet infrastructure, said Wednesday this is an important moment for the county.
“It’s a sign of what’s coming here in Montgomery County,” Riemer said. “It’s time that we understood that fiber and broadband connectivity is as much a public need as roads, highways, bus systems; it’s one of the systems that we have to manage and succeed with.”
James Young, the creative director for Eastward Films, which is a tenant at the Silver Spring Innovation Center, said the new high-speed wireless connection is expanding the video services his company can offer.
He said using the previous internet connection he would occasionally set up livestreams to video chat with clients. Now, he says, he can not only video chat with them, but also live-edit video footage while interfacing remotely.
A scheduled demonstration to show off this live-editing capability didn’t exactly work Wednesday—the video went down a few times before a FiberTower worker was able to connect with an Eastward Films employee who was editing footage on the roof. However, this reporter used the connection and found it to be much faster than traditional wireless networks to browse the Internet.
Leggett said the technology has the potential not only to provide speedy connections to businesses in urban centers, but also to connect rural businesses with superfast internet speed.
“We are advancing quite rapidly,” Leggett said. “There’s more to come and we have some other ideas that we are pursuing under the umbrella of ultraMontgomery.”
Leggett first pitched the “ultraMontgomery” program as part of his six-point economic plan to invigorate the local economy that he detailed in his inauguration speech in December.
The plan calls for creating a network of 100-gigabit, fiber cable and wireless infrastructure to connect the county’s major economic corridors as well as to expand free WiFi in public facilities.