By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Google announced San Antonio as the next city to receive its “Gigabit” Internet network, which is about 100 times faster than what most broadband users currently experience in the city.
“Google Fiber will provide San Antonio with the competitive business and entrepreneurial edge needed in this era of continuously evolving high-speed technology,” Mayor Ivy R. Taylor said during a press conference Wednesday morning at Geekdom, the downtown San Antonio collaborative co-working center.
“I’m excited about the impact on our economy,” Taylor said. That includes Google hiring contractors to install 4,000 new miles of fiber infrastructure throughout the city and new startups springing up from having access to the service. Google reports that its fiber network is massive enough to stretch from here to Canada and back. San Antonio is also the largest city Google has launched its fiber service in to date. San Antonio is a sprawling community that is the nation’s seventh largest city and home to 1.4 million residents.
San Antonio is also just 75 miles down the road from the high tech hub of Austin, which also has a Google Fiber Gigabit network. In April of 2013, Google announced its plans to provide Google Fiber in Austin. It began service to its first Austin customers in December of 2014. Google Fiber is still rolling out the service to neighborhoods, which it calls “fiberhoods” throughout Austin. The San Antonio announcement does not affect those plans, a Google spokesman said. Both cities will be under construction simultaneously.
“This is a key milestone on the path to world class Internet but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Taylor said.Google cannot yet report when the service will be available in San Antonio or provide any timelines, said Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber, Texas.
“This is a very exciting day, one that a lot of time and effort has been invested in,” Strama said. “San Antonio is a very interesting city and a really attractive place to see what is possible with Gigabit speeds.”
San Antonio has had a commitment to connect more people with affordable and accessible Internet access through its Connect Home initiative, Strama said. U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former Mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro announced the new program in July to provide high speed Internet access to low-income populations. San Antonio is one of 27 cities nationwide involved in the pilot program.
San Antonio is also part of President Obama’s Tech Hire initiative to train more people for high tech jobs by providing them with coding and other skills. In March, President Obama announced the program to provide scholarships to minorities and low income Americans who want to take coding classes at academies such as Codeup or Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy.
In addition, San Antonio is a hub for cloud-based companies like Rackspace. It also has the Open Cloud Institute at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Techstars Cloud, a thematic accelerator program focused on generating and nurturing the next batch of cloud companies. San Antonio also boasts the second largest concentration of data centers in the country. It is home to Microsoft’s mammoth data center as well as one for the National Security Agency and dozens of others. The city also has a thriving Cybersecurity industry, and one of the largest concentration of cryptologists, hackers, network security specialists, electronic warfare specialists and other Cybersecurity professionals in the country. And San Antonio is home to a large and growing biomedical industry and dozens of technology startups sprouting up around Geekdom.
The evolution of dial up Internet to broadband resulted in an acceleration in speed of about 10 megabits per second, Strama said. The evolution from today’s broadband speeds to Gigabit speeds is an acceleration of the Internet of over 900 megabits per second, he said.A lot of applications that require Gigabit speeds don’t yet exist because the capacity isn’t available yet, Strama said. But soon Geekdom startups will be able to create those “killer applications” that require Gigabit speeds, he said.
For the next few years, Google will be deploying its fiber network throughout San Antonio. And it’s a major construction project, Strama said. Google has been working on engineering and design for months and it plans to begin construction in the next few months, Strama said.
“As soon as we can, we will start delivering service to our customers in San Antonio,” Strama said. “I can’t provide a specific date or timeline for that. Construction is subject to a lot of variables, not all of which are within our control, but we are highly motivated to work as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Google Fiber will roll out the network in a staggered deployment, Strama said. It will begin offering service in neighborhoods as it continues to build out other neighborhoods, he said.“We have rich Internet history in this city,” said Lorenzo Gomez, director of Geekdom and the 80/20 Foundation, Rackspace Founder Graham Weston’s private foundation focused on spurring entrepreneurship and growth in San Antonio.
This is not the first time something game changing has happened in San Antonio, he said. Ten years ago, Rackspace at the Weston Centre housed the first servers for Youtube, he said.
Now Google Fiber in San Antonio unleashes all of the possibilities for the next generation of innovators to create game changing products and services on the Internet, Gomez said.
Gomez recounted a story about what has taken place in Kansas City, the first city to get the Google Fiber Gigabit network. A couple of entrepreneurs started the Kansas City Startup Village in a house to take advantage of the high-speed Google Fiber Gigabit network, Gomez said. The high speed network allowed them to iterate and innovate faster than ever, he said. Today, more than 25 companies are located at the Kansas City Startup Village and many of them moved from elsewhere to be near the network, he said. That’s exactly the kind of ecosystem San Antonio is creating to attract and spawn new technology startups, he said.
The city of San Antonio doesn’t expect to spend any money on the Google Fiber installation, Mayor Taylor said. It’s private investment from Google and the city hasn’t discussed any costs involved in the project, she said.
San Antonio first applied to be a Google Fiber city in 2010 along with 1,100 other cities. It didn’t make that cut, but San Antonio did make the short list of cities under consideration for Google Fiber in February of 2014. But when Google announced its new cities later that year, San Antonio didn’t make it. Getting Google Fiber here has been a long process, but San Antonio and Austin are the only Texas cities to have the service. Google Fiber is currently available in Austin, Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri and Provo, Utah. It is under construction in Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina and Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Google Fiber access in San Antonio has far-reaching implications for the Central Texas region as a whole, said Gomez, director of Geekdom.
“I feel like the San Antonio and Austin region is going to be the next mega-region,” Gomez said. “We are Portland to their Seattle. We both specialize in different things, now is the time to collaborate and hone in on what we’re really good at doing.”
Google fiber is part of what will tie the two communities together and make them a powerhouse region, Gomez said.
“I do think you’re going to see a wave of innovation,” Gomez said.
Technology companies in both communities have access to this super fast Internet network and that will accelerate activity that’s already going on around Internet Cloud companies, Cybersecurity, biomedical research and more, Gomez said.
“It really is a story of two cities, if played correctly – collaboratively, not competitively, will emerge in the top five regions in the country, if not the world,” Gomez said.