Morse would likely stand slack-jawed if he could see how his rudimentary invention has evolved into today’s methods of information technology.
The utility and popularity of the Internet make it arguably one of the biggest drivers of technological advances over the past two decades.
Communications hardware in the digital age is advancing so rapidly that one national electronics chain now of-fers a buy-back program for products with “obsolete” technology.
Two of the fastest systems for high-speed Internet service, fiber-optic cable and wideband (larger than conven-tional copper) cable, are offered by companies that serve northwest Georgia.
Much has changed since far back into the last century when Ringgold Telephone Co. (RTC) first began providing communication services in Catoosa County.
Still essentially a small family business, RTC has grown from a one-room operation with a small switchboard and a handful of telephones to a local powerhouse utilizing leading edge technology.
Philip Foster, RTC vice president of service design, says that his company began dabbling in fiber-optic service seven years ago, and about three years ago started a significant investment into overbuilding a network for the future.
“With the expansion of cell phone service, telephone land lines are becoming redundant,” Foster said. “RTC simply needed to keep up with technology to stay in the communications game.”
And because the company got in that game early enough to take advantage of the existing infrastructure, high speed Internet has proved to be a competitive boon for RTC.
Foster says the company’s customer data stream increased more than 60 percent in the first six months of this year.
“We currently have about 5,500 high-speed Internet customers, both fiber and copper,” Foster said. “Our goal is to get 1,000 homes on to our fiber network each year, and in fact we’ve already reached 1,300 homes for this year.”
Foster says one of the biggest factors in how many homes RTC can reach in a given time is in how much line has to be run between populated areas. “We definitely have to consider future placement in relation to where custom-ers are and where we can run along our existing phone and copper cable lines.”
Despite the tragedy of destruction from the April 27 tornado in Ringgold, RTC had to decide to take the opportu-nity of downed poles and lines to run fiber to an area that it wasn’t really considering for the near future.
“The devastation was horrible, but from a restoration point of view we decided that if new poles and lines have to go up, we might as well make it the best available technology.”
Fiber optic cable has many advantages over copper, such as a higher capacity that allows nearly symmetric speeds for uploading and downloading data (uploading on copper is a fraction of its download speed).
And because the signal carried on fiber is pulses of light and not electricity, it’s not susceptible to lightning strikes or electro-magnetic interference like copper wire.
Fiber also doesn't require nearly the number of signal repeaters over long runs as copper does because of di-minished signal strength.
And Foster says that since most fiber optic cable is made in Japan, the recent natural disasters there have cur-rently put delivery nearly six months out.
Fiber optic cable is also more labor intensive to install (each connection point requires pairing 300 sets of the hair-thin fibers) than even the latest generation of high-capacity, “Cat6” copper cable.
“But,” says Foster, “in the long run the investment in fiber is better, and that’s mostly because of the capacity.”
High-speed Internet glossary
· Digital bandwidth – the speed of digital data transfer across Internet lines such as copper cable, fiber optic, and wireless.
· Bit – unit of data measurement; bandwidth (aka bit rate) is measured in bits per second (bps), with Kbps (kilo) for 1,000, Mbps (mega) for 1 million, and Gbps (giga) for 1 billion bits per second.
· Node – splitting point for a copper cable line to a group of customers, sometimes hundreds of homes, businesses, etc.
· Passive Optical Network (PON) – splitting point for a main fiber optic line that can service up to 32 clients.
· Dedicated fiber – individual fiber optic connection to a customer from a main line.
· DOCSIS 3 – latest generation of copper cable, aka “wideband” or “CAT6” cable.
Check out what high-speed Internet service is available:
· Ringgold Telephone Co. at rtctel.com
· Electric Power Board at epbfi.com/you-pick/#
Fast and faster
Another northwest Georgia Internet service provider couldn’t agree more, though they certainly offer more.
Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) offers one of the fastest Internet connections in the world — to those willing to pay $350 per month for it.
EPB spokeswoman Danna Bailey said that their super-high bandwidth 1-Gbps service (more than 200 times faster than the national average, and 20 times faster than RTC’s highest speed) does provide bragging rights. “But the decision to provide it was mostly about creating an ‘incubator’ for economic development. Overbuilding our network will pay off over time because demands for high-bandwidth Internet content are consistently increasing.”
Indeed, with applications like streaming video, sophisticated multi-player gaming, and “cloud” computing gain-ing more users every day, a massive network overbuild may not seem so massive in a few years.
Bailey says that EPB has no plans to expand its Internet offerings beyond its electric service area, which crosses the state line to include parts of Fort Oglethorpe, Rossville, Lookout Mountain, Flintstone, and Dade County.
“Right now we have nearly 31,000 fiber optic customers,” she said. “Of those, about 1,300 are in north Georgia.” EPB’s entire service area covers 170,000 homes and businesses and 600 square miles.
The company offers television content with its fiber optic Internet service, and it’s enjoying the fruits of that growth industry as well, having added over two dozen channels since launching “Fi TV” in 2010.
“We’ve added apps to Fi TV that allow the users to pull up weather information and video on demand,” Bailey said. “Our video library has grown substantially.”
EPB also recently added leased access and education/government channels.
The damage from the tornado that swept through Catoosa County on April 27 included the destruction of miles of Internet cable. “We had an enormous amount of cable and telephone line damage because 60 percent of our system is above ground,” said Philip Foster, Ringgold Telephone Co.’s vice president of service design.
After the storm, RTC’s priority was to concentrate on businesses and residential areas that had livable situa-tions.
“I think a lot of people had broadband withdrawals,” Foster said. “For many folks these days, Internet service is more of a lifeline than telephone.”
Foster said RTC is very grateful to fellow Georgia Telephone Association member companies from the region that donated labor and material to help restore service. “We couldn't have put it all up like we did without their help.”
Charter Communications also had its resources stretched thinner from the disaster.
Charter spokesman Nick Pavlis said the tornado created some strategy issues for restoration of service. “Our first priority is always to go where power is in service, simply because if there’s no power then there’s no need for cable.”
In the cases where utility poles were downed, Charter repair crews had to wait for the power companies to com-plete their work because Charter leases pole access from them.
The opportunity to expand service after the disaster was limited, Pavlis said. “Regardless of our disaster contin-gencies, we have a budget for expansion in each of our markets, and we have to stay true to that.”