Published on August 28 2016 by Compute Midwest
Kansas Citians have enjoyed exclusive access to Google Fiber for four years. The Internet giant and its high speed service changed the perception of Kansas City, bringing jobs, entrepreneurship and a new reputation to the heart of America.
And none of it would have been possible without Bob Metcalfe's invention.
At Xero’s research center in Palo Alto, the engineer created a coaxial cable to connect two computers over a short distance. On May 22, 1973, Metcalfe sent out a memo to the company explaining his new technology, titled, “Alto Ethernet.”
“That is the first time ethernet appears as a word,” he told Wired in a 1998 feature. “As does the idea of using coax as ether, where the participating stations, like in AlohaNet or Arpanet, would inject their packets of data, they'd travel around at megabits per second, there would be collisions, and retransmissions, and back-off.”
His invention would become a staple of the modern Internet. It would lead to the creation of the Local Area Network (LAN) and connect the world in ways no one could fathom, even Metcalfe himself.
In addition to his massive contribution to technology, Metcalfe is an inductee of the Internet Hall of Fame and he founded the multibillion-dollar digital electronics manufacturer 3Com.
The company distributed ethernet on a large scale, along with interface controllers and switches, routers, wireless access points and controllers, IP voice systems, and intrusion prevention systems. It’s no coincidence the birth of 3Com coincides with what has been coined the “personal computer revolution.”
“I give the Internet credit for everything good that has happened since 1969,” he said.
It’s certainly hard to argue with the Internet’s ubiquitousness since Metcalfe’s discovery in ‘73, a time when personal computers were no more than word processors.
Even as recently as 1995, when Metcalfe made his prediction, less than one percent of the population had internet access. Now 3.5 billion people are on the internet - virtually half of the world’s population.
It has taken over our lives socially - 45 percent of young adults in relationships say the internet has impacted their relationship. It dominates our lives professionally - 54 percent of workers say the internet is “very important” to doing their job.
We can’t even escape it in the bathroom, where 40 percent of smartphone users say they use it while doing their business.
The Internet has had an even deeper impact on Kansas City specifically, and when Metcalfe visits in November to speak at Compute Midwest it will be a figurative collision of the past and the future of the Internet.
In 2011, Google chose the city out of more than a thousand competitors as the first to implement its groundbreaking 1 Gigabit per second Internet service called Google Fiber with speeds 100 times faster than its competitors at the time. It utilizes a unique infastructure, with a fiber ring surrounding the city and branches moving inward connecting to fiber hubs, eventually reaching homes and connecting them to the internet through a single fiber strand.
It all sounds so futuristic because, well it, - no one is providing Internet like Google Fiber.
Yet, 43 years later it still has Metcalfe’s fingerprints at its core. Look behind any Fiber network box and you’ll see his invention - an ethernet cord connecting it to the wall.
The service has been a gamer changer for Kansas City, igniting a plethora of new startup companies and bringing visitors from around the world to see the effects.
Google Fiber has brought about a technological battle in Kansas City as well, with the consumers being the winners.
Since Google came to the city, Time Warner increased its internet speeds and now offers free wifi in select public hotspots while AT&T made its GigaPower service available to Kansas Citians.
Metcalfe predicted this about Google Fiber in his Reddit AMA three years ago.
“Google Fiber is great news for everyone, especially as a spur to AT&T and Comcast and Time Warner et al. Competition! We are now gigafying the Internet -- build it and they (new apps) will come, so far anyway.”
So the next time you stream a movie on Netflix without staring at a stalled loading icon or download a new album in a matter of seconds, don’t forget it’s all flowing through that simple ethernet cord Metcalfe made all those years ago.
Get a once in a lifetime chance to hear from this pioneer at Compute Midwest on Nov. 2nd in Kansas City.