Verizon announced yesterday that during a trial, one of its customers was able to hit vey near to a gigabit in speed on the FiOS network. The customer, a business subscriber in Taunton (unrelated to Star Wars, I’m pretty sure), Massachusetts, remains unnamed, and the trial is certainly not indicative of any kind of nationwide ability on Verizon’s part. But this outlier is far more important than just a bigger number that nobody but a nerd would care about.
Let’s dial back a little bit. Verizon’s FiOS, a fiber-optic network, is one of the fastest Internet possibilities in the States today. Comcast’s cable is technically able to reach similar speeds, but not reliably so. Verizon currently offers speeds up to 50Mbps (that’s megabits per second) to its business and residential customers, although that number is really more of a best-case-scenario than an average. Verizon’s trial claimed to hit 925Mbps–yeah, nearly 20 times faster than the current best.
That 50Mbps may seem fast, but compared to a lot of other countries (read: South Korea, Japan), it’s almost embarrassing. Faster Internet access is increasingly important, for reasons I’ll get to in a second, and 50Mbps is just not that great, all things considered. That’s why Google’s much-buzzed-about gigabit network is so buzzworthy: Gigabit Internet is the future. But Verizon’s achievement is a bigger deal than Google’s plans, for the simple reason that it actually exists now.
Computing is moving into the cloud. Bulky, unreliable hard drives are going to be a thing of the past–we’ll soon sync all of our music, video, photos, and documents online. The process has started already–think of Google, think of music services like MOG and Spotify, think of video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. But some things are still best stored locally, either on hard disks or on removable media like Blu-ray, most importantly high-def video.
True 1080p video requires insanely large files. Those files can’t reasonably be streamed, which is why services like Netflix limit their “HD” streaming to the lower-quality 720p. Gigabit Internet would remove that last barrier and allow lesser hardware–including alternative form factors like tablets–to be more capable.