Ohio To Establish Ultra-fast Broadband Network

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Later this year, someone will flip a switch and Ohio will start using a new ultra-fast broadband network.

It's a project that promises to dramatically advance research and job growth in the state.

Ohio is working to establish an electronic data network with astonishing speeds of 100 Gigabits per second.

That's much faster than now and pretty much as good as it gets in the computer world.

The "data highway" is expected to be a big plus for Ohio's medical research, higher education and technology networking corridors.  It will impact manufacturing and engineering too.

The initiative will help establish a "knowledge economy" that many people believe will make the state prosperous.

"This technology and the vision with which we are implementing is absolutely by far the only place where this is happening," said Pankaj Shah, the executive director of the Ohio Academic Resources Network, OARnet. 

OARnet operates an existing fiber-optic network in Ohio.

"The project that we are talking about right now is a 100 gigabit backbone expansion of OARnet. It's an ultra high speed network, but the technical thing we are doing is we are basically going and upgrading our network to 100 gigabis per second instead of 10 that we are today," said Shah. 

Phase I will connect Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo. The first phase is expected to be finished in September. 

The second phase of the project will begin a couple of months later and will connect Athens, Portsmouth, Wooster, Akron and Youngstown. 

These improvements will provide a better connection to what is called Internet2.

Internet2 is a consortium involving U.S. and international institutions that are leaders in research, academia, industry and government. It's deploying a new, high-speed, coast-to-coast "research backbone," and Ohio is upgrading its system to match the speeds of Internet2.

Ohio is the largest statewide network and one of the very first to do so.

Shah says three state colleges will be among the first in the U.S. to get the service.

"Out of the seven in the country, three are in Ohio. So you can imagine most of the things that are going to happen here in terms of leadership not only just in networking, but in research as well. Those three universities are Ohio State, Case Western, and UC to begin with," Shah said. "By no means this is the end. This was a splash that was made to convey to the rest of the universities around the country, and in our case, to the rest of the universities in Ohio, that we are ready, and here are some clearly very high ranking research universities which are jumping straight forward, and then we expect OU, Akron, Canton and others within the state to jump on board."

Ohio is spending more than $11 million on the project.

"This gets us I would say 90 percent of the money being used to procure hardware. We need routers and switches, cards within the existing infrastructure, the upgrade pieces, from cisco and juniper that are being purchased through this money," said Shah. 

Shah said there are plans for two more phases after the initial two, but there's no money yet for implementation.

"We have patches of the network that are still not covered, very small ones remaining," said Shaw. "But right now, it's this and then hopefully we will complete the rest of it in phase three and four, which would lead to the fullest completion."

The new, higher capacity network will enable Ohio to transmit the "big data" that experts say is critical to research and economic growth.

"Let's say I want to connect a research[er] at Ohio University with a researcher at Ohio State University at a very high bandwidth. So there are components. The big component is carrying the traffic from Athens into Columbus as you can imagine cause that's a long haul. That's what we are addressing with this part of money. When this end-to-end hundred gig connectivity happens, broader lengths that we are all living within our world not even knowing we could conquer them. I think Ohio stands first in the line to take care of this problem," said Shah. 

OU is already getting in on the action, but these other schools around the region still have work to do: Belmont Technical College, Hocking College, Muskingum University, Washington State Community College and Zane State College.

That group must modernize to fully use Internet2. Money recently was approved by the Board of Regents to help pay the bill.