Broadband need could triple by decade’s end, experts say

With more and more devices sending information (think Fitbits and other so-called “smart objects”), the demand for additional broadband capacity could easily triple by the year 2020, a pair of information technology experts agreed Tuesday.

Speaking at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon, UW-Madison CIO Bruce Maas and the state’s Department of Administration CIO David Cagigal said the need for increased connectivity will only skyrocket in coming years due to pressure from the “Internet of Things.”

“If you believe that the “Internet of Things” will be important to your company, we have one of the nation’s leading (labs) right here at UW-Madison and it is accessible to you,” Maas said. “I encourage you to take advantage of that.”

In addition, he said the university’s federally funded SWAMP project (Software Assurance Marketplace) is staffed by leading computer science department faculty who will work with the business community on software code to create greater security for their companies. He said members of the business school are also eager to collaborate with the public on startups and other projects.

“They need to hear your feedback about how they can be more relevant to you,” he said, noting that the university – which has been hit with budget cuts and tuition freezes in recent state budgets – has a $15 billion annual economic impact on Wisconsin.

To navigate the university, he urged executives to contact the Office of Corporate Relations, which he called the “gateway” to various divisions and departments of UW-Madison. Outreach to the business community and others is an important part of the university’s mission, he added.

“That’s one of the reasons that we attract the world-class faculty that we get, because they think it is important that their research benefit the state and businesses,” he said. “It is in our DNA to help you.”

State government and the university have begun to work closely together to share technology and collaborate on broadband issues — which Maas said was not the case in the past.

Cagigal, who took his post with the Department of Administration less than three years ago, said one of his first official acts was to meet with Maas to see how they could cooperate.

The pair had known each other before and Cagigal said they both shared common bonds and want to improve Wisconsin’s economy.

“And that is largely predicated on the network,” he said. “You can’t do too much without the net. Every one of the governor’s top priorities is touched by broadband services, whether it is bringing jobs to the state of Wisconsin, education reform or the infrastructure of state government.”

While the Milwaukee and Madison areas are well-served by broadband, he said connectivity remains a challenge “the further north you go in Wisconsin.” But Maas said gains are being made, and he noted that 350 libraries around the state were connected to the Internet via fiber in 2014.

“That’s important because in many rural towns, the library is the village center and one of the only places that access the Internet if they don’t have it at home,” he said. “We have to make sure people understand how important connectivity is to those communities.”

Maas said the key to reaching poorly served areas of the state is partnerships between public agencies and private businesses.

“Wisconsin will only do well if we are working together instead of competing,” he said. “Education has gone digital. We have 100 gigabit connections on campus because we need to connect with everyone we do business with. It’s how we deliver education now. We are moving 30 to 40 gigabits from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to be processed at UW-Madison.

“What we don’t have is the ability to do is connect to schools all over the state where there is some college education taking place, libraries and tribal reservations – so we need to crack that nut in Wisconsin. Other states have figured this out and the ones that have done it have set aside their differences between the public and private sectors and worked together to figure this out.”

He said the full Internet of Things explosion that is about to happen “is going to require massive amounts of capacity for carrying data.

“There is no way around that and we have to figure out how to do it because some of your businesses will start flooding the market with devices that will be sending tons and tons of data everywhere and we’ve got to be able to have the capacity.”

— By Brian E. Clark