Fiber Wars

Internet companies are racing to provide ever-faster data speeds, but there’s a much larger economic opportunity — hyper quick connectivity is a proven business-attraction tool.


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Chuck Irvin, director of network development at 123Net, stands next to a cold-air pressurized data center. He says industry players understand they can often benefit by cooperating with each other.

While everyone would like faster data speeds to send important documents, download large attachments, or simply to watch a blockbuster movie uninterrupted, there’s a big difference between what people want and the actual capacity of the infrastructure and hardware that are in place in metro Detroit.

Although fiber is faster, there’s a lot more copper in the ground, for example, than there is fiber. Lots of people have Wi-Fi routers that can handle the top speeds of two or three years ago, but for people who want 1 gigabit per second of data speed (in other words, lightning-quick), chances are the router they use won’t be able to keep up without paying for an upgrade.

If area Internet service providers can successfully rise to the challenge and provide faster data speeds for their clients — initial installation is already underway — there will be a greater benefit than being able to charge higher rates. It stands as a significant business-attraction tool for the region and state.

That’s the opportunity Dan Irvin — founder, president, and CEO of Southfield-based 123Net — sees. Since 1995, the company has provided voice, data, and colocation infrastructure services to Internet service providers and major users.

Since then, the company has built infrastructure including four power-protected, climate-controlled colocation facilities, and it has the ability to send radio signals throughout the region from its headquarters in Southfield. In turn, 123Net has been aggressively laying fiber lines throughout metro Detroit, in anticipation of the need for end-users and Internet service providers, or ISPs, to meet unprecedented speed expectations. 

“The speed wars and the price wars for Internet access, we’ve been engaged in that war for about 20 years,” Irvin says. “That’s why we built our infrastructure and our own facilities (near Northwestern Highway and Evergreen Road). We started acquiring fiber about 10 years ago because we know the bandwidth you can get across a couple strands of fiber is almost unlimited.”

Irvin has a favorite anecdote that illustrates why all this is worth the investment and the effort.

“We observed that inflection point, if you will, five or so years ago,” he says. “There was a company called Weather Underground, started by some guys in Ann Arbor, and they figured out how to get information off the satellites. They were getting (weather) maps from NASA, and they created a website to distribute the data to the public, and then an app.”

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