The University of Montana recently upgraded its networking capability. That in itself is hardly news, but the speed it upgraded to is certainly newsworthy. A gigabit network connection would have been a step backward—a big one. In fact, UM’s previous connection was 10 Gbps, and our hat is off to any organization that decides that kind of speed is too slow. By joining the Internet2 community, UM now has access to a true 100 Gbps network. Go Grizzlies.

The Other Internet?
The Internet2 network spans 16,000 miles over fiber and optical wave service from Boston to Seattle, San Diego to Jacksonville. It offers 8.8 Tbps bandwidth, and up to 100 Gbps speed, though that figure is expected to eventually increase to 1 Tbps. It’s aimed specifically at researchers who need to transmit huge amounts of data. Human genome mapping is one example of this data-heavy research, as even on a gigabit network, downloading a full human genome map can take half an hour. On slower networks, it can take more than three days.

Sharing Internet2 bandwidth are U.S. universities, corporations, state education networks, “affiliate partners,”—it’s unclear who those are—and research facilities scattered across an additional 100 nations.

It Isn’t Alone
Internet2 isn’t the only such closed, ultra-high speed network, either. The Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) offers the same capability to the U.S. Department of Energy. In the United Kingdom and continental Europe, the JANET and GEANT networks, respectively, offer researchers a high-speed pass around existing Internet traffic jams.

And if you had the money, why wouldn’t you set up a network that bypasses worldwide web traffic? With billions of users and devices taking up bandwidth around the world, your time-critical information is competing with cat pictures and social media posts for bandwidth. Remember, the Internet is much bigger than what we perceive and interact with on the web.

But if you can’t get it, why are we teasing you with it? Because it shows what’s possible using current technology. It’s not theoretical, and ESnet has already demonstrated a sustained 91 Gbps disk-to-disk connection from Colorado to Maryland. Obviously the biggest reason consumer networks aren’t this fast is the reason these dedicated networks are: traffic. Put the entire web on Internet2 and yes, speeds will certainly tumble. But the potential exists, and shows that we haven’t even begun to approach the limits of current network technology.

How Much?
Even if home consumers could subscribe to Internet2, it’s a bit expensive. Internet2 access starts at $23,400 per year, and can cost as much as $56,000 per year. With prices like that, it’s obvious that Internet2 exists for entities that see speed as a necessity, not a luxury. Someday, this level of speed will cost consumers far less as the technology and price trickles down, but today is not that day.

If you’re looking for access that’s a bit less expensive, but still offers plenty of speed, it is possible. We may not be able to get you 100 Gbps—yet—but odds are we can find you a better connection than what you have now, and the only five-digit number you’ll need is your zip code.

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