Texas universities broadening bandwidth up to tenfold for students, researchers thanks to innovative network

texas-bandwidth-networkAt a recent town hall meeting, University of Houston students spoke out about their needs on the increasingly residential campus.

“They said, ‘We don’t care if our rooms are painted, just make sure our internet is set up,'” said Dennis Fouty, associate vice chancellor for information technology. “Students on campus today have never known a world without the internet.”

While most U.S. schools are working to expand their web-based course offerings through MOOCs and other programs, Texas universities are widening bandwidth on campus for students and faculty, who increasingly use the internet for just about everything – from doing research and homework, to streaming movies and socializing.

Many have joined together to build thousands of miles of fiber optic cable across the state. In Houston, a group of schools that includes UH and Rice is expanding its shared bandwidth – mostly used for research – tenfold.

“Everybody’s tapping the heck out of their smart phones these days and the amount of traffic in and out of Texas is frankly astronomical,” said Mike Phillips, director of a consortium of Texas colleges and other public organizations known as the Lone­star Education and Research Network that built the state’s fiber optic superhighway. “The demand for bandwidth is like water hitting the desert – you can’t quench the thirst.”

Most universities connect to two types of internet service: There’s the commodity internet – what most people use to access social media, send emails, shop, stream videos and more; then there’s a separate, much faster research-focused network.

Research gets its own stream because massive data sets, many shared among other universities, consume massive amounts of bandwidth. Some research projects communicate at the terabyte level. By comparison, the average email is less than a megabyte – one millionth the size of a terabyte – and high-definition video on Netflix streams at about five megabytes a second.

Providing internet access for thousands of students and faculty can be costly. UH, for instance, pays $250,000 a year for traffic on its commodity stream.

(Next page: Creating the superhighway)

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