EPB grid attracts Cisco Systems to Chattanooga

CISCO SYSTEMS* Founded in 1984 and based in San Jose, Calif.* Designs, manufacturers and sells networking, communication and information technology products worldwide* John Chambers is chairman and CEO* $10.8 billion in sales for the three months ending April 30; $1.8 billion in net income in the periodSource: Cisco, Yahoo Finance

The city with the nation's biggest Internet pipeline and one of the largest technology companies in the world are going to start working together.

Norman Jacknis, director of Cisco Systems public sector group, announced Wednesday that the 70,000-employee tech giant is exploring a partnership with Chattanooga to find more uses for EPB's gigabit network.

"Our job is to work with the innovators," Jacknis said. "This is the only city in America with the network that can support the future."

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield called Cisco officials the city's new "partners," which are "helping us to prepare this city in a way that no other city is prepared."

Though both were short on details of the partnership, Littlefield stressed that he is interested in taking Chattanooga's edge in Internet bandwidth to the next level before cities like Kansas City catch up.

"Cisco is in the business of thinking ahead, and we're on the leading edge right now," Littlefield said. "We can't just sit down and say, 'That's great, we crossed the finish line.'"

In a presentation to a packed room in the Loose Cannon art gallery, Jacknis outlined an ambitious plan to transform Chattanooga into 21st-century economy through the use of broadband technology.

He calls it moving from "central places to network spaces."

In short, by 2030 it may no longer be necessary to work in an office, or to have meetings in the same room, Jacknis hypothesized.

That's because local Internet speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second enable what he called "the game changer:" real-time video communications, which enable crucial collaboration in modern service-based economies.

"Video is the most obvious near-term thing," Jacknis said, but also listed multiplayer gaming and immersive education as additional opportunities.

With bandwidth like Chattanooga's, workers separated by hundreds of miles can communicate as if they're in the same house, or even the same room using Cisco's telepresence solution, he said.

Jacknis said that "93 percent of communication is nonverbal, so with video, seeing is believing."

Cisco typically supplies the routers, switches and networking hardware to make remote face-to-face communication possible, such as its HD video solution for bringing medical treatment to oil rig workers.

"With the Health Presence, a doctor can do remote consultation and diagnosis without leaving their office," he said.

Of course, the future could come a lot more quickly than 2030, Littlefield added.

"I bought a computer once with eight gigabytes of storage, and they told me that's all I would ever need," Littlefield said. "Now, you can carry that around on your keychain."