KU and Lawrence cooperating on fiber-optic networks

Fiber optics — as in the stuff that gives high-speed network Google Fiber its name — are a vital piece of the communications future for institutions such as Kansas University and the city of Lawrence.

So KU and Lawrence leaders have come to a conclusion: Why not help each other out?

Under an agreement approved by city leaders this past spring, KU and Lawrence are now sharing pieces of their fiber optic networks, allowing them to reach farther with their fiber than ever before.

And, KU and Lawrence technology officials say, this agreement could be just the beginning.

“I think it’s going to open up doors for more cooperation in other areas, too,” said Jim Wisdom, the director of information technology for the city.

KU and Lawrence already have their own networks of fiber, which can transmit data exponentially faster than the copper phone lines that have been used for communications for more than a century in the U.S.

“Fiber optics are kind of the fundamental underpinning of high-speed communication, high-speed research and high-speed computing,” said Jeff Perry, a deputy technology officer at KU.

KU already has hundreds of miles worth of fiber optic cable crisscrossing its campus, carrying data used by the 100,000 devices — computers, smartphones, tablets — that can sometimes be connected to its communications network at once.

“The volume of data has just grown exponentially,” said Bob Lim, KU’s chief information officer.

The city, too, already has fiber laid, connected to 37 of the 65 city-owned buildings. It helps in the synchronization of traffic lights, emergency communications and more.

The agreement approved in March will allow the city and KU to lay fiber cables using conduits already owned by the other party. This will allow the city to connect to KU’s communications network at a cost of about $5,500, compared with up to $40,000 if the city had to bury its own conduit. And both the city and KU can make use of an unused conduit formerly owned by Verizon that will help them lay fiber to extend westward to the future Rock Chalk Park sports complex.

The city also can extend fiber to about 20 new intersections, allowing for better synchronization of traffic lights, and link up several new city buildings, Wisdom said.

Those connections are becoming more and more important to city operations. “Everything’s about bandwidth,” Wisdom said.

The KU-Lawrence agreement will follow in the footsteps of other city-university fiber accords, including between Austin and the University of Texas and Seattle and the University of Washington.

KU and Lawrence officials said the new network connections could lead to more possibilities for KU, the city and even other organizations around town — perhaps schools, Lawrence Memorial Hospital or Lawrence Public Library, though no agreements have yet been reached. Those organizations could share data, or perhaps cooperate to stream a video presentation.

A wealth of possibilities could now be on the table, Lim said.

“What is really exciting to me, what this means, is the unknown,” he said.