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Developer plans gigabit network at ex-U.S. Steel site on S. Side

Updated: July 24, 2014 12:18PM



Ultra-high-speed Internet access is back on the map for Chicago’s South Side, with a new large-scale launch now in the planning stages for the former U.S. Steel South Works site redevelopment at 87th Street and South Lake Shore Drive.

The latest plan for a gigabit fiber-optic network — sending 1 billion bits of data per second as instant pulses of light up to 100 times the speed of today’s cable signals — would start construction within the next year if the site’s developer, McCaffery Interests, has its way.

Here’s the goal: Businesses and residents of the “Lakeside” development would be “tech-infused” from the get-go, potentially running everything from a “smart” energy-saving utility grid to promoting retail sales tailored to each shopper’s interest as he or she walked by a store.

“A gigabit network for 50,000 people — a whole neighborhood — would be unique and game-changing in the Chicago market,” said Ed Woodbury, president of McCaffery Interests.

The high-speed network could potentially be expanded to the city’s 7th and 10th wards, too, because the fiber lines would cross those neighborhoods to get to Lakeside, Woodbury said.

“I’m trying to gather the facts,” he said. “We want to improve the quality of life for the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as for Lakeside.”

Woodbury revealed the plan as Cisco Systems, the giant supplier of Internet networking gear, sponsored two days of sessions about the “Internet of Everything,” including smart cities, at the 1871 tech hub in the Merchandise Mart.

The Lakeside plan is the second ambitious rollout proposal on Chicago’s South Side. The first, a $150 million project intended to offer affordable gigabit service to nine impoverished neighborhoods, went bust in late 2013 after the developer, Cincinnati-based Gigabit Squared, failed to get the project underway.

Hardik Bhatt, a former Daley administration chief information officer and now Cisco’s managing director for global marketing development, said the Lakeside development can be just as innovative as other cities worldwide using their Internet infrastructure to adjust the luminosity on street lamps; tell motorists where and when curbside parking spaces are available; and run garbage routes on the fly, picking up trash only when “smart” trash bins “tell” the city they are full.

“We try to make sure that cities are not building 10 networks that don’t talk to each other, so the network can be managed from a central location,” Bhatt said. “We bring the infrastructure — wireless access points, switches, routers and cameras — and we have an analytics team to help cities make better use of the data.”

Meanwhile, a high-speed Internet network project is underway in a one-block radius in the Woodlawn community, and the Shoreland Apartments at 5454 S. Shore Drive touts gigabit-speed service to residents.

Email: sguy@suntimes.com

Twitter: @sandraguy



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