2018-07-04 / Columns

The ‘Brick City’ is the hub of the Internet

COMPUSCHMOOZE
STEVE LUBETKIN

If someone asked you to identify the hub of the Internet, you might be surprised to know that one answer might be Newark, NJ.

New Jersey’s largest city, the “Brick City,” up there in Essex County, is undergoing a remarkable redevelopment of both office and residential properties. It’s one of 20 cities competing as finalists for the Amazon HQ2 office development that could bring thousands of new jobs to the city (which is already home to Amazon’s Audible.com audio book division).

Surprisingly, Newark has made a significant investment in data connectivity, recognizing that the ability of companies to move large quantities of data quickly gives a city a competitive advantage over its rivals. Over the past two decades, telecom and data companies have been digging in Newark, mainly because it is close to New York City, which is a big user of data “pipes.”

The Newark data infrastructure now is the envy of many locations around the country, featuring 10 gigabit-per-second speed, one of the fastest urban data networks. The new owners of the Gateway office complex in downtown Newark have connected the buildings to this fiber optic speedway, making the aging (but renovated) property more attractive to modern office tenants who are shipping pixels instead of boxes.

At the core of Newark’s data success story is a nondescript building a few blocks from Newark Penn Station, the main transit terminal in the city. 165 Halsey, named for its street address, is the gathering point for as many as 60 data communications companies offering Internet connections throughout northern New Jersey.

Billing itself as a “data center/co-location/telecom carrier hotel,” 165 Halsey has 1.2-million square feet of space fitted out with fiber optic cables, routers, networking gear and computer servers, providing linkages to major communications providers like AT&T, Amazon Web Services, Verizon, British Telecom, Level(3), Sungard, and dozens of other providers.

“It allows them to get a speed of connectivity that quite frankly just doesn’t exist anywhere else, at a fraction of the cost that they would pay if they could get it somewhere,” said Kevin Collins, managing director of asset services and finance for C & K Properties, owner of 2 Gateway. “Newark has absolutely cast its lot to identify itself as an emerging technology hub, and it has made a tremendous difference.”

Newark has planned for the future, as well, burying empty fiber optic conduits and miles of “dark fiber,” unused cable that will wait until needed for future business expansion.

“The dark fiber that is here is the absolute primary reason why a company like Audible is located in Newark,” said Collins. “It’s certainly a huge consideration for a company like Amazon or any of the companies that we think of as ‘big tech.’”

Collins pointed out that Newark has always been at the crossroads of American history and technology. International telephone and telegraph lines converged in Newark at pretty much the same corner of Broad and Market Streets where covered wagons and trading posts had, in an earlier age, organized the western expansion.

With Thomas Edison inventing light bulbs and talking machines in nearby Menlo Park (my grandfather’s business partner, Billy Dorn, a percussionist, played on recordings made by an early Edison orchestra), and Bell Labs locating engineers for the AT&T long distance network in Newark, it seems only fitting that the city should have a tech revival in the Internet age.

“It is now cool to talk about the fiber and the bandwidth and all that kind of stuff as the technological infrastructure,” said Collins, “but it’s always been here, and whether it’s been rails or the highway network, or the port or the airport, technology has always been what has driven Newark’s economy.”

Do you have a connection to Newark’s technology infrastructure? Email me at steve@compuschmooze.com. 

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