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Waiting for Mobile 5G, What Are We to Make of Cable 10G?

Randy Sukow Jan 10, 2019

The splashy headlines coming out of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week have been about 10G. NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, CableLabs and Cable Europe jointly announced the “10 Gigabit Full Duplex DOCSIS standard,” which will deliver 10 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) service to cable TV subscribers. 10G internet boxes will have upgraded Wi-Fi routers to distribute multi-gigabit signals to connected devices throughout the home.

“As a technology platform, 10G will become the backbone of digital progress all over the globe,” said NCTA President and CEO and former FCC Chairman Michael Powell in a blog post. “It will reinvent the role technology plays in our everyday lives–from remote diagnostics that will help our doctors monitor their patients from anywhere in real-time to video walls and AR [augmented reality] applications that will help our children learn and collaborate with others all across the globe.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, including a little cable industry hype. First, you might be wondering whether 10G is twice as good as 5G. No, we’re talking about two different Gs.

5G is the “fifth-generation” mobile phone air-link standard that will not only increase internet speed for smart phones but lead to new internet of things (IoT) applications and autonomous vehicles nationwide. Some mobile carriers are launching 5G service and introducing 5G devices today, but most do not expect to see significant penetration of 5G technology for another two years … longer in rural America.

10G refers to the “gigabit” speeds that will be 10 times greater than the 1 Gbps service many cable and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) subscribers receive today. But again, it will be a few years before anybody is hooking up their video walls and AR/VR devices to those speeds. 10G only exists in the lab today. Semiconductor manufacturer Intel, which is participating in the 10G introduction, said in a promotional video that they plan to begin field testing “as early as 2020.”

So, it will be some years after 2020 before anyone has 10 Gbps in the home … longer in rural America.

The good news, Intel and others in the 10G alliance say, is that the technology could potentially spread rapidly worldwide once it is ready. It will not require digging up streets and climbing poles to replace existing fiber and coaxial networks. That is because 10G will be based on the existing DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem standard that the industry has known for years could eventually support multi-gigabit service.

Therefore, the real news of the week is that the cable industry has created a new logo, opened up a web portal and begun talking more openly about technology people already knew was coming someday.

In rural America, where many communities are still pushing to establish broadband service at the FCC definition 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream, keeping up with multi-gigabit advancements will seem daunting. It could take longer to happen than this week’s optimistic predictions, but faster speeds, lower latency, 8K video and extremely sophisticated medical and educational applications are coming. Rural communities will look to NRTC-member telcos and electrics to provide service equivalent to urban areas.

Build fiber optic backbone networks now. All the multi-gigabit services, IoT, fast wireless and other technologies depend on that basic piece of infrastructure. Rural providers can affordably begin preparing for the future now. Then introduce the more advanced services when the demand for them exists with capital costs always under the rural telco or electric company’s control.

Every day NRTC is helping its members build their fiber backbones and plot out strategies for future advanced services. If your telco or electric co-op is interested, contact your regional business manager or drop a note on our contact page.

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