At the world’s largest technology show, CES 2019, held in Las Vegas earlier this month, the cable industry staked its claim to 10G fixed broadband, clearly aiming to trump the wireless industry’s still-formative 5G technology.

While the details and roadmap of how, and how quickly, 10G will come to market were fuzzy, cable operators have once again fired up the marketing machine, this time to fight the impending threat posed by 5G.

CES 2019 10G technology launch

CES 2019 saw the cable industry – including operators, standards bodies (CableLabs) and European trade association Cable Europe – launch its 10G platform (and marketing) initiative. CableLabs is also attempting to trademark 10G.

Touting 10G as the next great leap forward for broadband technology, the cable industry is clearly aiming to usurp the hype generated by 5G wireless technology.

While 5G is still in its early stages – as true 5G networks are in limited deployments and devices are not yet widely available – 5G has nevertheless generated tremendous hype across the telecom market.

With vastly improved speeds and latency, one of the premises for wireless operators is that 5G will free consumers from the need for wireline services altogether. This represents a growing threat for cable operators whose highest margins are generated from high-speed broadband service.

Comparing 5G to 10G

These operators are now going on the offensive. The premise is simple: if 5G is so great, 10G must be twice as good, right?

Well, first off, comparing 5G to 10G is like comparing apples to oranges, as 5G actually signifies the fifth generation of wireless technology and 10G – which touts 10 Gbps broadband connectivity per user – does not represent a “doubling” of 5G, except. The only thing being doubled, perhaps, is how technology is marketed to consumers.

Another thing to consider is that 5G messaging is already getting convoluted, to the point where industry luminaries, and even more critically, wireless operator CEOs are downplaying the impact of 5G, at least in the near term.

Beyond the hype

Just this week, Takehiro Nakamura, SVP of 5G Labs at Japanese operator NTT Docomo, provided a reality check on 5G. Nakamura tempered the high expectations (and hype) about 5G network coverage, bandwidth-per-user, and latency, as well as the continued and ongoing value of current (LTE) technology.

This dose of reality also applies to the cable industry’s bold new 10G vision. Most of the evolving 10G solutions will leverage existing cable networks and technology, which are (and remain) inherently limited in terms of delivering full 10 Gbps broadband connectivity to individual customers.

And that’s just in the downstream – cable networks are massively asymmetric, meaning that downstream speeds are dramatically greater than upstream (upload) speeds. For example, while Comcast’s Gigabit service can deliver more than 1 Gbps downstream, its upstream speed is a paltry 35 Mbps.

Ultimately, both wireless and wireline operators are aiming for the same target, the vaunted 1 Gbps per user mark. Wireline and cable operators are in a much better position to achieve his benchmark (many telco and cable operators have already done so), especially versus the timeline of 5G. But cable’s 10G vision and related messaging set a lofty goal. Cable operators could ultimately end up disappointing customers unless they can more clearly define 10G and articulate what it means to the average broadband customer.

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