5G networks are poised to be a big thing, with promises of big speed boosts that some think may even one day be able to compete with traditional broadband (just ask D-Link, which announced a 5G home router at CES 2019). And apparently, the idea of that kind of competition has traditional cable companies a bit spooked, considering that this week at CES, the NCTA and other cable groups announced their new “10G” initiative, which must be better than 5G: after all, 10 is a whole twice as much as 5!
Now, before we begin analyzing this absurdity, a note on terminology: 5G, as a name, refers to the 5th-generation of cellular connectivity tech (to recap: 1G was analog cellular tech, 2G was digital with GPRS and EDGE data, 3G was faster data, and 4G is our current LTE networks.) 5G is supposed to be fast, promising multi-gigabit speeds without the need for the deployment of expensive cables or infrastructure. And though it’s yet to really be demonstrated at that level, it’s easy to see why a cable company might be concerned, should those sorts of wireless speeds materialize.
The new 10G branding introduced here isn’t referring to a generational count, but rather the kind of network that the various global cable groups are hoping to achieve: 10 gigabits. If it’s achieved, it’d be a dramatic leap forward from today’s current networks, which tend to cap out roughly around 1Gbps for an actual subscriber with the absolute best and fastest connections available in the United States.
The whole thing is sort of ridiculous
The issue is that the whole marketing initiative is sort of ridiculous, boiling down to an overly slick website promising the sort of technology that we are still years away from in what feels like a thinly veiled attempt to one-up 5G as a technology before it gets off the ground. It doesn’t help that there are almost no details as to how these speeds will be achieved beyond some vague statements about leveraging existing cable networks alongside new technologies and hardware, which doesn’t actually mean much.
Making this entire marketing campaign more absurd is that most people don’t even have anything close to 1Gbps internet. It’s possible that the 10G website’s claim that “most of America already has access to home internet speeds of 1 Gigabit per second” may be technically accurate given how concentrated American populations are in urban areas. But according to the FCC’s 2018 broadband report, the median download speed for US broadband customers was just 72 Mbps as of September 2017 — a far cry from 1Gbps, much less 10Gbps.
In an interview with USA Today, Michael Powell, the president and CEO of NCTA (and former FCC chairman) acknowledged that “The naming convention to me is a bit of a sideshow,” and elaborated that he doesn’t necessarily view it as a 5G vs. broadband scenario. “They really work in tandem with each other to deliver consumer experiences.”
And working to provide better and more reliable internet speeds isn’t inherently a bad thing, either! But it’s the way that the coalition of cable companies is going about doing it — a mix of petty marketing and overly congratulatory messaging that the current state of broadband is already fine — that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
But sideshow or not, it seems unlikely that the “10G” push is going anywhere. Considering that cable organizations like the NCTA, CableLabs, and Cable Europe are all on board, along with cable providers like Comcast, Charter, Cox, Rogers, Vodafone, odds are we’ll be hearing about 10G for years to come. According to the announcement, labs are already developing and testing 10 gigabit internet, with field trials planned for 2020.
I will give the 10G initiative this, though: unlike 5G, at least they took the time to design a half-decent logo.