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Can Cable Beat 5G?

Alan Breznick
2/11/2019

Can cable beat 5G wireless with 10G wireline?

That looms as the biggest question of the year for the cable industry to answer as it ramps up its new 10-Gigabit initiative to counter the onslaught of fifth-generation cellular technology rollouts by the big telcos, which are promoting 5G as their way to bring multi-gigabit speeds to consumers and businesses. Cable's unified 10G drive, now formally known as 10 Gigabit Full Duplex DOCSIS, aims to smash the hype around 5G by showing how much faster cable's hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) networks can be through the delivery of symmetrical speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s. (See Cable Leaders Hammer 5G 'Hype' and NCTA Trademarks '10G' .)

Fresh off the official launch of their 10G drive at CES in Las Vegas last month, cable leaders are now spreading the word about it far and wide. In announcements, speeches, press releases, interviews, blog posts and the like, they are promoting the idea that the technology behind it, based on the specs for Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 emerging from CableLabs , is rock-solid and already proven out, not some wild science experiment.

"This will work," Tony Werner, president of Comcast Cable's Technology, Product, Xperience group, predicted on a special 10G panel at CES covered by my colleague Jeff Baumgartner. "Nothing new has to be invented," added Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, speaking on the same panel. "The technical risk is near zero to get from 1-Gig to 10-Gig." (See CES 2019: Cable's 10G Tech 'Will Work'.)

With such key industry equipment and chip makers as Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), MaxLinear Corp. and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) already lined up, cable leaders expect early field trials of the technology to start next year. After that, CableLabs will begin device certifications, "It's not far away," McKinney proclaimed.

In addition to the prominent vendors, a dozen or so major MSOs around the world have committed to rolling out Full Duplex DOCSIS once the equipment for it is ready. Besides Comcast, the list includes Charter Communications Inc. , Cox Communications Inc. , Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI) and Shaw Communications Inc. , among others, according to the cable consortium. (See Cable Industry Gets Behind '10G' .)

But, even with the technology seemingly well tested and so many industry titans behind the effort, ramping up from today's 1 Gig downstream speeds to tomorrow's 10-Gig symmetrical service will still be no easy matter. Critical challenges still remain, including the need for cable operators to pull fiber much deeper in their access networks and eliminate all the amplifiers between the home and the node. While cable engineers are now working on ways around this requirement -- including the development of a Full Duplex Amplifier that could deliver similar capacity benefits in N+1 or N+2 scenarios – they're not there yet. Even then, many cablecos would still have to install a lot more fiber in their plant to make it work.

For these reasons, 10G will likely be the biggest subject tackled when we convene Light Reading's annual Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies conference in Denver next month (March 12-14). Now entering its 12th year, Cable Next-Gen will focus on the tech opportunities and challenges facing the industry. Top executives from more than a dozen leading cable and video providers and industry groups will explore the latest technologies, examine how they are shaping the industry and craft a roadmap for cable’s future.

Besides tackling 5G and 10G, we’ll look at DOCSIS 3.1, Coherent Optics, Distributed Access Architecture, Fiber Deep, FTTH, network virtualization, OTT video, cloud-based services, IoT, WiFi, cellular backhaul, small cells and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), among other topics. Plus, as usual, we’ll throw a surprise or two your way.

Our long list of featured speakers is headed by CableLabs' McKinney, who will spell out the 10G program in the opening keynote address. Other headliners include: Jimshade Chaudhari, VP, Product Management, Sling TV; Jeff Finkelstein, Executive Director, Advanced Technology, Cox Communications; Steve Williams, VP, DOCSIS, Charter Communications; Jeff Lewis, VP, Data Product Management, Comcast Business; Tim Burke, VP, Strategic Technology, Liberty Global; JR Walden, SVP and CTO, Mediacom; and Jon Pederson, CTO, Midco.


Get your strategic roadmap to the technology trends and business cases shaping the cable industry! Join us for the Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies event in Denver on March 12-14. Don't miss this exclusive opportunity to network with and learn from industry experts -- cable operators and communications service providers get in free!


The prime speaking roster also includes: David Hicks, VP, Engineering & Operations, Cox Communications; Jody Hagerman, Director, Product Management, Comcast Business; Rasmus Aveskogh, Chief Architect, Com Hem; Kjeld Balmer, Head, Network Technology, Stofa; Peter Brown, Director, Product Engineering, Cable One; Mitch Weinraub, Director, Advanced Video Products, Dish Network; Tom Williams, VP, Engineering and Technology, Schurz Communications; Alan Ewing, Executive Director, CBRS Alliance; Timon Sloane, VP, Marketing & Ecosystem, Open Networking Foundation; and Brett Sappington, Senior Director, Research, Parks Associates. And more are still on the way.

So please mark your calendars for March 12-14 and join us in Denver for the latest edition of Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies. Sign up here to register for the event.

The Rockies are calling. Looking forward to seeing you all in the Mile High City.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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Clifton K Morris
Clifton K Morris
2/11/2019 | 3:21:41 PM
Re: All aboard the hype train
I have to respectfully disagree.

5G networks (according to the ITU specification; not yet ratified yet) is nothing more than LTE technology, but with an increase in QAM symbol rates.

3GPP TSGs for Release 15 show that 5G features an increase from 256-QAM to 1024-QAM to increase overall throughput.  This requires faster processors, and higher CPU overhead.  There is also a 3db penalty in loss per order of magnitude QAM increase.   Going from 256-QAM to 1024 is actually two orders of magnitude increase meaning a -9db signal loss; and likely 1/2 the battery life.  Because handsets are designed to be next to your head, it's not possible to increase transmitter power by a factor of 300% without serious FDA review and third-party cancer and radiological health studies.

The point is that a standard cell phone will display 4-bars of signal strength is at -72db.  However ITU/3GPP "True" 5G"'s requirement of increasing QAM will place signal strength at -81db (2-bars of signal strength).  It will likely fall back to "LTE" inside the house due to multipath interference.

It's simple math.  However, this also falls in-line with T-Mobile disclosure documents related to the Sprint/T-Mobile Merger where T-Mobile estimates it will provide 5G coverage to 50% of Charter/Spectrum's footprint.  

Cable is also uniquely postioned because they don't have to bid for RF licenses, they already own all the spectrum on the coax they bury.  Today, the cable itself is generally RG6 which the cable companies use 0-1200MHz today.  But people like Jeff Finkelstein at Cox think it can support more capacity.  Jeff introduced a proposal to upgrade cable networks so they can support up to 2GHz (or more). 

Meanwhile, companies like T-Mobile crow about their $8B investment to purchase 35Mhz of new downstream 600Mhz spectrum.   I don't know why Jeff doesn't get more press.

Finally, the biggest challenge wireless carriers will have to overcome is that many of their cell site leases from the 1990s and 2000s were designed on propegation models at a time when analog service was sold.  These leases are often 20 years in length (or more), and negotiated when digital 2G and 3G (and some 4G) service were based on QAM-16/64.

Often, these sites are incompatible when the range changes based on QAM penalties, or landlords/leases don't allow fiber upgrades.  Often new trenches to lay fiber optics can't occur, especially in areas where permits are required.  Cable isn't subject to these same technology-facing issues.

Still, the majority of QAM-related R&D occurs at behest of the Cable Industry, and NOT in wireless.  3GPP takes innovations from companies like CableLabs, IEEE, and other standards organizations.  Whenever 3GPP makes a fundamental change to QAM symbolrates, you can expect mergers.  It happens like clockwork.

As for CableLabs, they are now working on new DOCSIS standards that not only add asymetrical data speeds (great option instead of fiber optic to-the-last-mile for businesses).   They're also looking and evaluating new QAM technologies including 4028-QAM, 8192-QAM  and 16384-QAM.  But in each iteration, fiber optic can't keep speed.  As such, CableLabs is investing into new R&D that will also increasing speed over fiber. 

Whatever technology cable develops to provide service can (and will) have secondary positive effects in wireless industry once royalties are paid.

 
stownplayer
stownplayer
2/11/2019 | 8:12:29 AM
Re: All aboard the hype train
I have to agree with Macemoneta. Cable is riddled with issues and we still can't get symmetrical 1 gig yet. Cable has a long way to go and if history is any indicator it's going to take the cable industry 10 years  to get true symmetrical 1gig deployed in all service areas much less 10 gig. Complete hype
macemoneta
macemoneta
2/11/2019 | 7:41:52 AM
All aboard the hype train
"ramping up from today's 1 Gig downstream speeds to tomorrow's 10-Gig symmetrical service will still be no easy matter."

 

1 gig speeds are still unaffordable / unavailable / capped at nonsensical levels to the majority of subscribers. Cable has a lot more issues than raising their interface bit rate to a handful of people.
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