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A Verizon Wireless access point in Denver' Capitol Hill neighborhood on Jan. 19, 2018. The poles, sprouting up around the metro area, are part of the wireless 5G network. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

While 5G service is on the verge of launching nationwide, consumers now have something even faster to look forward to: 10G, a newly minted term for technology that could push cable internet speeds to 10 gigabits per second for households everywhere.

The 10G technology, developed by CableLabs in Louisville, was introduced earlier this month in Las Vegas with much fanfare. Intel Corp. committed to creating chips for 10G equipment and cable providers like Comcast touted 10G as paving the way for virtual reality gaming, 360-degree video and connected homes.

Faster internet continues to evolve as more consumers rely on it for a greater chunk of their daily life. But while mobile companies are expected to roll out faster 5G service this year, there’s already criticism that cable’s 10G, which offers 10 Gbps upload and download speeds, is more of a marketing ploy. Such speeds are already available from telecoms like Zayo Group in Boulder. And confusion has set in. The “G” in mobile’s 5G has long referred to generation, as in the next generation of technology. The cable industry’s “G” stands for gigabit.

“The blurring of the lines is quite intentional. It’s a measure of one-upmanship. You want the best and the shiniest thing out there, and surely 10G is that because 10 is twice as big as five,” said Ian Olgeirson, a Denver-based analyst with Kagan, a research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

But the rivalry is good for anyone who relies on the internet, he added. “Anything that spurs increases in speeds is good for people and businesses who are looking for more bandwidth.”

MORE: Read more technology coverage from The Colorado Sun.

Faster … for some

A recent study by internet speedtest site Ookla ranked Colorado as the 14th-fastest state for average download speeds of 104.63 Mbps from fixed broadband, or wired connections. And 95 percent of Colorado households have access to broadband internet, according to the Colorado Broadband Office.

But in rural areas, access drops to 83 percent, and some communities don’t have any broadband options, said Tony Neal-Graves, executive director for the Broadband Office. He said broadband companies don’t invest in areas where there aren’t enough potential paying customers.

“When you get to the rural parts of the state, the law of averages means they tend not to have those speeds” of 25 Mbps, the minimum set by the Federal Communications Commission, Neal-Graves said. “You should have access to that, and we’re well below that in some parts of the state.”

His department provides grants to help underserved communities, from Baca to Yuma Counties, figure out how to offer adequate, affordable broadband.

And that could be possible with 5G, the next iteration of mobile internet, which doesn’t require laying a tunnel of internet cable to a customer’s home.

The 5G data speeds are in the multiple gigabits per second, and theoretically up to 20 Gbps. But most mobile companies say 5G is much more than speed. It’s about making sure everyone — and everything — is connected at high speeds and stays connected. It’s meant for home and mobile use, for autonomous cars or internet-connected street lights or machines in factories.

Verizon, which started 5G trials in four cities in October, has been installing small cell 5G antennas everywhere, including in Denver, to prep for a 2019 launch.

AT&T, which remains mum on a Denver launch, introduced a limited 5G launch in 12 cities last month. Sprint named nine cities that are getting 5G in the first half of 2019. Denver isn’t among them.

T-Mobile said its service is live in 30 cities (Denver hasn’t been named) but no phone is available to actually use 5G. Expect that to start this year.

“T-Mobile is building out a 5G network that will be ready for customers when smartphones become available later this year, and the new T-Mobile will deliver a transformational, nationwide 5G network in 2020,” a company spokesman said in an email.

Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, views 10G as a complement to mobile’s 5G. Mobile companies are hanging small cell sites everywhere to ensure the internet connection is continuous when users travel. But those small sites have to be connected to a bigger pipe, usually in the ground.

“A small cell site hanging off a pole someplace has to sit on a fixed network,” he said. “Therefore, this is an opportunity for the two industries to come together.”

All the faster versions of existing technology offer more reliability, which is necessary if consumers watch more videos online. Networking company Cisco Systems predicted in November that video, gaming and multimedia traffic will quadruple by 2022 and account for more than 85 percent of all internet traffic.

Cable and 10G

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 9, officials from the cable industry got together to introduce 10G, a new platform for the cable industry to push faster internet, offering 10 gigabits per second upload and downloads speeds. CableLabs in Louisville is behind much of the 10G technology. Pictured left to right: Michael Powell (NCTA), Tony Werner (Comcast), Pat Esser (Cox) and Phil McKinney (CableLabs) (Photo by Ann Finnie, provided by CableLabs) 

The cable industry’s advantage — or struggle, depending on your perspective — is that it has the cables connecting much of America’s urban and suburban population already. When they were burying fiber-optic cables alongside coaxial a few decades ago, the strands of fiber optics were expected to future-proof the service.

“They put six in the ground and now we’re like, ‘That’s not enough,’” said Scott Brown, Executive Director at UpRamp, a business accelerator program inside CableLabs.

That’s why CableLabs, a nonprofit funded by 63 cable companies around the world, had to figure out how to make this hybrid cable more efficient. Telecoms like Zayo, by the way, focused on fiber all along. A typical Zayo pipe has an average of 145 strands of fiber and can have up to 800, according to the company.

The new 10G maximizes those fiber strands even more, eking out 10 Gbps up and down. But it’s not just one technology. Rather, said McKinney, it’s a platform for the latest and greatest, such as Wi-Fi 6, Micronet security and DOCSIS 3.1 (In the 1990s, CableLabs figured out how to run data over coaxial cable lines and called it DOCSIS, short for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification.)

“There’s a whole bunch of technologies that make up the 10G platform,” McKinney said. “…10G is defining an experience that consumers can have in their home.”

About 200 people work out of CableLabs’ Louisville headquarters. There’s also teams in Silicon Valley and other locations around the world.

CableLabs also developed coherent optics, another technology in 10G. This is what lets 10G be synchronous, so upload and download speeds are the same. It essentially puts electronics on either side of the fiber cables to boost the speed and reliability of data transmission.

The 10G trials are expected to start in 2020 (Comcast and Intel committed to spring of 2020). When it’s deemed ready, cable providers will begin rolling it out to customers, but it’s up to the companies to decide.

“The technology is being invested in,” Brown said. “My hope is that more and more people across Colorado can get gigabit speeds.”


    Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...