Everything You Need to Know About 10G Internet
While 10G might not be what you think it is, these upcoming cable upgrades aim to compete with fiber.
- Despite being easy to confuse with the 5G wireless standard, 10G refers to 10 Gbps home internet capability, not cellular network speeds.
- Legacy cable companies are betting big on new DOCSIS standards to compete with upcoming fiber internet expansions.
- Most households don’t need anywhere near 10 Gbps speeds for everyday online tasks.
Chances are you’ve recently stumbled upon a billboard or commercial from Xfinity advertising internet service for a brand-new 10G network. At first glance, that claim may be a bit confusing, and you are probably thinking, “Didn’t 5G just come out? We’re already on 10G? Is 10G double 5G’s speed capabilities?”
Despite these marketing efforts, we’re here to tell you that the Xfinity 10G network has nothing to do with 5G cell service. The name actually refers to an entirely different technology: 10 Gbps home internet speeds, not fifth-generation, or 5G, cellular network service. Want to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about who’s leading 10G, the goal of more cable speed capability, and why 10G internet sounds so similar to 5G.
Why 10G Internet Isn’t Really 10G
If you were confused when you saw the term 10G for the first time, you’re not alone. The name is misleading because it’s in reference to a wave of cable internet upgrades with the goal of making residential internet service capable of reaching 10 Gbps speeds. It’s a dubious name, considering that 5G cellular network upgrades have recently been so popular. It’s debatable if the intention of naming these upgrades 10G was to ride the wave of 5G popularity and foster confusion, but that’s neither here nor there.
Even so, right now, 10G is simply the name for a larger marketing initiative, since cable internet can’t deliver 10 Gbps speeds yet. Case in point: Xfinity is running promotions for varying speeds on its 10G network. It’s unclear exactly where or when true 10 Gbps cable internet speeds will be available as advertised.
Despite the bait and switch, the goal of 10G is for cable companies to deliver home internet speeds comparable to fiber internet. This goal is ambitious (to say the least), considering only a few fiber internet providers can provide such speeds even now. Thus, the idea for cable companies is that these speeds will be achievable over time, especially with upcoming DOCSIS 4.0 upgrades. They’re just getting ahead of it with this preemptive marketing of the technology.
How 10G Internet Works
There’s good reason for the current excitement about fiber internet: Incumbent cable providers are notorious for having low upload speeds that are only a fraction of an advertised package’s download speed. Fiber internet offers symmetrical speeds, meaning the figures for download and upload are exactly the same.
Upload vs. Download Speed: Most consumers pay attention to download speed (the first number) on an internet plan. Download speed powers most online tasks, but upload speed (the second number) determines how fast you can upload data like photos, files, and videos online. Upload speeds are also essential for things like video chats and online gaming.
Cable speeds are lopsided partly because these networks use copper. Copper-core coaxial cables don’t have sufficient room for radio signals to transmit the same amount of data for both download and upload speeds, so one lane has to have more room than the other to function. That results in download speeds that are much higher than accompanying upload speeds.
Fiber transmits data via pulses of light through a glass core in the middle of cables. It has room internally that copper doesn’t, which means that upload and download speeds can be symmetrical. The only way cable can compete with fiber is to improve its upload speeds — that’s where DOCSIS 4.0 comes into play.
Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) is the high-bandwidth data transmission standard that supports coaxial cable internet. CableLabs, a prominent research and development group, developed iterations of this standard over the past 20+ years. It’s because of upgraded DOCSIS standards that the internet has become faster, more dependable, and more diverse in its formats.
History of DOCSIS
|Generation||Download speed (up to)||Upload speed (up to)||Year introduced|
|DOCSIS 1||40 Mbps||10 Mbps||1997|
|DOCSIS 2||40 Mbps||30 Mbps||2001|
|DOCSIS 3||1 Gbps||200 Mbps||2006|
|DOCSIS 3.1||10 Gbps||2 Gbps||2013|
|DOCSIS 4.0||10 Gbps||6 Gbps||2019|
Current cable internet still runs on DOCSIS 3.1 protocols. This standard cable protocol has helped deliver more incredible speeds to residential households with cable internet over the years. However, it’s not meant for symmetrical 10G speeds, since the upload speed is one-fifth of its download speed.
Rollouts of DOCSIS 4.0 protocol will seriously boost cable internet’s upload speeds, even if they only reach around half of the download speed. Even if it’s not exactly symmetrical like fiber internet, 6 Gbps upload capability is more than enough for cable internet to compete.
Cable companies like Mediacom and Xfinity have made headlines for launching 10G initiatives that hinge on the fact that about 83 percent of the American public has access to a coaxial cable network. That’s a massive network size compared to fiber, though fiber expansions in recent years have started to close that gap.
The Battle Between Fiber and Cable Internet Connections
Over the next few years, about $42.5 billion will be funneled into internet infrastructure projects around the country due to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. With federal money to deliver internet access to unserved and underserved locations up for grabs, both government and telecommunications leaders know that fiber is the preferred technology. It’s considered future-proof because it’s faster and more reliable than incumbent cable internet providers, especially when it comes to upload speeds.
While cable has its place in the industry right now, that status is subject to change. But what cable networks have that fiber networks don’t are those existing networks that already reach three out of every four Americans.
Fiber is expensive to build and not readily available for the vast majority of the country, so cable companies have to focus on increasing speed to keep a hold on their key markets as they become more competitive.
A pro of this logic is that 10G upgrades utilize copper networks already installed underground, so they won’t go to waste. However, the con is that it’s not going to be easy or swift to upgrade these networks to align with the marketing promise of 10G. It’ll likely take years to see the full impact.
What the Future Holds for 10G and Internet Speeds
Even though it may seem odd for cable companies to come out swinging with promises of 10G speeds when they’re not exactly achievable, it’s an understandable initiative. The overall intent is to minimize the difference between cable and fiber internet.
With 10G speeds, you can easily have:
- Crystal-clear video calls
- Virtual reality experiences
- Augmented reality capabilities
- 4K streaming on multiple devices
- An array of Internet of Things (IoT) hardware to create a smart home
In terms of industry, 10G speeds would create room for vast data processing improvement across health care, technology, transportation, finance, and other business sectors. The enterprise applications of these speeds are endless.
Beyond those elements, incremental 10G cable upgrades are a path for many residential households who may have to wait for fiber to access greater internet speeds. However, it’s a far cry from addressing the one in 10 Americans without internet access at home.
The 10G internet initiative distracts from the fact that it’s more important to deliver quality, high-speed internet to every household. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big, but it can seem like it’s at the expense of focusing these investments on trying to deliver quality internet to people going without or with very little internet access.
Why You Probably Don’t Need 10G Internet (Yet)
People are excited about the prospects of 10G, not because it’s necessarily required in day-to-day life, but because it opens up bandwidth to multiple intensive online activities simultaneously that aren’t yet commonplace.
That said, most online tasks don’t require anything close to 10G internet speeds. Even bandwidth-heavy hobbies, like gaming, don’t need sky-high speed, though this largely depends on the size of your household and the amount of internet users. Common online activities and their necessary speeds include:
|Activity||Minimum download speeds|
|Streaming in 4K||40 – 100 Mbps|
|Streaming Netflix||5 – 25 Mbps|
|Online multiplayer gaming||40 – 200 Mbps|
|Video calls||1 – 4 Mbps|
Even though 10G eclipses the minimum speeds for these activities dozens of times over, it’s valuable for leaders to envision the next generation of the internet, even if it won’t be immediately accessible.
Final Word on 10G Internet in Today’s World
While 10G and DOCSIS 4.0 will no doubt offer some extraordinary changes to the internet landscape for preexisting cable internet users, they provide little benefit to the average contemporary household. In a few years, as 10G becomes more commonplace, online activities grow in intensity, and the service becomes less expensive, it may be worth exploring. However, right now, it’s not worth paying hundreds of dollars per month for such speeds, even if they’re available for your home.