There’s something in the air in Louisville, Colorado – or more accurately, in the wires. Rolling over miles of network cabling, passing through signal repeaters: this is the future of the Internet.
On Thursday morning at the home of CableLabs – which bills itself as “the leading innovation and R&D lab for the cable industry” – network engineers and representatives from some of the country’s major internet service providers gathered to showcase some of the fastest speeds they’ve ever delivered: 8 Gbps downloads and 5 Gbps uploads, using the world’s only DOCSIS 4.0 modem and a suite of networking technologies CableLabs calls 10G .
“Other than the people in the labs, no one has seen this,” said Curtis Knittle, vice president of wireline technology at CableLabs.
In a closed showroom in front of a handful of people, engineers and tech experts presented a demo seemingly worthy of a high school AV club: bits of network cable connecting a single, handcrafted modem via a serial amplifiers and repeaters. It was a showcase for 10G, the next big leap in high-speed internet access and the meteoric, 10-fold increase in speeds promised to homes across America.
Above all, 10G promises considerably faster speeds on existing hardware. Although you’ve probably subscribed to 300 Mbps or 600 Mbps service through your cable provider, your modem can do better – but only so far. Existing connections reach a theoretical maximum of 1.5 Gbit/s. 10G technology will amplify it, and engineers won’t need to dig down the street near you to boost your broadband. In theory, anyway, although the cable companies themselves will have to install an updated amplifier or two on the way to your house and you may need a new modem.
“We’re very excited about what’s to come,” said Stephanie Michko-Beale, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Charter Communications. “This suite of technologies is transformational.”
“We’re certainly very excited about what we’ve seen,” said Len Barlik, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Cox Communications. “From a customer experience perspective, we know there’s a lot of demand moving forward.”
In a press release announcing the tests, Elad Nafshi, executive vice president and chief network officer at Comcast Cable, echoed their comments and touted the progress. “These 10G technologies represent the fastest and most efficient way to deliver symmetric multi-gigabit speeds at scale everywhere, not just in certain neighborhoods or cities.”
“The pace of 10G innovation is only accelerating and internet users around the world will reap the benefits.”
When asked, none of the company’s representatives were willing to provide a timeline for the release of new DOCSIS 4.0 modems or 10G service, but that was to be expected: the technology was being showcased for the first time. It’s probably years later. So what is it exactly?
CableLabs’ Knittle called 10G a “holistic umbrella” – more than just a new modem or better coax. There is DOCSIS 4.0, a new standard for the cable modem. DOCSIS 3 and its 3.1 evolution have been growing and changing for more than a decade; TechRadar wrote about its promise in 2010. DOCSIS 4.0 or full-duplex DOCSIS was officially released in 2017, but good luck finding a modem or carrier to support it for now.
The 4.0 spec brings those blazing speeds, especially downloading. You’ve probably noticed that your download speeds are considerably slower than your upload speeds, and it’s not just your computer. 4.0 doesn’t quite bring parity, but it will dramatically increase the theoretical maximums to 6 Gbps, sending uploads and downloads on the same spectrum in fiber optic cables.
10G also brings new technologies to boost reliability and security, says CableLabs, and decreases connection latency, which should make gaming, interactive AR (that metaverse everyone is talking about) and other activities easier. Internet that rely on precision.