The 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is just wrapping up in Las Vegas, having showcased innovations, devices and the usual array of bizarre gadgets to 170,000 technology-hungry fans.
But amid all the noisy chatter about smarter surveillance cameras, cheaper self-driving cars, “connected” litter boxes for cats and even flying surfboards, the technology that will enable all this to happen is quietly advancing towards capabilities that were unimaginable only a few years ago.
A year ago this week at CES, the cable industry announced its 10G platform – a combination of technologies that will deliver internet speeds 10 times faster than today’s networks and 100 times faster than what most consumers currently experience.
Unlike 5G, which is a mobile technology where the ‘G’ stands for generation, 10G stands for 10 Gigabits per second – a fixed broadband platform that will deliver the next great leap in speed, capacity and latency for the networks that carry the vast majority of the world’s internet traffic.
It will enable video streaming service providers to produce and distribute Ultra high-definition TV shows and movies in 4k and 8k, and take online gaming to new levels with higher resolution graphics, increased responsiveness and a more immersive customer experience.
In healthcare, 10G will bring about new approaches to home health and remote diagnostics, helping doctors monitor patients from anywhere in real time – giving people peace of mind and enabling the elderly to live independently at home for longer.
In education, learning will become more interactive and dynamic through 10G-enabled technologies such as interactive video walls and head-mounted displays, giving children news ways of learning and engaging with their subject.
And 10G will enable businesses to bring people together from across the globe to collaborate as if they were actually in the same room.
So how close is this to becoming a reality?
The foundations have already been laid, with Liberty Global’s networks currently enabling broadband download speeds of 1 Gigabit per second to more than 8 million homes across Europe.
But in just three to five years’ time our networks will begin to ramp up to the next level, meaning even faster download AND upload speeds at much lower latencies – something that will be crucial in supporting the predicted exponential growth in IoT devices, such as high-definition security systems, which upload huge amounts of data into the cloud.
To understand how we can do this without having to dig up roads to replace millions of miles of existing wiring, it’s helpful to understand how cable – which makes up most of our network alongside fibre – works.
It’s based on a technology called DOCSIS, or Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications, which has already rolled out and implemented its 5th generation of technology – DOCSIS 3.1 – to support Gigaspeeds ubiquitously across our footprint.
For decades, cable networks have used multiple frequency bands to allow simultaneous transmission of several signals and services (voice, video and broadband data) over the same coaxial cable – a bit like lanes on a highway where you have space between lanes to avoid interference or collisions.
Signals from various individual channels are combined into one large Gigapipe and then sent down the cable to your house.
Modulation techniques allow these signals to transmit data to and from the Internet to your home. Think of it like a small vehicle carrying bits of data back and forth.
With the 5th major version of DOCSIS – DOCSIS 3.1 – new modulation techniques along with advanced coding and adaptive queuing allow for even more bits of data to be packed into each channel and to be delivered more quickly. So more data reaches your home faster. It’s like packing more lanes on a highway without creating any interference and with fast lanes for services that need low latency.
Over the next few years we will be extending the DOCSIS spectrum even further – effectively adding more lanes to what will now be a Super-highway. Which means even higher speeds in both directions, more capacity and better security, with no disruption and no digging up the streets – what we like to call “gigging without digging”.
We are also improving the fibre technology that forms the backbone of our networks – increasing capacity even further at good economics for the business.
All this adds up to an exciting future for our industry – and the many new industries that will spring up as a result of our speed leadership. And who knows where it may lead? Who would have predicted that the widespread introduction of 4G would lead to “killer applications” such as Uber? The only limit to what 10G will enable are the limits of our imagination.