10G: Future-ready cable networks

Share this on social media:

The world is poised for 10-gigabit networks, and advances in DOCSIS 4.0 solutions could bring us closer to this reality, finds Alice Jensen

The cable industry’s vision for delivering 10-gigabit networks, or 10G, was first introduced at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). At that event, the National Cable and Television Association (NCTA); the not-for-profit research and development lab CableLabs, and Cable Europe outlined their vision for the future of global cable television networks. Now, DOCSIS 4.0 advances are facilitating the realisation of 10G for more users.

Cable broadband networks consist of both modern fibre optic and legacy coaxial cables, crisscrossing countries and delivering cable television and internet services. Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and passive optical networks (PON) use fibre optic technology to deliver broadband network access to end-customers. In theory, they have almost unlimited capacity and are compatible with the 10G promise. But when it comes to hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cable networks, the ’to-the-home’ connection is via a coaxial cable.

Instead of needing to replace HFC networks with all-fibre networks to realise the 10G vision, DOCSIS 4.0 technology makes HFC networks competitive with PON, setting them up for 10G.

Introducing 10G

The network in the United States is one of the most advanced. Some “90% of America already has access to home internet speeds of 1Gb/s via cable’s broadband networks,” says NCTA’s Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications, Brian Dietz. 1G is more than fast enough for most current domestic requirements and 10G will be 10 times faster.

“In reality, there is no killer application that exists – or even is visible on the horizon –that would require more than hundreds of megabits per second, let alone one gigabit of bandwidth, but we don’t know what’s around the corner,” says Cornel Ciocirlan, CTO EMEA and Vice-President Global Telco Market Management of US cable and network infrastructure provider, CommScope. “We need to be ready for the future.”

Apart from high speed, the 10G platform will have low latency with symmetrical upload and download speeds. Through advanced technology and constant monitoring, the system will also be able to detect and resolve network issues pre-emptively, offering more reliability for consumers. In addition, it will deploy an advanced network management system to increase security.

According to the NCTA’s 10G platform, 10G is a “future-ready broadband network that will power the data-driven fourth industrial revolution, delivering internet speeds of 10Gb/s, with the power and low latency to support whatever comes next.”

The post-pandemic awakening

The importance of having cable networks that can respond to increased demand is apparent. At the pandemic’s peak, millions of people turned to their home cable network systems for remote working. This increased upstream data traffic and applied significant stress to available bandwidths.

DOCSIS 4.0 technology is designed to make HFC networks competitive with PON (credit: Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com)

In most cases, systems were able to adapt. For example, Dietz says: “America’s broadband networks have been built ahead of the demand curve, with billions of dollars in private investment, a practice that allowed networks to absorb the rapid shift to digital and virtual technologies when Covid-19 hit.”

Millions of miles of fibre-rich broadband networks have been deployed over the last several decades,” he says, adding that “cable broadband providers have long been building out their networks to rural and far-out communities. These historical efforts, combined with new funding from the federal government, means America is on the cusp of connecting every American. New networks with high broadband speeds transform small towns and allow more people to participate in the modern economy.”

In contrast, says Ciocirlan: “In regions of Europe, specifically the UK and Germany, many networks are lagging”. Dietz adds: “During the pandemic, European networks found themselves having to find stop-gap solutions to absorb the sudden shift in traffic.” Here, upgrades to legacy copper twisted pair-based networks are still under way and in remote rural areas with low population density, getting a return on investment into fibre upgrades can be difficult. However, Ciocirlan does say that European and UK government initiatives are being employed to facilitate rollout to get more people connected to an up-to-date cable network.

Most cable television network operators are multiple system operators (MSOs) that offer a combination of traditional cable, fibre-based and mobile networks. This means that in regions where effective fibre-rich broadband networks are not currently accessible, customers may still be provided with appreciable bandwidth via 5G mobile networks.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its new world of remote and hybrid working environments were just one test of the cable networks. Ensuring cable systems are deployed that are ready for whatever the future may have in store is key for network providers across the globe. “The 10G network will power the next transformational technology. Whether that’s immersive media, holograms, even smarter homes, or even smarter cities, only time will tell,” says Dietz.

What is DOCSIS 4.0?

Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS, was first released in 1997 and allowed for high-bandwidth data to be transmitted over cable wires. With a maximum downstream speed of 40Mb/s, it was a huge upgrade over dial-up internet. Many incarnations have followed and now most systems run with either DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1, the latter providing up to 10Gb/s downstream capacity and one to two Gb/s upstream.

DOCSIS 4.0 will play a key role in making 10G a reality. It is designed to increase the efficiency of the existing hybrid fibre-coaxial cable infrastructure without the need to lay more cable. Thus, its implementation is intended to both save costs and futureproof networks.

DOCSIS 4.0 defines full duplex DOCSIS with symmetrical download and upload speeds. Dietz notes: “This shortens response time to one millisecond, and removes lag time.” In addition, it is also defined as extended spectrum DOCSIS, which Ciocirlan says “means that you gain about 600 MHz of extra upstream spectrum, which has a huge impact on the operator’s ability to deliver increased bandwidth.”

Curtis Knittle, Vice President of Wired Technologies at CableLabs, highlights the April 2022 10G Showcase demonstration: “Comcast and Charter, and their vendor partners, showed that DOCSIS 4.0 technology was able to achieve 9Gb/s downstream peak capacity and 6Gb/s upstream capacity.” He also points out that there are two key takeaways from this event: Firstly, that DOCSIS 4.0 technology is real, and secondly, that DOCSIS 4.0 keeps pace with 10G PON.

Dietz says: “Since then, Comcast has announced (in February 2023) the launch of its 10G upgrade to 10 million homes, making 2Gb/s speeds available through the deployment of DOCSIS 4.0. This is ahead of schedule.” Additional foundational network enhancements are under way and Comcast’s network upgrade is set to reach 50 million homes by 2025. Knittle adds: “With DOCSIS 4.0, consumers will be able to subscribe to multi-gigabit services and the vision of the 10G platform is within sight”.

In Europe, Ciocirlan notes: “CommScope has announced a deal with Liberty Global, the largest network provider in Europe, to build a DOCSIS 4.0 node product, so DOCSIS 4.0 is in sight here too.”

Future-proofing beyond DOCSIS 4.0

It is not just DOCSIS 4.0 that will enable the future-proofing of networks, according to Knittle: “There are also emerging solutions related to the underlying network infrastructure in the form of the PON and coherent optics in access.”

He says CableLabs recognised the cable industry’s need for a solution that supports both the capacities required in the future and the long fibre lengths of today’s cable networks. “Installing new fibre is very expensive, so a key question we asked was, ‘How can we extend the life of the fibre cables already installed in cable networks?’ The answer was coherent optical technologies.”

These technologies allow more data to be transferred on the same fibre. However, they can be expensive, and developments are under way to make them more affordable. For example, full duplex coherent optics can double the capacity of a fibre and remove the need for higher cost dual-laser transceivers. “We are now seeing coherent in-access networks supporting enterprise networks and aggregation of the Distributed Access Architecture (DAA),” says Knittle.

Interoperability is one of CableLabs’ key areas of focus and enabling this will ensure all networks are ready for future applications. “It is important to consider non-cable-specific solutions, such as the 5G Challenge and L4S, that go beyond cable. Advances in layer-on-mobile and fixed-to-mobile convergence technologies allow cable and mobile networks to share fibre systems and are key in ensuring data transfer between networks.”

10G partnered with the Future Today Institute to gain insight into what networks are being prepared for. Dietz says: “These include transformational changes to immersive entertainment, education and remote learning, agriculture, and remote and robotic healthcare.”

The 10G future

On immersive entertainment, Knittle adds: “We are looking beyond even virtual reality (VR) and into augmented reality (AR) and the metaverse.”

These types of technology may also transform education, creating immersive, personalised, and transportive educational experiences. Healthcare advances may be possible with more wearable and smart sensor technology for tailored and invisible in-home care, while remote and rural communities could be connected to high-quality care via robots and holograms. As part of the response to climate challenges, advanced monitoring of agricultural systems is already being developed and indoor growing environments may one day be transformed by AI to become abundant Edens. But all of that will require stable, high-capacity networks.

Dietz, Ciocirlan and Knittle agree that no one knows what is around the corner in terms of technological advances and what will be required of cable networks. However, it is clear that having a network that is ready for every future scenario – one that can carry more data than would be required for any conceivable application – is key.

Scott Weinstein, Vice President, ANS Product Management at CommScope

05 June 2023

Scott Weinstein, Vice President, ANS Product Management at CommScope

05 June 2023

CommScope made the announcement at this year's ANGA COM conference and exhibition (credit: CommScope)

24 May 2023

CommScope made the announcement at this year's ANGA COM conference and exhibition (credit: CommScope)

24 May 2023