Thought 5G marketing was bad? Cable industry sticks with ridiculous 10G branding as another year rolls around

What started as a joke slowly blends into potential fiber reality

CES It started out as a joke, a way to repeat the hype-success of “5G” mobile technology for the cable industry. And yet “10G” – standing for 10 gigabit-a-second broadband fiber speeds – may be here to stay.

“Zyxel to Showcase 5G/LTE and 10G Broadband,” begins a press release for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas, USA, this week, that goes on to discuss “10G fiber solutions” a “powerful 10G XGS-PON Wi-Fi6 whole-home EasyMesh gateway” and various other 10G prefixes.

Lots of other “10G” references abound, sadly most of them from our tech press brethren who should know better but seemingly can’t resist mindless simplicity. And it's not to be confused with 10GE, 10-gigabit Ethernet, which is a real thing.

At a time when the 5G hype has been responsible for mobile network operators having to bend reality to fit with their own manufactured enthusiasm, not to mention terrible regulations and proposed laws, the move to brand something that doesn’t really exist is not something we’re excited about.

As far as we can tell, “10G” already means two different things – both the DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 standards: much in the same way that AT&T ended calling 4G LTE by the moniker “5Ge”, and was attacked by its own industry. And that’s not forgetting the 5G icon that T-Mobile US started displaying on its phones even when data was being sent over distinctly non-5G protocols.

What is “10G”? Well, in theory it is anything that gives you a speed of more than 10Gbps. But, of course, you’re never going to get an actual 10Gbps from 10G technology; it’s a theoretical maximum. At least 5G stands for fifth “generation” technology and as such isn’t wedded to an actual verifiable speed.

Patient Zero

Where did this 10G idiocy start? From a top lobbyist, of course, where else? At Cable-Tec Expo in late 2018, the head of the NCTA, America's internet and television providers association, Michael Powell – also a former head of US comms watchdog, the FCC – noted that: "5G is 25 per cent technology, 75 per cent marketing."

It was both a criticism and a mark of admiration: the term “5G” had somehow entered mainstream usage even though it didn’t really exist, and Congressmen were using it with abandon, even arguing for flawed legislation to be passed because there was, apparently, a “race to 5G.”

While the mobile industry was getting all the love (and cost-cutting FCC rules), Powell suggested that the wired cable industry has something to learn: it needed to promote itself more. He suggested using the term “10G” for DOCSIS 3.1 because, theoretically, it could deliver 10Gbps to home. Sadly, people took him seriously.

You might think that 10G is twice as fast as 5G but it’s not; it’s actually 10 times faster than 5G. Even better!, cry maniacal marketing execs: it’s a repetition of the “10” brand.

And so the NCTA actually trademarked its own joke in time for CES last year. And in a sign of the mad rush, it had what looks like some intern knock-up a logo for its new made-up brand.

Cablelabs also trademarked related 10G nonsense: “10G Ready” and “10G Certified” that it quickly ditched and re-registered as “CableLabs 10G Ready” and “CableLabs 10G Certified.”


It's got its own logo too.

But after the effort to make 10G a thing this time last year at CES, it appeared as though the whole thing had died down. But then CES came around again and we’re off on the 10G train again thanks to DOCSIS 4.0.

surprised looking woman - hair flying in the air

Big cable trolls big mobile with '10G' trademark application


The actual news is that CableLabs is preparing to launch field trials of the latest technology, DOCSIS 4.0, and hopes to complete initial specs for the new standard in “early 2020.”

That new standard will support two different flavors – Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDX) and Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) – which different cable companies favor, and so should enable the cable industry to standardize on the same silicon and platform while using different tech. That’s ultimately good news but no one outside the industry cares - they just want faster data speeds.

Hence the attraction of the purposefully vague “10G”. It can mean everything and nothing at the same time. In that sense it is true branding: it’s more of a feeling that an actual thing.

Which may be fine when it comes to clothing or pop stars, but when it comes to technology and real standards that need to be included in real equipment, we’d rather stick to the less-sexy but significantly more accurate acronyms. ®

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