Credit: Christopher Scholz – 5G City auf Smartphone
CC BY-SA 2.0
Will 5G Replace Cable?
Will 5G replace Cable, i.e., DOCSIS? Before we answer that question, let’s emphasize that we’re not Luddites. We embrace change—if it improves the previous technology it replaces. Given the current direction of America’s 5G rollout, we challenge proponents to show us how 5G betters DOCSIS without using words such as “theoretically.” So our answer to our readers is: prostrate yourself and send prayers to your deity of choice that 5G won’t replace DOCSIS.
We know; opposing 5G is tech heresy, particularly when espoused by a tech blog. But we stand on solid ground. In America, 5G’s biggest (and we mean BIG) shortfall is its use of millimeter-wave (MMW) spectrum. MMW is the focal point of 5G deployment in the U.S. While it’s faster and has lower latency with much greater capacity than shorter bandwidths, there are good reasons why mobile network operators (MNOs such as Verizon) haven’t used it before now.
Don’t be hoodwinked by the full-court press marketing of 5G by corporate America, FCC Chair Ajit Pai and suspiciously complaisant tech websites who trumpet how wonderful 5G “will” be. Don’t swallow the spiel claiming it “will” spawn all sorts of new technological applications that we haven’t yet conceived. As a “replacement product” for DOCSIS 3.1, 5G is a dog that won’t hunt.
Just so we’re clear, DOCSIS is an acronym for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. The standard was developed in 1997; DOCSIS 3.1 was released in 2013. Forget “laboratory” speeds—how fast is DOCSIS 3.1 at home? Cox Communications in Oklahoma City offers “up to” 940 Mbps. Xfinity (Comcast) user speed tests across the nation average well over 500 Mbps. Are you sure you want 5G to replace “cable”?
5G vs DOCSIS 3.1
In case you’ve been blinded by the 5G BS, DOCSIS 3.1 is hardly an inferior technology. As we’ve demonstrated, it rivals fiber speeds. The next time you’re on your laptop using public WiFi, check your data speed. More likely than not, you’ll receive 300 Mbps. You can thank DOCSIS 3.1 and your cable company (aka multiple service operator or MSO). DOCSIS 3.1 is really fast and, more importantly, reliable.
Reliable? You bet. Ever subscribed to a satellite Internet Service Provider (ISP) like HughesNet? Remember losing your Internet connectivity or TV reception during a heavy rainstorm? 5G MMW signals attenuate (break up) when it mists or fogs—even when it’s really humid. And 5G MMW is even more dependent on line-of-sight than satellite. Don’t discount the stability of a wired connection.
Also, as we mentioned previously, 5G proponents greatly exaggerate 5G’s range. Even the most optimistic coverage forecasts go no farther than 500 meters— less than a third of a mile. Independent tests, however, indicate that Verizon’s 5G MMW coverage is “just ~350 feet (or less than 110 meters). In fact, 5G performance suffered from reduced reliability beyond 200 feet (barely 6o meters) when faced with street obstructions.”
For those who think 5G will be an alternative to DOCSIS since they’re outside the reach of an MSO, think again. 5G wireless coverage will virtually overlay DOCSIS networks for the foreseeable future. As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel points out, 5G “will leave rural America behind (because) 5G service is unlikely outside of the most populated urban areas.”
Wired vs Wireless
Our problem with today’s tech is its emphasis on wireless connectivity. For example, regarding the impending demise of “physical wires,” Ira Brodsky— president of Datacomm Research— declares, “It’s more of a question of when then if.” For some reason, people seem to think that since DOCSIS uses coaxial cable, it’s inferior to wireless. It’s not.
Sure, wireless access to the Internet is convenient but virtually every device is now wireless. Your faithful blogger refuses to use a wireless mouse on his laptop. He insists on a USB mouse—it costs less than an infrared mouse and he doesn’t need to continually buy batteries for it. He would rather listen to wired speakers than inferior-sounding Bluetooth transducers. (Read our rant on Bluetooth speakers in this “Coda” update.)
What pundits fail to recognize is the reality of physics behind 5G MMW. It doesn’t penetrate anything thicker than clothing—not foliage, glass or plastic. If engineers can’t reduce latency delay from a geostationary orbiting satellite, how can they alter the physical limitations of 5G MMWs? They can’t.
Lost in the hoopla of 5G is the expectation that home 5G will work like LTE. It won’t. 4G users can enjoy their devices indoors just as they do outside since LTE radio waves penetrate walls. But “80% of device usage occurs inside buildings… Without up-to-date hardware, the headache of a weak signal or signal loss is a likely reality for cellular customers, which can result in gaps in streaming capabilities, especially with data-heavy demands like 4K video.“
Do you want to install a 5G-compatible antenna at home to capture radio signals for your devices to work indoors? Do you want to purchase a 5G-compatible router to process the 5G signal—assuming that there’s a signal to process? Of course not—you have DOCSIS 3.1
Verizon’s CEO Hustles 5G “Cheese” on Cheddar TV
Take a look at Verizon CEO Han Vestberg as he waxes eloquently (considering English isn’t his native language) about the “promise” of “cordless” 5G. Be skeptical when he claims 5G is a “more efficient way to deploy broadband to your home.” And you don’t even need a dish! Note how he sidesteps comparing 5G to “cable.”
Parsing 5G in Tech Websites
Far be it from us to cast aspersions at our brethren (and sistren) tech scribes. But one can’t help but feel repulsed by their gushing when they compare 5G to “cable.”
For instance, read this blurb from a well-known tech website: “Theoretically, your home internet will be faster if 5G fixed wireless replaces broadband.” Or this: “We look forward to seeing what happens with 5G in the next few years. We hope it will transform the way we access the internet.”
Note the qualifying language—“could,” “theoretically,” “going to,” “if,” “probably,” “hope,” ad nauseam. Consumers, take note. You’re being hustled by corporate behemoths like Verizon and AT&T that want to “sell” you an inferior product. Why? 5G is cheaper than maintaining POTS copper plant or building out “real” broadband like fiber to the home—even though 5G nodes in neighborhoods need fiber backhaul.
Read this shameless huckstering of AT&T: “The real selling point of 5G is the fact that it is primarily being built to replace your current home internet service.” (It won’t and it shouldn’t.) “Customers using the service have been reporting about 300 Mbps down and their service is data cap free.” So what? DOCSIS 3.1 has faster speeds. How long do you think AT&T will provide uncapped data?
What about latency? “There’s a maximum latency of 4 ms on 5G instead of 20 ms on 4G LTE today.” So what? Only applications such as autonomous vehicles need such low latency. DOCSIS 3.1 has a latency of 10 ms “deployed in the field.”
This is the point; people at home don’t need and don’t use these ballyhooed data speeds and latencies. User experiences with fiber (currently faster than 5G with similar latency) have borne this out.
To be sure, there are legitimate 5G MMW applications. “Smart” plants, IoT, M2M and huge office buildings can take full advantage of 5G MMW technology. But these are industrial applications, not those for home use.
5G should work great in an athletic stadium with 100,00 people in the stands. Why? There are no line-of-sight issues, everyone should be able to go online at the same time and coverage should be universal (if the facility has enough radio nodes). Just pray to your deity of choice that the skies don’t rain or snow at game time.