Industry Voices—Varghese: Forget 10G and 5G marketing by focusing on customer gratification

The cable and telco industries are locked into a broadband marketing speed war with 10G and 5G, but there are other marketing opportunities. (Pixabay)

As a signal-processing engineer at Ericsson in the early days of cellular, I remember the battle between TDMA (IS-136) and CDMA (IS-95) technologies to become the next generation (2G) cellular standard. The TDMA camp claimed to achieve six times the capacity of the prior analog cellular channel. The CDMA camp kept their claims somewhat fuzzy, stating that due to the technology’s wideband nature and soft degradation, it could do far better (greater than 20 times the capacity), without offering exact numbers. CDMA continued to find traction in the U.S., Japan and Korea for 2G while 3G cellular was all CDMA-based. I believe the CDMA camp won that marketing battle partly because it was hard to rebut their capacity claims when there was no exact number to rebut.

RELATED: Cable industry tees up 10G initiative at CES

So I have been a bit bemused by some of the recent 10G marketing messaging from the cable broadband industry— even going to the extent of trademarking the term. There is the obfuscation that the “G” in 5G Cellular refers to "generation of technology" while the “G” that 10G cable is referring to is Gbps. More important - by proffering an exact number, it opens up the cable industry to rebuttals and questions such as:

• DOCSIS 3.1, which is widely deployed, now theoretically allows 10 Gbps downloads and 1 Gbps uploads. But cable operators have not come close to those numbers in either direction; real-world implementations often max out at 940 Mbps down and 35 Mbps up. Ramping up from this rate to 10 Gbps will require operators to deploy fiber deep into their networks, which requires significant investment and time. The question is what is the timeframe that a significant user base (not just urban and high-usage areas) can access 10 Gbps kind of data speeds?

• High upstream speeds require full-duplex functionality, which in turn requires "node plus zero" (N+0) architecture (no amplifiers after the cable node), which again is a long way off for most cable networks. Though there are discussions to deploy full-duplex in alternate architectures such as N+1 and N+2, this is sub-optimum because it could entail the double disadvantage of both high capex—due to needing fiber deep—as well as high opex (due to amplifiers remaining in the network).

• Even if 10 Gbps is transmitted to the home, are Wi-Fi chipsets available that can transmit at that rate within the home?

• By marketing the term 10G and going to the extent of trademarking it, does it suggest that 10 Gbps is the highest that cable can do and is the industry painting itself into a corner?

If I was a cable marketer, I might have gone in the opposite direction and said cable is 3G technology (currently DOCSIS 3.1); and though it is only in its third generation, it is faster than the fifth generation of cellular because cable is “superior” technology. Wireline technology can always do better than wireless, because it is a closed medium and does not have to endure the same extent of attenuation, fading, and interference.

The 10G marketing is an obvious response to the strong 5G messaging and initiatives from the cellular industry, starting with Verizon offering 300 Mbps fixed wireless 5G in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento for $50 per month. But, realize that scaling this offer to non-urban, lower-usage areas across the country will not be easy. For one thing, fixed wireless currently requires the considerable costs of a technician having to come to the customer’s home to install antennas and modems; possibly because the technology is not yet robust and requires line-of-sight positioning.

And 300 Mbps is not that fast. For faster speeds, fixed wireless may have to go to higher frequency bands, which would mean that range gets reduced, and necessitates intense densification of cell sites. Initial estimates suggest it will cost at least $200 billion to blanket the U.S. with this kind of 5G densification, and we are a long way from deploying that kind of investment.

In the military treatise “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, he stressed: “Therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.”

In this example, cable, by discussing speeds and Gbps, has been brought to the field of battle by cellular. What cable should have done instead is define a new field of battle that goes beyond the well-understood residential broadband and video customer to future customers and potential markets. The future customer is in the segments of smart buildings, smart cities, smart education, smart energy, smart health, smart industry, smart lighting, and smart mobility. By showing an understanding of the complex architectures, bandwidths, data rates, latency, and other requirements of these future segments, it will be understood by default that the residential customer’s requirements are well understood and covered.

Marketing strategy for slow moving industries may involve focusing on the competition, and trying to one-up them, but this essentially leads to “me-too” products.

In contrast, the strategy for fast-moving and disruptive industries like we have today in broadband should be to focus on the customer, and particularly on the future customer and potential markets five to 10 years from now. And, this might lead to seeing even “competition” in a new light. We might discover that rising tides in next-generation markets lifts many boats, and we are better off allying and partnering rather than engaging in competition.

Instead of generation of technology or Gbps, how about marketing a new “G” that stands for “gratification”, as in gratified and delighted customers in current and future broadband markets. Now that is a “G” we all probably can agree on.

Alan A. Varghese has 25 years of experience in wireless, semiconductors, IoT, cable, optical, automotive, and smart buildings and cities. He is currently an industry consultant and analyst. The first half of his career was as an engineer and technology manager at Ericsson, Panasonic and Cisco across technologies such as broadband, cellular, semiconductors, and signal processing. He also has experience in business development, marketing, sales, and strategy. He enjoys helping organizations with their strategies by mapping out their technologies and competencies across customer trends and future growth markets. His work also includes market research for clients, representing companies at standards meetings, and writing in industry publications.

He holds a MSEE in wireless and digital signal processing from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He can be reached at [email protected] and on LinkedIn.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.