The headline refers, of course, to a favorite scene from “Mr. Mom,” when Michael Keaton’s character, Jack, grabs a chainsaw (which is running) and dons safety glasses as his wife’s boss, Ron, shows up to pick her up for work. Jack turns the chainsaw off, then relays his plan to put on an addition, including rewiring. Ron: “Yeah, are you going to wire it 220?” Jack: “220, 221, whatever it takes.”

It came to mind while tapping out this blog, ostensibly about what we’re to collectively make of 5G and 10G – are they friends? Are they foes? (Answer: Yes to both.) And while the movie punchline belies Jack’s obvious misunderstanding of electricity, the punchline – “whatever it takes” – is just as applicable to the 5G/10G discussion as it was in 1983, when Mr. Mom was released. Why, because both will happen, and both will remedy an ongoing, global desire for Internet connections that are reliable, secure and fast, with low latency. Whatever it takes.

Let’s start with some basic definitions: 5G is a mobile industry phenomenon, attracting significant financial and industrial attention as a way to make our wireless connections to IP, broadband and everything that runs on it, faster and better; the “G” stands for “generation.” 10G is a cable industry phenomenon, and comprises a suite of technologies, not the least of which is DOCSIS 3.1 Full Duplex (FDX); the “G” stands for “Gigabits,” because the ultimate goal is symmetric 10G connections, in the forward and reverse signal path directions.

5G and 10G are complementary in that they’re architecturally symbiotic: For mobile carriers to go to 5G, they’ll need smaller cells – for every one macro cell, as many as 50 small cells. That’s challenge enough, not to mention areas where mobile coverage is already dappled, like rural America. Simply put, if you’re a wireless provider, you’re going to need more wires at some point.

The symbiosis is evident in the enormous overlap between where 5G’s small cells need to go, and where cable’s HFC plant is already carrying Gigabit IP traffic from neighborhoods to nation. So, in one sense, 5G and 10G are potential friends, as an extension of the extant relationships between mobile and cable providers for what today is “cellular backhaul.”

America is Next for Mobile/Carrier Convergence

Think about it this way: Outside of U.S. borders, half or more of cable service providers also offer mobile connections, either through MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) relationships or because they’ve built or are building room to carry and manage mobile traffic directly on their networks (MNO). It is only in America that this hasn’t happened. (Yet.)

The great leveler in all of this, whether 5G or 10G, is IP. Think back to when voice services – and by that I mean what we used to call telephone, not voice-directed services, like speakers and remotes – were an industrial black art. Delivering analog phone services involved big switches and mysterious complexities. Then came voice-over-IP, and what we think of as “talking on the phone” was completely transformed. (Think Skype, WhatsApp, and their ilk.)

My gut says that what’s going to happen is, instead of having distinct mobile companies and cable companies, and because of the capabilities of IP, “mobile” will become another connectivity point on a broadband network. Whether the end point is a phone, a laptop, or a set-top, shouldn’t matter, of course; at home, you should be able to use WiFi, Ethernet, or mobile. All we need is for the silicon providers to start putting mobile connections into the chips that go in our digital stuff, from laptops to set-tops. Silicon thrives on, and grows by, doing more things. Why not 5G?

And then there’s industrial history. Cable owns a long history of innovating into new revenue areas, often starting out with a turnkey arrangement to examine the proposition and, if promising, learn how to do it themselves. This happened with local ad insertion, back in the ‘80s, and continued through the early days of what we then called “high speed Internet.”

Meanwhile, all of this – 5G, 10G – is happening at a time when both industry sectors are updating their plant to do more. So, two things could happen: Cable providers start making room for mobile, as a connectivity point on their networks, or, they do the same and populate it with their own small cells.

The contrarian view, of course, and the one that tends to make people talk about 5G and 10G with a “versus” in the middle (5G v. 10G), is that mobile 5G networks will supplant the wired last mile. That people will “cut the cord” – the big cord, the Internet cord – in favor of solely relying on mobile connectivity. Some of the market will go that way, for sure. However, cable owns a fantastic competitive offering, so the market split will be business as usual.

The real trick, of course, is who really builds out the small cell network for either side, and who has the wireline assets to do so. My bet is on the cable providers.

I’m on a panel about this topic, this week, at ANGA. Just landed, in fact. I’m certain that this, as well as many other related topics, will be in the mix. If you’re here and can catch it, great! If not, you know where to find me. Whatever it takes.


John Chapman

Cisco CTO Broadband & Fellow

Cisco’s Cable Access Unit