Many industry observers wonder how people will use next-generation networks — whether wireless or fixed — which has implications for how the networks are funded and built.
To shed more light, CableLabs, the cable industry's nonprofit research lab, has released the latest installment in its Near Future film series, envisioning how communities will use high-speed broadband networks in classrooms and schools.
Virtual reality and head-mounted display technology
A holographic light field table
|A full wall video display
The research lab envisions students using virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to explore different environments, such as the moon or a jungle.
It also imagines students using holographic light field tables, which project digital objects and make them appear three dimensional, to conduct science experiments, as well as full wall video displays with zero latency to collaborate with kids from other schools.
At a streamed presentation during the CableLabs Summer Conference 2018, CableLabs CEO and President Phil McKinney said the technologies envisioned in the video are three to eight years out, but that operators are already laying the groundwork for the next-generation networks now. In particular, he pointed to the "Full Duplex" enhancement to the DOCSIS 3.1 standard that promises to eventually offer symmetrical 10 Gbps speeds. In Full Duplex communication, the upstream and downstream traffic concurrently use the same spectrum, doubling the efficiency of spectrum use.
McKinney said technologies like video walls and light field tables will require the symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds enabled by Full Duplex.
CableLabs completed the Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 specification in late 2017, and Charter Communications Inc. Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge has repeatedly talked about the advantage 10 Gbps speeds will offer cable operators in the future.
"We think we can get to a relatively low-cost infrastructure investment scenario where we end up with 10-gig symmetrical. And that is in the three-year time frame in terms of being deployable on a mass scale," Rutledge said at an investor conference earlier this year.
Like CableLabs with its Near Future video, Rutledge sought to answer what products will be used on those higher-speed networks.
"They're virtual reality products; they're artificial intelligence products and augmented reality products," he said, adding, "Essentially, they're going to be high-capacity communications products that are going to be used for work and for play and for entertainment."
The question over whether consumers or communities will need, and therefore pay for, multigigabit speeds is one that continues to be asked by analysts and policymakers. Michael O'Rielly, a Republican commissioner on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, for instance, called ultra-fast residential service "a novelty" in 2017.
"The outcry for things like ultra-high speed service in certain areas means longer waits for those who have no access or still rely on dial-up service, as providers rush to serve the denser and more profitable areas that seek upgrades to this level," he said in a blog post focused on how best to encourage broadband deployment.
But McKinney said an advantage of the Near Future series is that it shows how next-generation connectivity will fundamentally change the way people live their lives. Last year's video — about how technology will help aging seniors live healthier, more independent lives — generated interest from government representatives and organizations like AARP, he said.
"The role of technology and broadband is critical to that hope for the future," McKinney said.
CableLabs members include Comcast Corp., Charter, Altice USA Inc. and Cable One Inc.