Can you get gigabit speeds from copper cable?

Have you heard of DOCSIS 3.1? We look at whether cable can ever come close to what true fiber to the home (FTTH) provides.

docsis 3.1

Why your cable company can't provide true gigabit Internet on their existing network

You may have heard of Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.1 as a fiber-rivaling technology that will bring gigabit speeds to homes already equipped with copper cable. You may also have heard Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in your area advertising “gigabit speed” without having built fiber infrastructure. For what it’s worth, DOCSIS 3.1 is an impressive hack that could satisfy a lot of people. Copper networks are more prevalent than fiber networks, there’s no denying that. The real trouble comes when DOCSIS 3.1 is treated as a mitigation strategy and as a shortcut to gigabit, rather than investing in the upgrading of telecommunications networks to full fiber to the home (FTTH) Internet. AKA, the kind of work Ting does. Our Internet needs have changed and old copper networks are struggling and breaking under the load. That’s why copper is the past and fiber is the future.


DOCSIS 3.1 versus fiber: not the same technology

The Internet exists because of supporting infrastructure. Miles and miles of fiber backbone connect data centers across the country to local cities and towns, and ultimately to homes and businesses. For the most part, cities and towns don’t have their own fiber networks. Rather, the main fiber backbone hooks up to a local copper network, a holdover from the days where the telephone reigned supreme, and later cable TV. We’ve come a long way from cable TV and telephones and many of us don’t even opt to have these outdated technologies in our homes anymore, preferring the ease and portability of cell phones and Netflix. As using the Internet became more common, the need for better Internet access grew. Existing copper networks weren’t built to support digital signals, and therefore, aren’t up to the task.

Copper (even DOCSIS 3.1) has a bandwidth issue

docsis 3.1Copper networks are prone to signal degradation over long distances and limited bandwidth. This bandwidth issue is one of the biggest complaints we hear about copper connections. Ever notice how the Internet gets slow at night when everyone’s home? Not just everyone in your house, but your neighbors too. That’s because you’re sharing some section of copper wiring with others on your street. Because copper is inefficient, you share that inefficiency with others and everyone experiences slowdown. DOCSIS 3.1 is copper, and your speeds would absolutely be compromised during busy hours. With a gigabit fiber connection, your speeds are never compromised. Gigabit fiber is built for transmitting digital information. It does so quickly, efficiently and without experiencing the degradation of a signal over long distances that copper is prone to. With fiber to the home (FTTH), the kind of fiber networking Ting does, you’re getting an end-to-end fiber connection so you don’t compete for bandwidth with anyone in your home, or with your neighbors.

DOCSIS 3.1 is not symmetrical: why upload speeds matter

ISPs tend only to talk about their download speed. That sticker speed you see on your Internet connection is not symmetrical, meaning it doesn’t reflect your upload speed too. To really understand the impact of this asymmetry, you need to see why upload is important. Upload impacts everything you push to the Internet. When you put a file on your Google Drive or sync your photos to your iCloud, that’s upload. When you’re at work collaborating on a shared file, that’s upload. When you send an email or a video or a picture, that’s upload. As applications and software continue to rely on the cloud, video conferencing, online learning, gaming, voice over IP calls (VoIP) and more require two-way communication to take place quickly and efficiently. That means downloading yes, but it means uploading too.

Fiber is a new, modern highway

docsis 3.1Fiber and DOCSIS 3.1 address the same fundamental issues: people need greater Internet access speed and the network needs to be able to handle more people and things doing more stuff online. Fiber sees this as an opportunity. Fiber is a new, modern highway. Copper sees this as a problem. Copper is stop-and-go freeway traffic with the occasional open stretch that only really serves to remind you of how much stop and go traffic sucks. Copper penalizes people with older model vehicles. It makes toll lanes on the existing highway. It creates new traffic rules. Builds swings and roundabouts. Conducts a traffic study and deploys traffic cops (coppers?). Fiber is 0 to gigabit in milliseconds and staying there. We're all for maximizing and running efficient networks. DOCSIS 3.1 can be a useful stopgap in places where fiber hasn't yet been deployed. The issue comes when those efforts are in lieu of real innovation.

docsis 3.1Bet on the future

We’ve all come to see how the Internet has evolved and changed. Why should we continue to rely on old infrastructure that won’t be able to keep up with changes tomorrow? If it's incapable of meeting our needs today, you can bet it will be incapable of meeting our needs 10 or 20 years down the road. What’s more, sticking with copper technology means sticking with the cable company. And we all know you could use an upgrade there.

Learn more: download the ebook

Copper isn’t up to the task of supporting our needs well into the future. Learn more about fiber and why it’s better than copper in our ebook: What is fiber Internet ?

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