Feature Articles

So you want 10Gbps broadband? Here's how to gear up for it!

By Paul Mah - 18 Apr 2024

Gearing up for 10Gbps broadband

(This story is the last part of three in the Singapore broadband story.)

The essential home user’s guide

Did the latest 10Gbps symmetric internet offerings make you sit up? Before you run out to sign up for one, it might be worth taking a moment to determine if your system and home network are up to the task of delivering the full 10Gbps internet experience.

Indeed, the average home user would probably only experience limited improvements if they simply signed up for an ultraspeed broadband plan without first updating their current setup.

This is because most computers or laptops only come with a Gigabit LAN (1Gbps) network port. The slower-than-10Gbps networking on these systems effectively become bottlenecks that severely limit the benefits of what should have been a substantial internet upgrade. 

Let’s take a closer look at how we can rectify this, as well as other potential bottlenecks to consider.

Gearing up for 10Gbps: Bottlenecks

A single-port 10GbE PCIe Ethernet expansion card. (Image source: Amazon)

Depending on your system, getting 10Gbps networking installed would likely involve purchasing a Thunderbolt-based 10Gbps Ethernet adapter for a laptop or desktop, or installing a 10Gbps Ethernet expansion card (10GBASE-T) into an available PCI-E expansion slot on your deskop. 

Mind you, this will set you back anything from over $100 for an expansion card to between $200 and $400 for an external Thunderbolt adapter. But what if you have no spare PCI-E slots on your desktop or your laptop doesn’t support Thunderbolt? 

Well, you now have an excuse to purchase a new system with either spare PCI-E slots or support for Thunderbolt. If you are planning to purchase a new system, it is worth pointing out that select models of Intel’s NUC PC and Mac mini (reviewed here) come with onboard 10Gbps networking.

Alternatively, if you’re considering purchasing a new system or laptop later this year, keep a close lookout for systems with Wi-Fi 7 support. This will help you get the most out of your 10Gbps broadband plan if you have a suitable new router without most of the above-mentioned concerns. (More on this topic in the next fold below.) 

Beyond networking, other considerations to consider include:

  • System: 10Gbps internet is taxing on the processor, and you will need an adequately powered system to fully enjoy your blistering fast internet. There is no right answer about which CPU is optimal, though it’s a safe bet to say that a 5-year-old system is unlikely to do justice.
  • Storage drive: 10Gbps is so fast that there is a real possibility of saturating your storage subsystem downloading files. To ensure an inadequate storage drive does not slow you down, make sure you have a newer NVMe SSD with at least 2,000MB/s of write performance.

    To translate that to SSD product types, if you’ve an NVMe SSD that’s using a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface or better, you’re safe. Such drives debuted as far back as 2017, but it never hurts to check your drive's model and specifications. The newest drives on the market use PCIe 5.0 but you’ll need a suitable platform to make use of it, are pricey and run hot. As such, PCIe 4.0-based drives are a good choice if you’re buying one today and is compatible with your laptop or desktop.
  • RAM: Strictly speaking, this is less important than a fast CPU and storage drive. But having adequate memory will go some way to ensure that the rest of the system runs well and doesn’t get bogged down due to memory swapping. Settle for nothing less than 16GB of RAM these days for an existing system, but if you’re shopping for a new one, 32GB is a good starting point for handling larger workloads and the onslaught of on-system AI processing.

Image source: HardwareZone

A system that falls slightly below in any of the above areas – other than in networking – does not automatically mean an inferior experience. However, it is worth noting that ISPs are likely to attribute sub-par internet performance to inadequate system specifications.

Bridging the Wi-Fi equation and 10Gbps fibre broadband

The prevalence of Wi-Fi means that we must also address the home wireless network. Wi-Fi has made huge strides in performance. Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) offers a maximum throughput of 9.6Gbps, while Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) offers a maximum of 3.5Gbps. Wi-Fi 6E is faster, but even better is the all-new Wi-Fi 7, which can offer upwards of 30Gbps in bandwidth!

Wi-Fi 7 is a big leap, but take note that this standard is so new, that devices supporting this standard have just barely started trickling in. (Image source: HardwareZone)

The reality is that the maximum speed is theoretical and unattainable in the real world with neighbouring Wi-Fi networks and other wireless interference. Moreover, it is also the “physical” rate and does not factor in mandatory overheads such as the transmissions required to coordinate radio broadcasts and TCP/IP protocol overheads.

Crucially, most laptops and smartphones today are only designed with support for dual spatial streams due to power and space constraints in their compact profile. This means that even the fastest Wi-Fi 6E laptop available today will give you up to 1.5Gbps download speeds at best – and below 1Gbps for Wi-Fi 6. As of publishing, there are no laptops yet with Wi-Fi 7 in retail, but these will be available later in the year.

Indeed, this is why business-grade Wi-Fi access points (AP) are increasingly offered with 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps and even 10Gbps ports. 

Of course, the faster internet can benefit other users on the network since MU-MIMO (Multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) technology means a Wi-Fi router can communicate with multiple client devices concurrently. (You can learn more about this technology and others in our home networking basics.)

Image source: TP-Link

So, Wi-Fi (for now) will only allow you to enjoy a fraction of your 10Gbps plan with a single device, but we would highly recommend going for the latest Wi-Fi 7 wireless router for supercharged performance and multi-link operability, which allows compatible devices to communicate using more than one network band. 

While Wi-Fi 7 routers are still expensive, and Wi-Fi 6E routers might seem like a good bargain in comparison, depending on ongoing offers, it’s not worth upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E at this juncture. Read our feature, The truth about Wi-Fi 6E, to find out why and also why the Wi-Fi 7 standard is a marked improvement.

Fortunately, most of the leading internet providers are gearing up to offer suitable Wi-Fi 7 routers along with their 10Gbps symmetric fibre plan, just like Singtel’s tie-up with TP-Link currently.

Gearing up the rest of your network

Like a typical fibre broadband plan, you will need an optical network terminal (ONT) to plug the fibre cable into. Upon signing up for a 10Gbps broadband plan, your internet service provider will provision you either an ONT or an ONR. 

The “ONR”, in this case, stands for Optical Network Router, which, as its name suggests, will also serve as an internet router in addition to transceiving optical signals from the fibre optic cable. Both devices offer between three and four 1Gbps ports and one 10GbE port.

A note for 'power users': Deriving maximum throughput

If you have more than one PC with a 10GbE network port, then the only option is to purchase a 10GbE network switch to ensure all 10Gbps capable devices have the opportunity to be cabled directly for maximum throughput utilisation.

Note that 10GbE switches are not cheap. The Uniquiti Switch Flex XG with four 10Gbps ports has an MSRP of S$469. They tend to run hot too, and it is common to see even eight-port 10GbE switches requiring active cooling fans. (Read: They run noisy!)

10GbE adapters worth considering according to our forum enthusiast. Click to read his journey. (Image source: HWZ Forum user TanKianW)

A final note is that you will probably want Cat 6A cables to connect your ONR to your 10GbE switch. You can then wire up your desktop and your Wi-Fi access point’s 10Gbps port to the switch. This can require additional work if you don’t already have Ethernet cables to the right sections of your home. An enthusiast in our forum community has a detailed project log to network his HDB home with 10GbE connectivity if you're keen to get your infrastructure right from the get-go.

Enjoying the ultra-speed journey

Ultimately, even a top-notch system with 10Gig LAN and 10Gbps broadband is still no guarantee of exceptional performance all the time. Your internet experience is reliant on factors such as the server performance of the websites you visit, international speed for overseas sites, and even the peering arrangements of your ISP.

(Image source: HardwareZone)

In fact, it is worth noting that the vast majority of servers are connected to the network at gigabit (1Gbps) speeds. Even for cloud servers, only mid-to-high-end cloud instances offer 5Gbps or faster networking – and the bandwidth is often shared with scores to hundreds of users.

To draw an analogy, think of your new 10Gbps broadband as a supercar. Regardless of how fast it can run, traffic conditions on certain roads might result in a less-than-optimal experience. Of course, you have a vast amount of power at your fingertips. And once conditions turn favourable, you can expect a blast of a ride.

For now, know that cloud services are increasingly turning to CDNs, or Content Delivery Networks, which are geo-distributed nodes to deliver faster response times and experience to users. So your experience will only get better with time. 

Finally, a 10Gbps broadband service also puts ample bandwidth at your disposal regardless of your use case or the number of family members using the internet simultaneously. If anything, transient lags and frustrating waits for files to download should be a thing of the past!

Bonus Tips: Factors that can impact your Wi-Fi speed

Some examples of poor and ideal router placement. Image source: Verizon Forum.

The following issues can degrade your Wi-Fi performance.

  • Legacy devices on your network can harm Wi-Fi performance. Depending on your configuration, the wireless network might adjust its speed to accommodate the slowest device, resulting in poorer performance. Consider setting up a standalone network for legacy devices or decommissioning them.
  • Interference from neighbouring Wi-Fi networks operating on the same or an overlapping frequency can lead to excessive data retransmissions and reduced throughput. It is recommended that you review the Wi-Fi channel configuration periodically.
  • Structures made of dense materials like concrete pillars or metal furniture can reduce Wi-Fi signal strength dramatically, resulting in reduced range, less reliable connections, and slower speeds. Depending on the size and layout of your home, a mesh Wi-Fi system might be necessary.
  • Placement. The typical consumer access points are deployed at waist level on a low cupboard or table. It is worth noting that this height is also the most cluttered with furniture. Go for a slightly elevated plane and central positioning for optimal signal dispersion.

For even more considerations, head over to our home networking basics and tips feature story.

(This story is part three of three; in partnership with Singtel)

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