Speed Matters: In Search Of High-Speed Internet Outside Of A Major Metro

Small Business Insights: Techincal

Originally posted in 2009

For literally years I looked forward to the UVERSE network upgrade that inched slowly-ever so slowly-toward my Little Rock suburb. I checked ‘availability’ about once a month (using an online tool) and even called in from time to time trying to glean even the most modest pearls of information. Have you ever seen an AT&T truck with the semi-rhetorical marketing slogan “Ask Me About UVERSE”? Well not once, but twice I did when coming across a technician in my neighborhood.

Jump ahead about 3 years and finally, the day came. I made the appointment and within a week, I was enjoying an 18 mps download speed, fiber-optic television courtesy of UVERSE! We decided to go ‘all cell’ and didn’t install the voice service. Finally, the curse of storm-induced DishTV outages was over and better yet, I now had BBC America.

After two weeks, I called AT&T and dramatically downgraded my services. Here are the highlights behind the decision to end this honeymoon so quickly

  • On my HD TV, I was able to cite a clear downgrade in HD picture quality. Sure I can be a stickler over ‘all-things technical’, but my son noted the same, over-compressed HD signal as a sub-standard when compared to the DishTV picture. I know many folks can claim the opposite to be true but in my scrutinizing eyes the picture wasn’t as sharp
  • The UVERSE DVR remote allowed users to “skip” forward (we seem to use that much more often than the fast forward option) but it subjected me to nevertheless watch the video. Sure it was in ‘fast forward’ mode, but the clear winner here is DishTV. The same DishTV remote feature simply takes the viewer 30 seconds ahead almost instantly. Translation, tapping the “skip” button 4 times in a row on DishTV remote lands me about 2 minutes deeper into a program. Doing the same multi-tap trick on a UVERSE simply doesn’t work as you have to ride out each “skip”, one at a time. You can’t “stack” the stick commands and it proved very tedious.
  • Full and complete DVR features on two TVs: turns out it’s a DishTV exclusive (so I’m reading). While UVERSE allows up to four “satellite”‘ units to draw from the primary DVR, the secondary TVs can NOT pause live TV but can only pause/play/fast forward recorded programming. Within the scope of our decision to stay with DishTV, this ended up being a major factor.
  • In my eyes, the 18 mps internet speed was the core feature of the upgrade. This was the cornerstone of my interest in UVERSE. Who would have ever guessed that tripling my internet speed (I was at 6 mps) would have been such a bland, milquetoast upgrade.
    • Yes, FTP’ing large files or downloading new music on iTunes it was clearly faster–no argument there. But even though I spend 8 hours a day working online, it turns out I don’t make many uber-large file transactions. Hardly any in fact. But even sites like YouTube seemed to load fast enough with my 6 mps connection. I mean the movie may load faster but it didn’t START any faster. So having it pre-loaded is of questionable value.
    • Emails with large attachments did not load any faster–Outlook seems to be immune to the speed upgrade. And for the most part, day to day browsing was likewise only modestly faster–at best. The one thing to remember about browsing the web is that you’re only as fast as your weakest link (the website you’re visiting).
    • Speestest.net is a great site for measuring your connection speed. Using a variety of test servers I found my speeds clocking in as low as 8 mps, regularly at about 10-12 mps and once in a while in the 16-17 mps range.
    • Cost to Value Ratio: This is what broke the back of UVERSE. Had the 18 mps rate cost less, I’d have kept it.  But upgrading my monthly cost from $35 a month to $65 proved too much to stomach based on my modest enthusiasm for the speed and it’s real-life results. If you download games all day (5 gig demos) or regularly transfer crazy large files like billboard size images it’s a keeper. But even as the power-user that I am, I just didn’t see the difference that warranted doubling my monthly bill.
    • For the total goobers: The gateway hardware is comically large (the size of a Mom’s photo album) and the interface for managing connections, security and MAC ID’s in pitiful if you’re used to a full-featured set of options. And as one that grew to love DD-WRT, I’m almost in tears.

If you were paying attention, you’ll recall that I didn’t CANCEL my UVERSE account but rather only downgraded it. One, in spite of the hulking breadbox gateway, it does provide consistent speeds–both upload and download. The promised speeds of 6 mps down and 1 mps up are effectively delivered. With my traditional DSL, I only got 650 kbps upload and about 4.5  to 5 mps down. The fiber-optic-based UVERSE clearly manages and maintains the speed more consistently. Additionally, keeping the new configuration gives me the option to change my mind down the road. You never know—prices and feature sets change all the time. So with the hardware in place, I’m one step ahead.