Friday, September 23, 2011

Faster than the speed of light!

When we first moved into our neighborhood, almost fifteen years ago, our first television provider was Comcast, and our telephone provider was Bell Atlantic (now Verizon).  Broadband was not yet available, so we used a dial-up service for Internet.

Very soon after moving in, we switched our television service away from the expensive and poorly supported Comcast to Dish Network, and have been very happy with that service for a decade and a half.  We pay about $89 per month, and receive their "Plus" HD+DVR package with all the basic cable channels, plus favorites like G4, BBC America, etc., HD-TV for most channels (including locals), and a DVR (which is indispensable with my early bedtime).

Dropping Verizon for land-line phone service was a pretty easy decision a few years back.  They were killing me with all kinds of extra charges (not just the normal taxes), and our service was over $70 a month. 

Our land-line has been an IP phone from Vonage for the past five years.  The phone quality is good for about $30 per month.  I've considered dropping land-line service entirely for just cell phones, but our home telephone number is sacred (everybody we care about knows it), and though I know you can port it to another device, frankly, I'm not eager to use my cell phone all the time.  (Something about radiation on the brain worries, if I'm being honest.)

As for Internet, our Megapipe service of 56 kbps dial-up was great, in the 90's.  But we soon switched to DSL, and then to a dry-loop DSL from Verizon.  (Dry-loop means that we were getting DSL service with no POTS, or 'plain old telephone service').  This gave us 1.5 Mbps download speeds, with 785 kbps upload speeds.  This was pretty close to the old T1 data rates, and sufficed for many years for $45.99 per month.

However, times, they are a changin'.  Dry-loop DSL just wasn't cutting it anymore.  We cannot get FIOs from Verizon out here (fiber optic service that is blazing fast), so our only other options were satellite broadband and Comcast.  I ruled out satellite broadband when I used it at my in-laws.  Too herky-jerky waiting for transmission delays, and real-time applications (like gaming) were a pain.  Even my father-in-law dropped his satellite broadband in favor of DSL. 

The only option left was Comcast.  But I was reluctant to get Comcast broadband service because of my bad experience with their pricing and customer service a dozen years ago.

And yet, we started using Comcast service at our business, and gosh, if it wasn't pretty fast!  When I would call Comcast for customer support from work, they were REALLY HELPFUL.  Seriously, the tech support guys were SMART and actually knew what I was talking about when I mentioned things like dynamic DNS.  The home DSL connection also started to become the weak link in our broadband portfolio, with my often downloading large files to work from home and waiting for them to squirt through the now-tiny 785 kbps upstream path.

Resolved to increase my bandwidth, I finally found a deal that made the change worthwhile.  For under $30 per month (for six months, then $45 per month thereafter), we now get a cable modem service from Comcast with 20 Mbps downstream, 4 Mbps upstream. 

What a difference this makes!

Today, we're often downloading movies from Hulu, YouTube, and Dish Online.  We've got large files going back and forth, while two teenagers work their iPods or play on the online-connected XBox, and supporting an IP phone which is constantly in use (thank you, Eddie), while a Squeezebox plays out a collection of music, sometimes even remotely.  It's a lot more demand on the home IP pipe.

I tested the speed of my uploads both before giving up the DSL and after getting the Comcast service.  If you have not tried using the Speakeasy Speed Test, you should.  It's a fairly accurate measure of your net bandwidth at any given moment.  Realize, of course, that this net bandwidth takes into account other people in the Internet who are sharing your pipes.  In the case of a cable modem, that means the fat kid down the street downloading porn videos.

Testing the service at 5 am gives you a good idea how fast your empty pipes will go.  Here are the results we saw this morning:

For what it's worth, I also performed the test yesterday at 4:30 pm (traditionally the slowest time, because all the kids have come home from school), and our results were still a respectable 10 Mbps down, 4 Mbps up.

A hell of a lot better than DSL, and for the same price!

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