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July 15, 2012 72 Comments
Last update: April 22, 2014
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Over ninety percent of AT&T’s 11.3 million U-verse TV subscribers also pay for AT&T’s high-speed Internet services. While the U-Verse TV service is very good, their DSL service is bad. Read on to find out why.
Ten Reasons You Should Dump Your AT&T Broadband Service
Broadband speeds vary, but there is a good chance you’ll save money for a least a year when you switch broadband providers. That’s because you can take advantage of special introductory offers. By switching from AT&T’s Elite DSL to Time Warner’s Standard Internet, we are saving $10 a month. But that’s just the first of many reasons to switch.
DSL speeds should be more constant than cable speeds, but we found the opposite to be true. In the beginning, AT&T delivered speeds close to 6Mbps most of the time, but over the past four years we’ve seen our average speed drop dramatically. As you can see from the chart on the right, we’re not getting near the amount of data we’re paying for. Worse yet, AT&T’s data speeds frequently drop to almost zero.We wanted to believe the problems we were seeing were caused by a defective piece of equipment, but we’ve had techs from AT&T in our house three different times. The AT&T techs replaced our home gateway, DVR, set top boxes, connectors, splitters and other hardware, but none of the changes fixed our problems.
The Wall Street Journal recently confirmed my assertion that AT&T delivers Internet speeds that are worse than advertised. In fact, they along with Verizon, are the worst offenders in this area.
AT&T has the worst phone support I’ve ever experienced. They hide the customer support phone number on their site and then make you jump through hoops to get it. The site asks: Which of these four customer types are you? What is your Zip code? What type of support do you need? Then you finally see a ‘Call Us’ button. Now you enter AT&T phone tree hell. “I see you’re calling from 858-731-5252,” says the computer voice. “Is this the phone number where the problem is occurring?” “No,” I say. “Please say the 10 digital account number on your bill?” I say “I don’t know it.” “What type of service do you have? says the computer voice.” I answer.I spare you the rest of the poorly written script. Often you’re presented with options that don’t apply with the problems you’re having and there is no way to go back — without hanging up and calling back again. I’ve had AT&T’s customer support line hang up on me before as well. The bottom line is that it can easily take 15 to 20 minutes before you’re able to talk to someone. Some of the AT&T Tier 1 techs are clueless. Be prepared to be asked to power cycle your hardware — even though you tell them you already did this before you called. Several times their network has been so bad they weren’t able to even analyze my hardware. In the end they always end up rolling a truck anyway because there is rarely anything they can fix over the phone.
If you stream a lot of video, you are very likely to have your data speeds limited by AT&T. Most cable companies have limits of around 250GB, which isn’t that easy to reach. AT&T throttles users after 150GB a month. Although that seems like a lot of data, it’s not. If you stream movies or TV shows, or have kids who love YouTube, your family could consume more than this amount of data. Verizon doesn’t impose any type of cap on its FiOS and DSL lines. Time Warner has no specific limits, but can respond to excessive usage.
We live in a new home that is hundreds of feet from the central office, so the quality of our broadband connection should be great, but we see horrible latency often. Occasionally these delays make it seem like we have to wait 15 to 30 seconds before web pages update. I used a site called Pingtest.net to prove the quality of the AT&T network in my area is poor.The ping measurement tells you how long it takes a “packet” of data to travel from your computer to a server on the Internet and back. Whenever you experience delayed responses in Internet applications this is due to a higher than desired ping. A ping below 100 ms is expected from any decent broadband connection. You’ll notice I sometimes see delays as high as 150ms. That’s why AT&T gets a “D” grade here as well. Again, these results vary. Sometimes I see faster ping times, but this result shows how serious AT&T’s problems can be.
AT&T provides their subscribers with a home gateway or cable modem. As far as I can tell they do not allow consumers to select their own hardware from a list and use it with AT&T services like Time Warner and other service providers do.This policy limits your options. Time Warner supports cable modems from Arris, Motorola, Netgear, SA, SMC, Thomson, Ubee and ZyXel. We decided to purchase our own DOCSIS 3.0-ready cable modem from Motorola after reading a large number of reviews on Amazon. This prevented us from paying a monthly rental charge, and will give us access to much faster speeds if we decide to upgrade our service plan in the future.
For the past two years we’ve wanted to cancel our AT&T DSL, but were told by their phone support reps that we needed to keep our DSL in order to get AT&T U-Verse. It turns out this is completely untrue. I wish we would have figured this out earlier. It would have saved us much frustration.
If you’re a U-verse customer, you must use AT&T’s home gateway. The 2-Wire gateway that we were provided with has a built-in wireless router that doesn’t reach some of the rooms in our house. It also doesn’t support provide 5GHz 802.11 wireless support which is supported by our iPads and Samsung smartphones. This allows us to use a network that is much less congested than the normal 2.4GHz network all of our neighbors use. More info. The AT&T home gateway also doesn’t support advanced wireless features like 802.11n or wireless bonding (which increases data speeds).
In order to get the best quality with VOIP-based phone systems like Ooma or Vonage, you must connect directly to a broadband modem or to a router that can prioritize voice over data. The home gateway which AT&T provides only allows this when you pay extra for AT&T’s VOIP service. Even without changing the settings on our router, our Ooma phone system already sounds better because it’s not starved for data all of the time.
It’s been well over a year since we cut the AT&T DSL cord. Was it worth it? YES! Switching was fast and easy and saved us $120 in the first year.
After switching to cable modem, we saw our speeds go way up and all of our problems go away. Here are some more details:
You owe it to yourself to investigate the alternatives to AT&T in your area. There’s a good chance you’ll save money and end up with faster data speeds. In less than a week you can switch. Installation is often free, and only takes about an hour. There is no configuration you have to do on your end. Just connect the cable from the new modem to your wireless router, and you’ll be enjoying faster speeds in minutes. Of course your mileage may vary, you might want to check with others in your area to see what their speeds are before making a change. In our case, switching was a smart thing to do.
Note: This article isn’t intended to be a plug for Time Warner Cable. They are used for comparison purposes, because they are the only cable provider in our area. Make sure you look into all options in your area – including fibre-based broadband solutions like Google Fiber and Verizon’s FiOS.
Copyright 2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.
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January 18, 2012 6 Comments
Last updated: January 5, 2014
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Another good wireless alternative are MoCA adapters, which transmit multimedia data over coax cable. Both of these are capable of higher data rates and more reliable than most wireless routers.
Do all 802.11g/n products support dual-band?
No. 802.11ac was designed specifically for the 5GHz band, however, so it seems likely all ‘ac’ products will support 5GHz.
Who makes dual-band routers?
Most wireless routers sold over the past few years support dual-band. Examples include: Apple’s Airport Express, all ASUS routers (RT-AC66U, RT-N65U, RT-N66U and EA-N66) the Linksys N600, N750, N900 and AC1750 as well as routers from Netgear.
Do you have a list of mobile devices that support 5GHz Wi-Fi?
Here are a few of the devices which support dual-band Wi-Fi. Note: This list is not current. These days most mobile devices support 5GHz.
Where can I go to find out if my devices supports Dual-band Wi-Fi?
Search for your device here. It’s dual-band if there is a “1” under 5.0 GHz transmit and receive.
Is 5GHz Wi-Fi faster than 2.4GHz Wi-Fi?
It you refer to the chart below, you’ll see some routers are capable of higher data rates when using the 5GHz band. More info.
Is there a downside when using 5GHz Wi-Fi?
Yes. Not all devices support 5GHz Wi-Fi. Also, the higher frequency signals of 5GHz networks do not penetrate walls as well as 2.4GHz signals. This limits their reach inside some homes.
How can you force your devices to use 5GHz Wi-Fi?
‘Forget’ the 2.4GHz network and connect to the 5GHz one.
What’s better than 802.11n?
802.11ac is a new wireless-networking standard which is capable of speeds that are almost 3x faster than 802.11n. You can learn here about it here. In addition to higher throughput, 802.11ac has wider coverage and improved power efficiency. Although real-world speeds won’t always exceed 1Gbps, 802.11ac should be capable of speeds of 500Mbps at distances of 50 meters. Apple’s Macs now include support for 802.11ac. All premium routers now include 802.11ac support as well. Asus shipped a laptop with support for 802.11ac over a year ago.
Is anything else being done to improve streaming of multimedia around the house?
Yes, companies like Qualcomm are working on technology called StreamBoost. When combined with 802.11ac, this is supposed to improve performance by managing network traffic. StreamBoost-compatible products let users to see all the devices connected to their network and monitor the real-time bandwidth usage of every device.
What comes after 802.11ac?
According to this blog, “802.11ad improves upon the wireless capabilities introduced in 802.11n. Ideally, 802.11ad will allow devices to communicate over four, 2.16GHz-wide channels, delivering data rates of up to 7 Gigabits per second, even for mobile devices with limited power, a significant improvement over both 11n and 11ac.” More info about 802.11ad.
There are also people who say G.hn is the next big thing in home networking. It uses existing home wiring including coaxial cables, phone lines and power lines. You can learn here about it here.
More about what lies next in networking.
Another good article related to this topic.
If you follow the above guidelines, you should be able to stream high-definition videos without problems. Let me know if I missed any good Wi-Fi tips.
Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. Network photo courtesy of Apple.
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December 14, 2011 2 Comments
If you’re still paying for local phone service, it’s time to switch to an Internet-based phone system. Over half of Americans no longer use a land line, according to government data. Internet-based phone systems let you to make long distance calls for a fraction of the cost of a traditional landline. In some cases, there is no monthly charge whatsoever. There are quite a few different companies offering voice over IP (VoIP) phone solutions, so it’s important you do some research before buying.
Speaking of research, I came across this blog post which compares most popular VoIP systems. After reading this, I decided Ooma was on my short list of products to consider. This wasn’t the first I’d heard about Ooma. I first heard about the Ooma Telo at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters. One of their senior technical managers told me he was using Ooma at home and recommended it highly. I also noticed Consumer Reports ranked Ooma as the #1 phone service. In their study, Ooma beat Skype, Verizon FIOS, Vonage, Cox, U-verse and all other VoIP services. These two recommendations were all I needed to take the plunge and purchase an Ooma Telo.
Phone rates vary. I was paying about $45 a month for my landline. The Ooma website has a nice little calculator, which estimates how much you will save using Ooma. In my case, the savings were considerable. I’ll save at least $1245 dollars over a three year period. Also, my Ooma hardware will pay for itself after only 5 months, not 7 months as the chart shows. That’s because I paid only $180 after tax and shipping.
This is a partial list of the advantages Ooma has over a conventional landline and other VoIP systems.
If you use Ooma with a good DECT 6.0 wireless phone, it sounds much better than Skype, magicJack or any mobile phone. It would probably sound even better, if the 2-Wire Gateway provided with AT&T’s U-verse service allowed me to give Ooma priority. Even with Ooma sharing bandwidth with everything else on my crowded network, I never get any echos or delays. Is it perfect? No. Occasionally, I hear other artifacts and small dropouts, but they aren’t very obvious and normally go away after a few seconds. I also bought their Ooma Telo handset because I heard it had even better sound quality, but it sounds a lot like my Panasonic phone. Since I’m signed up for their Premium package, I can have two different conversations going on at once. I have noticed the sound quality does drop when I do this, but it’s still acceptable.
That’s it! Now you’re ready to make free local and long distance calls. When you turn on your phone you should hear Ooma’s special dial tone.
No. Ooma is a good system but it’s not right for everyone. VoIP-based phone services are not ideal for:
Porting your phone number can be a little intimidating for DSL users.
I’ve done two separate number ports so far, and had no problems with any of the things listed above. Both were in homes with DSL and an IP-based TV system (e.g. AT&T U-verse). The only thing that you should be aware of, is the fact your communications bundle pricing could go up if you got a discount for bundled phone service before. Normally this will be about $10.
Ooma charges $10 extra a month for their Premiere features. The Premiere package has so many features, I can’t go into them all here. I listed a few highlights below. You can read about the rest here.
I’ve been using Ooma now for about six months and have no major complaints so far. My only gripe so far is the loud click the person calling you hears when you pick up the phone (or the answering machine starts recording). No one in my family has said much about the switch so far, which is good news. I love the ability to blacklist telemarketers, and have it setup so they hear a disconnected number message when they call. The bottom line is, Ooma Telo a good replacement for your landline and the savings are substantial.
Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.
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December 1, 2011 2 Comments
Last update: February 17, 2013
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Back in 2009, there wasn’t much information around to help people set up a home network for multimedia, so I wrote an article called Connected Home Best Practices. This is an updated version of that article.
Before I get into any details, I thought I’d mention some of the benefits you might experience if you follow my guidelines below.
These are just a few of the things which are possible with a multimedia network and connected devices.
This first step is to collect all of your media assets. If you haven’t scanned your analog photos and digitized your home movies, you should consider doing that first. If you have DVD movies, you might want to consider converting those to digital files as well. There is already a lot of info on the Internet about this, so I’m not covering it here. Here are some important things to consider as you prepare your media to be shared.
There is no single media player that’s good at everything. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some suggestions which will help you to choose the right media player for your needs:
Not all home networks are ready to stream high-definition video. Here are some suggestions which will make your home network multimedia-ready.
If you’ve made it this far, you know what you need to optimize your home network for multimedia streaming. I hope you find some of this information to be useful. If you have any additional suggestions, please leave them in the Comments section.
Thanks to Christian Gran, Jim Pfeifer, Angela Scheller, Cindy Vivoli, Ken Clapp and pcfe for also contributing to this article.
Copyright 2009-2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.
Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1