Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Comcast out, AT&T's U-Verse in

Yesterday, after years of getting video and high-speed Internet service from Comcast in California and Illinois, I switched to AT&T's U-verse IPTV service. There were two big reasons for making the switch:
  • Cost: Even with HD service to only a single television, no premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc), moderate Internet speeds and domestic phone service, I was paying almost $200/month with my most recent price increase. This is the same service that I paid around $120/month for two years ago with "teaser" rates. The U-verse service is around $150/month, with more channels (including premium channels) and faster Internet speeds. I could have gotten an even better rate had I been willing to commit to 12 months of service.
  • Quality: Some channels (for example, the local CBS station) were so compressed and filled with errors that audio would frequently drop out and video would freeze. I initially thought that the problem was with the television station itself, but watching the same station on U-Verse was a revelation: Not a single audio dropout or video freeze in hours.
AT&T gives the same three-hour "window" for installers to arrive as the cable operators, but it also advises customers to allow four hours for the installation. In my case, AT&T sent two installers, who called me 35 minutes before they arrived and showed up 5 minutes into the window. It took them just two hours to complete the installation (I needed a few hours more to get everything working on my network).

A few observations from very early use of U-verse:
  • Even though I was supposed to be getting around 12mbps down from my Comcast service, I measured the speed before AT&T started its installation and only got around 8mbps down. The U-verse service measures a true 12mbps down.
  • AT&T really, really wants you to use their 2Wire gateway for everything related to the Internet, but even though I got the very latest 2Wire model, it still only had 802.11 b/g wireless, not 802.11n.
  • I received what appear to be Cisco's latest set-top boxes. Compared to the elderly behemoth Motorola box that Comcast used, they're much smaller and more modern, with a far more attractive user interface and electronic program guide.
  • One thing I miss from the Comcast system is that the AT&T remotes lack a "Favorite" button to take me immediately to my list of favorite channels. Instead, I have to navigate the set-top box's menu tree to reach the favorite list.
  • I don't at all miss the never-ending parade of commercials that Comcast runs on its own systems disparaging its competitors. If Comcast could sell that commercial inventory, they'd have enough money to buy NBC Universal twice over.
In hindsight, I should have dropped Comcast at least six months ago.
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