In The Beginning:
Nearly two years ago I gave up my Dish Network satellite, Vonage phone service, and my DSL Extreme ISP. An AT&T U-verse bundle was the reason for this change. Three hundred TV channels, Free Movie Channels, VOIP with many features, and a faster internet (18 MPS from AT&T verses 3 MPS from DSL Extreme). The bundle was also cheaper than the three separate services I had used. Making the change was required little decision making, it was a great deal, or at least it seemed that way.
The installer for my AT&T U-verse TV, phone, and internet was both well trained and experienced. My home is wired for Ethernet, and the 1GB network connects several computers with varying operating systems (Mac OS X, and a few flavors of Linux). Adding to this are three different ethernet switches that help keep the flow of data moving from room to room on the local network. There are also a couple of tablets and cell phones that use WiFi.
Prior to the installation, I was concerned about the level of skill sets the installer might have, but when the “guy” arrived, I could tell by the questions he was asking me about the network that this wasn’t his “first trip to the rodeo”. He was good, and the hardware install proceeded without any issues whatsoever. Once the install was completed, the installer took the time to explain the equipment to me. From the moment the installer arrived, till the moment he left, the guy demonstrated his skill, and knowledge of the system, and took the time to answer my many questions. The install process doesn’t get better than this.
The Pros and Cons
On the plus side of the ledger, the service provided good video and audio clarity. The phone service was clear, and had a lot of no-cost options. The fiber-optic/copper cable based internet service, though not blazingly fast by today’s standards, was 6 times faster than my DSL service. Reliability, though not stellar, was about what one would expect from a big service provider.
AT&T provides pretty solid equipment. The 2Wire 3801HGV router performed well. The only issue I had with it lay in its WiFi transmitter, which was anemic. I could often not use any of my WiFi devices in the rooms furthest away from the router. A repeater was used to get WiFi signal to the Cisco TV receiver in our Master bedroom (also the room furthest from the router). The repeater and the Cisco TV receiver combination also make up the extended components of AT&T’s Whole House TV service. You really can have TV/DVR service in any room, the patio, or garage. It worked very well. The main TV receiver/DVR was a Motorola VIP2250. It is a very compact device, and well ventilated. Our home theater system is used a lot, and after hours of use, I never saw this box get any more than “slightly” warm. The software used in the DVR was not remarkable, and on par with those you find in DVR’s of Dish, Direct TV, and other television providers.
Here are some issues on the minus side of the ledger:
AT&T U-verse has a data cap. After my system was installed, I was presented with some documents to sign, one of which was my acknowledgement of this data cap. I spoke with several different AT&T representatives before making the change to U-verse, none of them mentioned the data cap, and it was only after my system was already installed that I became aware of it. I nearly had it immediately uninstalled. After some thought, I reluctantly signed the document, and later did some research. I found that AT&T has not enforced the data cap yet, but that doesn’t mean that their lack of enforcement will last forever. I don’t know what bothered me the most, the data cap, or how it was (or wasn’t) presented to me.
I am roughly 5 to 6 city blocks away from a “switch”. The “switch” is a magical place where the transmitted signal is parsed from a main cable(s) to a more secular one, leading eventually to your home. Like DSL, the further you are located away from the “switch”, the slower your internet speed will become. It is for this reason that I could only buy 3 MBPS download speed for my DSL line. U-verse suffers from the same distance restrictions. The U-verse signal itravels via fiber-optic cable only to the “switch”, from there it uses copper cabling to your house. As a result, 20 MBPS downloads is the max I can get from AT&T (they offer up to 50 MBPS in my area, again providing you are close to a “switch”). Sadly, I could not always get anything near 20 MBPS, – often download speed would between 10 and 12 MBPS. I know enough about the physics of the signal process, as well as the affects of speed from a number of users “on line” simultaneously at any point in time, to not expect the “advertised” download speeds. Still, to get only half of the speed I paid for is just not acceptable.
There is a one very bad thing about any bundled TV, Phone, and Internet service. When the Internet goes down, everything goes down with it. An AT&T installer (apparently like the one I was afraid I would get) was working at the “switch”, and accidentally disconnected my line. I immediately discovered the lack of service (duh!), and within minutes contacted AT&T Support to tell them of my problem. I was on my cell phone for nearly 45 minutes trying to explain this. The result for my prompt response to this problem: I was without service for 4 days. No phone. No TV. No internet. When I complained about this, I was apologized to, and told the installers were all busy, and the 4 day time frame was the best they could do. During my 4 days of imposed isolation from the digital world, I drove by the “switch” several times, and saw installers there working. It just seems that one of them could have been told, that while they were there, to “plug me in”. This event was the worse “outage” I experienced, but there were others.
Some minor annoyances: On some channels, the character lip movement and sound would never synch. Also, sound would sometimes drop down a number of decibels, and then raise again to the preset level. When I use Netflix, Apple TV channels, or my HTPC, these issues never materialize.
U-verse is not a bad product; there simply are better, and less expensive ones out there. To me, it is showing some age, and some of the pieces are still not totally sorted out. Also, even if one regarded my 4 days without service as an anomaly, customer service was at best mediocre. Then there was the “surprise” regarding the existence of the data cap……
It seemed like it was time to see what “else” was out there. Surprisingly, I found cable, specifically in my locale, a better option for me. Cable pricing, especially for bundles like I had with U-verse, have dropped, and internet speeds on cable are much faster. So, after 18 months with AT&T U-verse, I switched to cable. I have a similar number of channels, all HD, as I had with AT&T. My phone has unlimited minutes (I had 250 minutes per month with AT&T, usage above this number were charged per minute over). I now have 200 MBPS download speeds on the internet, and this speed is very consistent. Even better news, my new cable is $18 per month cheaper than U-verse.