Written by: scottmc
Verizon is spending $20 billion upgrading its network to provide fiber to the home, a new network running fiber optic cable for voice, internet and TV/Entertainment applications. I was one of the first in line to swap out my Comcast services. Why?
Good old-fashioned, raw, American speed, of course. While Comcast Internet provides anywhere from 4-8Mbps downloading and somewhere between 500-768K upload service, performance wavers substantially during typical usage. For the same price, I could get Verizonâ€™s middle tier service, offering 15Mbps downloads and 2Mbps uploading speed. Pricing may vary in some regions, but the basic options are as follows:
All with free installation. And unlike cable, fiber technology promises to be “truer” to its rated speeds. You can run a bandwidth tester such as http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest, and see what youâ€™re getting now with your current provider. So far with FIOS, Iâ€™m almost always getting the advertised download speeds, and come very close with the upload speeds as well.
How well does it work? Everything speeds up, for sureâ€¦and many times, it feels like websites and servers are serving content as fast as they can and their service, not your home service, has become the bottleneck. FIOS speed is great, and tops even the very reasonable performance of cable modems. If youâ€™re on standard DSL or dial-up, it will feel like youâ€™ve just tooled onto the Autobahn in a high end BMW. (And youâ€™ll have fun fun fun till your daddy takes your FIOS away?)
The FIOS installation was complicatedâ€¦for the installers, at least, not for me. Total elapsed time on installation in my house was 9.5 hours, and with not one but two installers on-site for at least half that time. First, the fiber is run to the house from the streetâ€¦that was done on the Sunday prior to my install. Verizon’s fiber network is a long term investment, meant to upgrade their network, reduce long term maintenance costs, and enable Verizon to provide the same bundle of services, including digital phone and TV/Entertainment, that its competitors in the cable industry are offering. (In Massachusetts, incidentally, Verizon does not yet have permission to remove copper wire as they rewire the state with fiber. But since they are still taxed on the copper that is no longer in service, they will return someday, once their legislative issues are resolved, to REMOVE the old copper wire on the poles.) All this time, Iâ€™m just thinking this must be costing the company a fortune. My installation charges were minimal. Installation was basically free, along with the first month’s service.
First the installers arrived and mounted a fairly large, maybe 12″x18″ plastic, locked switchbox on the outside of the house. This takes the fiber lead from the street and routes it to two additional boxes in the basement. One, a switch that sends CAT5e out to the internet service and standard phone lines out to the phone jacks in the house. The other, a battery backup system that potentially means service would continue to both phone and Internet during a power outage. (I guess if you had a generator you could surf the web in a hurricane.)
The installation began at 10:30 am, and at 3:30pm, the technician announced that my standard phone service had been successfully migrated to fiber. Then we began snaking the CAT5e cable up from my basement to my third floor office. I also had them run another line of CAT5e down to the first floor, so that I have full wired access in my kitchen, which I later connected to my old D-Link wireless router, configured as a switch, adding a second, “downstairs” network to the house. My wireless network now operates at full speed in every room of my home.
Verizon provided an ActionTec router that has 4 wired ports and wireless built-in, a rather large box, but easy enough to configure. I’ve also heard that Verizon will sometimes install a D-Link router, but the techs seemed to think the ActionTecâ€™s are higher quality. At this location I have my MacBook and my PC KVM’d to share a monitor, and both get a wire. So far this router has already had some issues. It drops wireless connections under load sometimes, and Verizon has replaced it once for me already. I’m also pretty sure that every time a machine on my network runs iTunes, at least on Windows clients, when iTunes completes updating podcasts, it does something that causes this router to reboot itself. My router logs are filled with soft resets even after replacement, and you can hit “Refresh” on the podcast screen and reliably generate a soft router boot. Carumba.
Verizon provides a software bundle for users who want some ISP hand holding, but I refused to allow the techs to install this on any of my machines. There is an option to have a Yahoo! based portal front page (including a Yahoo-based email address) or to use “Verizon Central”â€¦www.verizoncentral.net, a web-based portal featuring Verizon support content and links to MSN portals. You have to choose, since the choice you make determines who hosts your email accounts. The service includes 9 email addresses, web mail, a “Personal web space” for site hosting and photo sharing, and an online backup service.
Average Content, But The Service Screams
These portal options look very similar to offerings from Comcast and other ISP providers. The real difference for FIOS is performance. I’ve yet to see wired access drop far below the advertised 15mbps, and while wireless connections to the router may drop into the 12-14 range, that’s still nearly twice the connectivity as my former cable modem. The service is just screaming fast.
Verizon’s support during the install was adequate. The phone techs are clearly just gearing up to support this new network, but so far they are providing 24×7 coverage and the techs have hung in there with me for the most part. (I actually called at 1am one weekend night.) Once in awhile you still get that old telco feeling: when the tech came to replace my router, he had no work order telling him what he was there for. I had to tell him to replace the router and run all the wire diagnostics. The service comes pre-configured for secure WEP-based wireless access as well. I like the fact that this doesn’t leave your network security to chance. Everyone gets WEP by default, and that protection may not be perfect, but at least it leaves your network protected from drive-by intruders.
Mac-ready Installation Process
It’s gratifying to see that Verizon is ready to configure Macs to support FIOS, and the tech told me they were trained to run the install process on the Mac at the “FIOS school” they’d all just attended. For me, using FIOS with the Mac was as simple as plugging in an Ethernet cable. Then you point Safari or Firefox at some gigantic download and watch it fly home.
FIOS is formidable, which must be why Comcast is fighting back by offering a year of very discounted services to its loyal customers. Tempting as that may be, I have to choose the speed. A week after my install, I signed up to get the TV services. If youâ€™re looking to bring your home network up to speed and you live in an area where the network is getting upgraded, FIOS smokes all the standard competition.
To find out if FIOS is available in your area, see www.verizon.com.