Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

6:00 AM -- A few weeks ago, a cable engineer with a top five U.S. MSO that's not Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) told me it would be unwise for the industry to keep playing the speed game with FiOS, because as more Web traffic becomes video, broadband's value will depend less on speed and price and more on the consistency of the experience.

"No one wants to continue the speed wars," he told me, noting that we could see a shift toward more guaranteed performance for broadband for elements that include not just speed, but jitter and latency.

Apparently Comcast doesn't subscribe to that point of view, or this sort of shift in thinking is still a ways out on the horizon somewhere.

Just about a month after Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) unveiled Quantum, a residential tier that pumps out 300Mbit/s down and 65Mbit/s upstream, Comcast is reportedly teeing up a new residential tier that maxes out at 305Mbit/s in the downstream, just enough to provide it with some marketing one-upsmanship. There's no word yet on what sort of upstream speeds Comcast will team it with or if the new tier will be exempt from the new data capping and metering policies that Comcast's getting ready to test. (See FiOS Speeds & Prices Take a Quantum Leap , Cable's Upstream Gap and Comcast to Raise Caps, Test Overage Fees .)

According to DSL Reports, Comcast Cable President and CEO Neil Smit discussed the new tier during a Webcast with employees on Thursday, noting that it will be coming to Verizon FiOS territories "soon." Comcast's current top-end residential tier tops out at 105Mbit/s.

I haven't corroborated it yet, but DSL Reports has typically been spot-on when it comes to things like Comcast speed increases and broadband capping policies, so I would not be surprised to learn that it's indeed coming. Unsurprisingly, Comcast isn't commenting on the report.

But Comcast has some good incentives to match up with FiOS, though they have little to do with rabid consumer demand for such speeds. A 305Mbit/s tier would of course give Comcast's marketing people something to shout about, even if few of its customers would even need or spring for such speeds. It would also provide some proof to regulators that Comcast and FiOS will indeed "compete vigorously" for wireline broadband customers as the feds review the proposed wireless spectrum deals between Verizon Wireless and four cable operators, including Comcast.

As we've discussed, Comcast already has access to technology that can match Verizon's latest tier, at least in the downstream. Today's Docsis 3.0 cable modems can bond eight channels -- enough for bursts of 320Mbit/s. Apparently Comcast's thinking about pulling the trigger on something like that in some FiOS markets in the not-so-distant future.

But is it smart to get caught in FiOS's speed trap? Every time Verizon turns up the knob, Comcast is painting itself into a corner where it will be expected to quickly match up or suffer the perception that its broadband product is somehow inferior -- even if few of its customers even need or can afford these higher speeds.

Next week, we'll see if Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s 1-Gig fiber project in the Kansas Cities will have a similar effect on Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). (See Google Launching Kansas City Fiber on July 26.)

If TWC takes the bait, it will at least have an option. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)'s new line of D3 chipsets will get cable within shouting distance of 1Gbit/s. (See Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

joanengebretson 12/5/2012 | 5:27:18 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

Seems carriers are taking a keen interest in delivered vs. advertised speeds, as well as sheer speed, as evidenced by the broadband speed testing that came out from the FCC this week.

Cablevision didn't do very well in last year's test, so the company's network engineers clearly went for overkill and the company now deliver 120% of advertised speed. Verizon had used last year's negative numbers in some ads against Cablevision, so they apparently didn't want to leave themselves vulnerable to a counter-attack & also beefed up their network to the 120% level.

That's a measurement I would certainly pay close attention to as a consumer now that there is a third-party source for the information.



Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:27:16 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

I was thinking in a slightly different direction: Given that you don't get the advertised speed grade, there's probably no difference between "300Mbit/s" and "305Mbit/s". 

I don't mean a negligible difference or an unnoticeable difference -- I mean NO difference. Each one will give you, I don't know, something like 222Mbit/s.

Then again, I can understand why, for marketing, they'd say 305Mbit/s.  It's just that it's so absurd, the more you think about it.  At least they didn't say 301Mbit/s.

joanengebretson 12/5/2012 | 5:27:16 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

I agree it's a bit absurd to advertise a speed of 305 meg.No one will see any difference between 300 meg & 305 meg service.

Interestingly, though, the FCC data shows the cablecos by & large meeting their published numbers. The telcos (with the exception of FioS) were a different story, but still not as far below the 100% mark as you might expect.


AESerm 12/5/2012 | 5:27:15 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

305, do I hear 306? 306? ... That's 305! Sold to the bidder with the bowtie from Philly!

QoE marketing sounds intriguing, but not the kind of thing that lends itself to well to confirmation from the bandwidth guardians at DSL Reports or elsewhere.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:27:13 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

It's all about marketing and the notion that more must be better, even if that much more isn't all that.

Also, I was able to corroborate that Comcast is indeed preparing a 305-Meg tier; still not known (by me yet): pricing, launch dates, and which markets will get it first  (though the initial report says it'll start showing up in FiOS territories first, so that at least narrows it down a bit).


jobenso 12/5/2012 | 5:27:06 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

Really doesn't matter how fast you get there right? If your capped, your still racing on the driveway.

iansltx 12/5/2012 | 5:26:43 PM
re: Caught in FiOS's Speed Trap

I'm currently sitting on the most reliable Internet connection in a half-mile radius or so: 1.5x384 Verizon DSL. Interleave is on so it's 23-24ms to the firsthop on Verizon's network, and 37-38ms to Dallas. However the connection's speeds, absent DSL retrains (just reboot the modem), are 100% of advertised and jitter is practically nonexistent.

I wish I had that kind of connection reliability on my Comcast connection in Colorado, which is more than an order of magnitude faster on both downstream and upstream speeds. Instead, jitter has increased over the years, as has the occurrence of latency spikes (for a few minutes at a time). But hey, it's a shared DOCSIS system and CenturyLink would give me one-tenth the speed with higher latency and jitter figures that are, from my experience, not much better (and may in fact be worse).

Getting back on topic, latency, jitter and packet loss are what I would focus on if I decided to build an ISP today. They're more difficult metrics to pin down on the last mile, but you can make a 5M connection feel like a 50M one for 95% of applications by getting to the Internet backbone quickly, reliably and consistently. From my experience, this is easier to do on DSL than cable because you have a dedicated line on the last mile per user. However that's not to say that, if you groom your cable system correctly, you can't get there too.

The flip side of this is that you can't charge, within your ISP, more for a reliable connection tier versus an unreliable one, beyond offering different bandwidth blends upstream (but bandwidth is so cheap nowadays that even that isn't a greatidea). If people pay a little for a jittery connection on the same infrastructure that could support a solid one, they are now associating that performance with the ISP rather than the service tier. Particularly if a competitor doesn't do de-QoSing...or runs their pipes at low enough usage to relegate heavy QoS unnecessary.

Another monkey wrench is FTTH. It can hit speeds that strain DOCSIS 3 while maintaining low latency onthe last mile...very low latency...and almost nonexistent jitter. Compare this to the 6-10ms (usually closer to 10ms) that you see on a cable system, with higher jitter, and you can see why a gamer will pick FiOS practically every time over Comcast, all else equal. The solidity of the connection is a selling point here, but it's aselling point against the competition, not your own tiers.

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