After decades of living in small towns, suburbs, and exurbs, I now call the city of St. Paul home. One advantage of urban living is the availability of more and faster choices for Internet connectivity.
In Groton, MA, I was fortunate to have access, beginning in 2008, to Verizon FiOS service — fiber to the home. I rode the FiOS rollout curve from 15 Mbps service to 25, 50, and 75 Mbps symmetrical. This means the service delivers the same speed upstream as down — an advantage fiber has over cable, where upload speeds are restricted typically to 1/10 or less of download. The Verizon website informs me that now I could sign up in Groton for 300 Mbps symmetrical for $170 per month.
Three different online speed tests give varying results. Top: speedtest.net; middle: speedof.me; bottom: dslreports/speedtest/. The variability was even greater when considered run to run. But speeds never seemed to reach the lows experienced with Comcast cable.
Moving to St. Paul a year ago, I chose Comcast for Xfinity Internet service at a nominal speed of 105 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps up — $45/mo. for the first year, after which it jumps to $85.
A few months ago CenturyLink began advertising that it had wired my St. Paul neigborhood with fiber capable of delivering service up to 1 Gbps (i.e., 1,000 Mbps) symmetrical.
Last week I pulled the trigger on the switchover from Comcast to gigabit CenturyLink fiber at about $109 per month.
The new service is up and running over 802.11-n Wi-Fi throughout my house. (But not so much in the yard — the stucco walls block the Wi-Fi signal almost completely.)
The speeds I typically get over Wi-Fi are more like 30 to 60 Mbps. But performance seems never to dip to the abysmal levels I used to experience daily with Comcast Xfinity: as low as 50,000 bps, equivalent to a 1995 dial-up modem — 2,000 times slower than what I was nominally paying for.
When I plug a computer directly into the CenturyLink modem via ethernet, eliminating Wi-Fi from the performance equation, speeds typically aren’t an order of magnitude better, according to three online speed tests:
The improvement is more like a factor of two. Mostly the wired bandwidth is in a range from 55 to 140 Mbps, with upstream speed often being the faster of the two. In only one run of one of those tests, speedtest.net, did I see numbers above 900 Mbps (not reflected in the figure above).
One long-term concern I have had with my Internet service is the growing practice of ISPs imposing data caps. In investigating CenturyLink fiber service, I eventually determined that speeds below 1 Gbps on their network are probably going to be capped sooner or later. In various markets around the US, CenturyLink is trying out a cap of 250 GB per month for the 100 Mbps service — and in one Washington State locale they are actually charging for data usage over that limit. The best information I could find indicates that 1 Gbps service will not be capped.
My own household usage would struggle to stay within 250 GB. When I cancelled my Comcast service yesterday, on their online portal I learned that this household’s total usage for July has been 280 GB. A good fraction of that comes from a 3.7-GB backup file downloaded from my server in the wee hours every day; call that 110 GB per month. We don’t do a lot of streaming of movies at this point, but that usage will probably grow over time.
While browsing around the Xfinity site, I came across the little publicized fact that Comcast maintains a 1-TB (1,000 GB) monthly usage cap on all classes of Internet service.
I should be able to wrest more raw wireless speed from the 1-Gbps feed by moving to the latest level of the Wi-Fi standard, 802.11-ac. The 11-n standard in use now dates all the way back to 2009. It is all that my venerable Apple Time Capsule access point, my MacBook Pro, and my wife’s MacBook Air are capable of. 802.11-ac, finalized in 2013, is supported by the latest Apple Wi-Fi equipment and computers. It promises top wireless speeds of over 1 Gbps and greater range and penetration power through walls. So the next round of equipment upgrades in this household should result in a several-fold increase in usable bandwidth.
[Update 2019-07-04] The computers have been updated since this post went up; both now speak 802.11ac (as do the iPhones). No great speed increase resulted. A speedtest.net run just now showed download at 222.2 Mbps and upload 343.4 Mbps: not radically faster than the results had been with -11n. (Ping time is only 3 msec now though; this may result from improvements CenturyLink has made at their end.) I haven’t taken the step of decommissioning the redundant ZyXEL modem, and may not do so.