Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Uverse - First Impressions

POTS, literallyImage by doegox via Flickr
As noted in the prior post, we are switching to AT&T Uverse.  Formerly, we had Comcast cable for TV, AT&T DSL (6 Mb/s) for Internet, and plain old telephone service (POTS) from AT&T.  Now we get all 3 services from Uverse - the so-called triple play.  Voice is now VOIP carried over the underlying DSL technology.

The installation went very smoothly, and the technician was not too fazed by my 1 KW ham transmitter or my Linux-based household network. (Of course, he didn't guarantee how well things would work in an intense RF environment.)

It turns out our distance from the neighborhood node is 2,554 feet. (This is FTTN service - fiber to the node.) By phone, AT&T had quoted ~750 feet from their not-too-accurate database estimate.  The service limit is 3,500 feet, according to our tech.  Our airline distance may be 750 ft, but our lines don't go direct.  This matters, because the ultimate data rate declines with increasing cable length.  We have ended up in the bottom tier of service, sigh.  This limits the number of TV channels that can be recorded or viewed simultaneously.  That's probably OK for us, but Internet service will be capped at 12 Mb/s for the foreseeable future.  Having double our previous speed is good, but eventually 12 Mb/s may feel too slow.  (Meanwhile, Comcast is saying 100 Mb/s service is coming.  No mention of cost.)

Preliminary observations: Everything works.  That's very good - much better than our early struggle with DSL.  We get a real 11+ Mb/s of data download.  TV works, but somehow the order was bungled and we do not have HD service yet.  A little worrying, the picture on SD TV is rather softer than we had with Comcast.  That probably reflects excessive compression by AT&T.  I wonder how much better HD will be.

Phone service by VOIP works nominally, but now we rely on a UPS to keep service up in a power failure.  POTS emergency service was much superior!
The level of system integration and the TV user interface is much better than what we had before.  Of course, Comcast also offers the triple play, but their HD video recorder system (and its control options) was inferior.  AT&T's services available through the TV are very interesting - receiving your phone voicemail?  I haven't tried that yet.

The industry has still not solved the command and control problem for home entertainment systems.  Even with the new system, we are in remote control hell if we ever want to use our DVD or other add-ons.  This is particularly frustrating for the less technical members of the household!  Why this could not have been resolved by now with some kind of standardized control bus among "home theatre" devices is not clear to me.  No one seems to take this major consumer interest very seriously.

Stand by for occasional further reports.

Update:  A few worrisome but non-fatal issues emerging.  Uverse VOIP service gives too many "fast busy" signals when calling some "well known" local numbers -- and even when calling Uverse support!  You would think "the phone company" would understand phone technology, even if it's VOIP.  This is a problem that almost never happened with the POTS network.

On the TV side, accessing some Uverse help files (apparently a TCP/IP web transaction?) return a 404 Page Not Found screen, which should never happen.  A while later, the request worked correctly.
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