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AT&T UVerse and WiFi issues, tips, and solutions
AT&T vs. Comcast
AT&T delivers data over shielded twisted pair of copper wires. Comcast delivers it over coaxial cable. Coaxial cable has greater bandwidth *in theory* but that doesn’t mean you get more. Read on.
AT&T delivers TV channels on demand, up to several channels per household (eg, recording two channels while watching another). Comcast broadcasts its TV channels: that means everyone gets all the channels all the time and you select at the TV what you want to watch. Thus, AT&T’s system is more efficient data-wise since its copper wire has a finite bandwidth. Comcast’s coaxial cable has more bandwidth, but it uses a lot of it for all the channels it broadcasts.
AT&T’s TV and data service is a dedicated line. This means you are guaranteed that service 24/7. Comcast’s data service is shared. This means the service it quotes is the *maximum* rate, at say, 3am. If everyone in your neighborhood is streaming channels at the same time, your actual service with AT&T will be the same. With Comcast it will be less than the quoted rate, possibly much less.
It’s a fallacy to say that because Comcast offers up to 100Mbps, it is somehow *faster.* Unless you’re running a major web site from your home, you will never use very much of that 100Mbps. One AT&T TV channel uses about 8Mbps, and that isn’t even counted in AT&T’s data service. Even if you are streaming a couple channels on YouTube on laptops, watching TV, and recording a couple channels, all at the same time, you still probably won’t fill up AT&T’s 24Mbps service (which is actually 36Mbps—they give you another 12Mbps for the TV service). You certainly wouldn’t fill up Comcast’s 100Mbps service, which doesn’t need data for the TV channels anyway. In fact, you can actually get by with a *lower* data rate from Comcast because of its system, so paying for 100Mbps is just falling for its marketing ploy.
Performance can depend on which company has upgraded its cables and equipment most recently in your neighborhood. It’s hard to know if it makes any difference here in San Carlos, but the two companies are probably about even. Other factors would make much more difference, like where you are in the neighborhood.
Most people are not in a position to compare the one company’s Internet performance vs. another company’s Internet performance, but they do have strong opinions about the service calls. This is really how they judge the providers. They know when it’s easy to get help or not, if someone is polite or not, or if the problem is fixed or not. My own experience with AT&T is complicated, but the techs who did the house calls were super polite. More on that later.
If you have a specific AT&T UVerse or general Internet problem:
First, everyone seems to confuse WiFi (wireless) issues with the provider service. WiFi issues are in your home and mostly under your control. The provider service may be in your home or on the street, and more likely involves AT&T or Comcast.
WiFi issues can come from too much interference with your neighbors’ own WiFi, poor antenna placement in your house, and so on. I recommend downloading the app InSSIDer to your laptop. It shows you the WiFi signals in your house, and you can move them and change their channels accordingly, to avoid interference and maximize the signal where you usually sit.
If you have a problem with AT&T service and it isn’t fixed the first time, they let you call the tech or his/her supervisor within 30 days, but I recommend that you go online, get a Forum account, and take it up with headquarters. This is not because the local techs are bad, but rather because the online folks can see the bigger picture, can monitor your line, and can send the right tech for the right job. It means getting an account and password, but it’s worth it. Also take note that they can send emails to your email account but you still have to log on to email them—hitting reply to your email oddly goes into cyber dungeon for some reason.
As for genuine provider issues, one thing I learned is that the more informed you can be, the better service you can get. This is true with your doctor and with your mechanic too. AT&T is running your Internet service like a Formula 1 car, which is to say it is tuned to run at high performance, but if one thing gets out of whack, it won’t perform as well. Your circuit stretches from a pedestal on the corner all the way to the gateway/router in your house. It’s not regenerated along the way—it’s one long circuit, and it’s also a long radio antenna all the way, picking up AM stations, electrical noise in your house, and maybe solar flares, who knows. Mismatched cables can cause reflections that fool the system into responding to phantom signals. Your house can be on Crestview and maybe too far from the pedestal to work. Or you can be so close to the pedestal—next door—that it overdrives your gateway. Either way, it’s a delicate balance. It’s pretty impressive all in all, but nobody cares—they just want it to work.
If you have intermittent or unusual problems, which I reckon pretty much includes all of them, I recommend downloading an app called UV Realtime, and learning to read the logs on your gateway/router (for my router they are at http://192.168.1.254/, although it varies—you need to go to that address anyway to manage your WiFi channels). The logs and the app are hard to understand, and the user manuals are not much help, but with luck and googling error messages you can find patterns or just feed back information to the techs to help solve the problem. It’s the equivalent of regularly checking your blood pressure between doctor visits.
Our particular problem was intermittent, varying in a pattern throughout the day, and turned out to be a convergence of three issues: using Comcast coaxial cable as part of the line through the house, being too close to the pedestal, and asking for *too much* bandwidth. First, while Comcast’s cable tested perfect by AT&T’s tech, it’s not the right line at this place in the neighborhood, so AT&T rewired my house with twisted pair to match the wire on the street. Second, to compensate for being too close to the pedestal, they put in an attenuator to lower the signal strength. Third, driving the bandwidth was okay for downstream, but the upstream signal was working too hard and getting fouled up, which fouls up the overall circuit.
The upstream circuit uses less bandwidth, but needs to be clean to keep the circuit intact. Lowering the data rate gives the system more margin—more “headroom”—and saved us a few bucks on our monthly bill. We were paying for service we didn’t actually need and in fact was tripping the “DSL down” signal.
For more info on how to improve your home network, here’s a recent one:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/technology/personaltech/improving-your-home-network.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0