At my current apartment I was able to get AT&T’s U-Verse service with a fiber-to-the-premise connection. Before I signed up for the service, I did a quick search on the web and couldn’t find much information out there about user’s experiences, reviews, or anything beyond AT&T’s domain. Here to amend that, I wrote this article to shed some details about the AT&T U-Verse connection from my perspective as an end-user. I decided to wait a few months until I got the TV service as well.
Having fiber-to-the-premise will give you a lovely-looking circuit breaker like this somewhere in your home. Basically the fiber line comes in and connects to the middle, gray device in the center of the picture below. That device is a fiber optic multiplexer. Once calibrated, it will convert the light pulses into usable information as well as changing the connection from the fiber line to Cat-5 connections. The white box at the bottom is the required battery backup for the multiplexer. It has power feeding into it and then it feeds that into the multiplexer. Even though it’s less than a year old and the battery life-cycle is over 2 years, I’ve had it start beeping on me before flashing ‘Replace battery’. I removed the cover, unplugged the positive connection from the battery and plugged it back in. Since then, the battery has needed this reset two other times.
Here’s a close-up shot of the multiplexer. The yellow cable is a Cat-5 cable that connects to a small patch panel to jacks throughout the apartment. You can see the yellow and green link lights on the multiplexer indicating a successful connection.
As part of the $149 installation and activation charge, an AT&T Technician calibrated the fiber line to the multiplexer and I was provided with an AT&T-branded 2Wire 3800HGV-B Residential gateway, a 4-port router that includes a WEP-“secured” wireless network.
The router is pretty much your standard wireless router except it also includes the connection for AT&T’s VoIP phone service if you opted for that service.
The router was fairly standard but frustrated me greatly with its limited functionality compared to my Linksys router running dd-wrt firmware. Trying to troubleshoot the Sprint Airave and open ports for games was far more hassle than it should have been. Also since the U-Verse TV tied into the system, it was painful when I needed to power-cycle the system as a means of troubleshooting.
To visit the router’s web interface in order to check the status or make configuration changes, just visit gateway.2wire.net. What you’ll see seems fairly standard…
and it certainly could be made easier…
though the biggest problem I ran into was just the delay in what the web interface displayed after I would make a change. It almost seemed like you’d need to power cycle in order to get an accurate status to be displayed for any change you made to the settings.
The one thing I’ll be looking forward to when leaving U-Verse and going back to cable internet is being able to use my Linksys router. You’re not supposed to put anything but end devices behind the 2wire and it wouldn’t make much difference because you’d still have to go into the residential gateway to make any changes.
I ordered the highest speed AT&T U-Verse offered at the time, their 18Mbps connection, and they have since gone up to 24 Mbps. The nicest thing about the U-Verse Internet was that the speed was very consistent and always just under the 18Mbps according to different tests; it didn’t fluctuate with busy times in the neighborhood. For example, a test using SpeedTest shows the speed at 17.26Mbps and 1.47Mbps up when it is advertised as 18Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up.
To compare practical speeds, a colleague and I downloaded a 1 GB file from geographically nearby servers. My connection was AT&T U-Verse 18Mbps while his was Comcast cable Internet advertised at (up to) 20Mbps. In a not entirely scientific manner:
My speeds varied from 1.3-1.5MB/sec and the file was completed in 12 minutes whereas my colleague’s download took just over 21 minutes. We also ran trace routes to the local University, Google, Yahoo!, and Baidu. The paths were very similar though U-Verse completed it faster than Comcast.
One of the things I don’t understand with ISP’s is why they don’t seem to care about the upload speed at all. U-Verse connections vary from 3Mbps to 24Mbps down but each variant is paired with 1.5Mbps up speed. Why? What’s it take to get a faster ability to upload for a residential customer? I upload files all the time to my server in running 404 Tech Support and I’m not the only one that runs a website. It’d be nice if it were at least an a la carte option to bump up upload rate to 6Mbps.
My wife got the AT&T U-Verse TV U200 package for me for my birthday because football season was afoot. The U200 package includes the DVR for free and that alone made it worth the upgrade price. The DVR itself is pretty plain jane but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? The DVR will hold 133 hours of SD or 37 hours of HD and there’s a new one out there that has double the capacity.
The connections for the DVR are your basic connections with HDMI, Component, Composite, and Coax. The input comes from a network cable connected to the aforementioned residential gateway. The whole TV service, technically IPTV, is powered by Microsoft Mediaroom.
There are a few cool things about going over the network such as being able to record up to 4 shows at once. This also gives you a cool feature like Multiview, a kind of picture-in-picture that has one main display and then 3 other videos displaying at the same time on the right side. You can scroll amongst the shows listed on the right side in different categories like News, Sports, and Kids programming.
With the DVR being connected to the Internet, it also gives you the ability to remotely access it and schedule it through uversetv.att.yahoo.com.
U-Verse TV also gives you the ability to interact with some online features like a film fest and download movies on-demand. If they could hook Netflix into it, that’d be great but I’ve got that on my Wii anyways.
U-Verse has a great service all around. It’s a little pricey and the cost keeps stepping up if you want a higher speed. The only cons I can knock it for is the same slow upload speed and the clunkiness of the residential gateway (when compared to a dd-wrt router) the few times you need to get into it. Other than that, I wish I were able to take U-verse with me as I move into my house with cable Internet.