*** Updated for 2009 at the bottom of this post. ***
I finally switched from Comcast to Verizon. I did a lot of research on which service was better and why and found the details in most reviews to be lacking. As such, I thought I would take the time to post what I’ve learned along with some real world comparisons and metrics.
Installation took about 7 hours total. It would have taken less time, but I apparently had a couple of bad barrel connectors that wouldn’t pass some of the technicians tests. The tech was very thorough, did a very neat and tidy install. he also picked up his trash which was very courteous.
The ONT box gets power from a Verizon UPS located inside the closet in my office where all of my networking terminates.
The coax on the left side of the above pic goes straight into the FIOS router. The tech said that it’s possible to run Ethernet straight from the ONT, but he’s had mixed luck with it working that way. He said about half of the time it just doesn’t cooperate, but that the coax (moca) always works. Here’s a pic of the router.
FIOS vs Comcast Internet
The router is made by ActionTec and has 4 10/100 Mbps ports. I was disappointed that it didn’t support gigabit on the switch side, but oh well. The configuration of the router is done through a nice web GUI. I was using DD-WRT on a Linksys and was concerned this would be a downgrade. However, the processor is significantly faster than the linksys.
Note the center column that shows all connected devices on the network. This is where things get interesting. The coax leading to the Router is not just the Internet feed, but it also connects your TV STBs (Set Top Boxes) to your network. This is how the STBs get program guides and other data services. Pretty neat. Note that I it shows that I have 3. The first two are actually ONE HD-DVR, but apparently each tuner makes it’s own network connection. The other STB is my kids TV.
There are many tools out there to test your speed capabilities. I prefer speedtest.net as it’s free, pretty, and easy to use. Check out the Comcast and Verizon speed test results:
The above tests were done to Olympia, WA which always showed the highest throughput for Comcast from my home in the Portland area. However, FIOS tests much higher to the Portland location (which is what you would expect). I can’t explain the difference other than to assume that Comcast has a peering location in Olympia and FIOS has a closer one in Portland somewhere. Just a guess though.
It is important to note that Comcast cheats like crazy on the speedtest reports, regardless of which one you use. They even have a marketing term for their cheat… SpeedBoost. Basically, Comcast will give you excellent bandwidth (in my case, 20Mbps) for the first 10 seconds or so of any download. After that 10 seconds of bliss, however, you are knocked back down to a more modest 6-8Mbps. This makes Comcast look great on speed and bandwidth reports, but has little bearing on what you can get sustained. Sure, this will make web pages load quicker, but won’t help you with any data transfer.
To illustrate my point, I downloaded Elephant’s Dream (an open source movie) via NNTP using Comcast and took a snapshot of the network throttling behavior.
As the breaks in between each set of data is when I manually stopped the transfer. As each transfer began, the throughput spiked to about 20Mbps or so, but quickly settled on a much lower sustained rate. I stopped and started the transfer a couple of times for illustration as the graph shows. Now check out the same exact download from the same NNTP servers (Giganews) on FIOS.
As you can see, I was able to get 1830KBps (roughly 14Mbps) SUSTAINED. No spikes here folks, just real throughput without any tricks.
Some things you should know. All computers connected to the FIOS network require some tweaking to get full speed. Thankfully, Verizon has a FIOS speed optimizer tool you can use to obtain the best performance that tweaks your OS for you. It doesn’t appear to leave any malware or adware behind… just modifies the registry to optimize the TCP settings. Vista users will need to grab the KB939006 patch from Microsoft first.
FIOS vs Comcast TV
My initial impressions are very positive.
The HD-DVR has revealed little to no menu lag like the Comcast DVR does. Further, the menus are much more elegant than the Comcast ones. The STBs for Comcast and FIOS are made by Motorola, so I can only assume that the firmware developers on the FIOS side are much better at their jobs. The guide is easy to use. You can scroll rapidly through channels by holding the up or down arrow. With Comcast, I had to hit page down or page up. FIOS scrolling is fast, fast, fast. The channel logos appear next to each channel for easy visual recognition as well.
I haven’t used the DVR to it’s fullest extent, so I will refrain from commenting on it. Nothing negative in my initial impressions came up however.
Compression artifacts are apparently no where to be seen on the regular channel line-up. With Comcast, the cartoon network showed clear compression artifacts, even on the kids 36″ standard def TV. The HD channels are also very clean, crisp, and free of artifacts.
The Video On Demand was easy to use, but has a real ugly side… it’s compressed like crazy and the artifacts were very big and very ugly on my 57″ HDTV. Click on the pic below to see the full size image. The artifacts are readily apparent and very disappointing. Also, I wasn’t able to find any HD VOD. Perhaps it’s there somewhere, but I didn’t see it.
As far as phone service goes… it works. There isn’t much to review other than I am able to call people and they can call me. Someday I plan to ditch my phone service entirely and just use our cell phones so I don’t care for much more than a dial tone and clear voice, which FIOS has.
FIOS is about $30 per month cheaper than Comcast in my neck of the woods for the “Freedom” package which includes TV, Phone, and Internet service.
The Internet downstream clearly faster than Comcast by more than double when comparing sustained speeds. FIOS upstream is about 7 times faster than Comcast. In general latency also appears to be somewhat lower than Comcast. Winner: FIOS.
The high definition TV service from FIOS is similar to Comcast, although Comcast had visible compression artifacts on many channels that FIOS does not. However, the FIOS VOD service is horrible compressed and it shows. Winner: FIOS, but if you’re a heavy VOD user, you may want to keep Comcast.
Phone service seems virtually identical.
I hope this review was helpful to you. Enjoy FIOS!
Update July 2009
It’s been over a year with FIOS and I’ve had no problems at all. Not a single outage that I can recall.
The speed is amazing and I have since upgraded to their 25 Mbps / 5 Mbps plan. I can sustain 2.34 MegaBYTES per second. A 100 MB file will download in about 25 seconds. I can watch 1080p videos on apple.com without any buffering. Just click and play.
No problems, but it’s not exactly a feature I care about. I’m waiting for Google Voice to let me port my home phone number, then life will be grand as I won’t need the home phone itself.
HD quality is still great and there are now over 100 HD channels. I honestly can’t remember the last time we watched standard definition TV. Everything we watch or browse is in HD.
Also, the HDR menu is WAY improved (not that it was a problem a year ago). It’s very zippy and only occasionally does it slow down (usually when recording two HD shows at the same time).