Bandwidth Throttling and your Spectrum Internet Service

No matter your ISP, you must understand their policy when it comes to bandwidth throttling. Who wants to watch a 4K movie and suffer a poor picture due to the lowering of your Internet speed? This policy also hampers online gaming, controlling your smart home over the IoT, as well as streaming HD video.

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Spectrum logo. Image Copyright Spectrum.

Spectrum customers interested about their ISP’s attitude on bandwidth throttling need to read further. Let’s take a closer look at how this provider handles this important issue facing most Internet users.

The Data Cap Agreement when Charter merged with Time Warner Cable

When the FCC approved the merger between Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable – thus creating Spectrum – the company agreed to forego the institution of data caps for at least seven years. While not the same thing as bandwidth throttling, some ISPs with a data cap policy throttle the Internet speeds of their customers who exceed their monthly data allowance. Others charge an overage fee; for example AT&T’s runs $10 for each 50 GB of data consumed per month.

Understanding the differences between bandwidth throttling, data caps, and overage charges remains an essential part of being an Internet consumer. Make sure you read the fine print of your Internet service agreement. In many cases, ISPs offer unlimited Internet service for an extra fee or when you bundle Internet with other products.

Spectrum’s Bandwidth Throttling Policy

Even with their FCC agreement not to introduce data caps for seven years, Spectrum includes a bandwidth throttling policy in the fine print of their residential Internet acceptable use policy. Note that they never updated the policy to use their new company name.

Charter uses a variety of reasonable network management tools and practices consistent with industry standards. In the event the periods of congestion necessitate such management, Charter has available the following tools and practices (without limitation and as may be adjusted over time): (i) use of an upper limit of bandwidth allocated for uploading of files during congested periods; (ii) Subscriber Traffic Management (STM) technology to temporarily lower the priority of traffic with the greatest impact on peak congestion; (iii) spam filtering and detection techniques; and (iv) measures to protect the security and integrity of its network, resources and subscribers. In limited instances if employed, these techniques may affect the throughput rate at which subscribers may send and receive data, the ability of users to establish session connections within the network, or result in the delay of certain traffic during times of peak congestion. 

In short, during periods of high network traffic, Spectrum may limit bandwidth for uploading data, and reduce the priority of the network traffic using the most resources. Ultimately, they will throttle your bandwidth if network congestion warrants, with the hopes of providing a similar level of service to every customer.

Keep that in mind if you want to stream a 4K movie during a high traffic period. As always, run a quick speed test to verify your current service level

Need for Speed Payback — an ISP Performance Review for Online Gaming

Payback is perhaps the appropriate subtitle for the latest entry in the Need for Speed catalogue. The EA racing series suffered more than a few missteps during its 2015 reboot. One has to believe that the Payback title was, at least in part, Ghost Games and EA acknowledging and attempting to correct those criticisms.

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Need for Speed Payback in action. Image copyright EA.

Payback attempts to make up for its past missteps by expanding the single player campaign to a 15-20 hour experience. They also include a hearty dash of drag racing, which was inexplicably left out of the 2015 Need for Speed. Oh, and you can actually pause the game in single player mode, unlike the reboot.

Need for Speed Payback — the Graphics

The graphics took a step back for some reason – on the Xbox One, at least. Perhaps the Ghost Games team had to take a visual hit to bring in all of the extra gameplay content, but when you consider the pristine look of rivals like Forza, one wonders why the graphics couldn’t have been preserved with a bit of ingenuity.

Action Driving is a joke. It is made to look exciting and crazy, but actually requires no extra skill. If you take a look at the ads that have come out for the game, you’ll see your characters performing all kinds of crazy parkour and slick stickmanship. Those are cut scenes. Those cut scenes are mindfully interspersed between rather monotonous driving sequences to make the progression look quite impressive – to a third party viewer. To the player, unless that player is a brand new casual to the franchise, there is no real challenge involved.

The initial marketing for the game made a huge deal out of the cop chases. The actual play style in those situations is a completely linear experience, again, made to look flashy without any real delivery on the gameplay. The early 2000s slo-mo when you flip a cop car doesn’t do too many favors for the game’s integrity, either.

Check your Internet Speed before playing NFS – Payback

We had to make sure that none of the game’s shortcomings were due to a less-than-competitive Internet speed. Racing games obviously don’t perform well with lag, so before the multiple trial sessions, we tested our Internet with bandwidthplace.com.

From our Comcast server in Atlanta, GA, we got the following results:

Ping – 203 ms
DL Speed – 1.21 Mbps
UL Speed – 0.32 Mbps

One of the positive aspects of the game is the need for a fast reaction time during some sequences. The above specs may slow you down a tad. Make sure that you check your Internet connection before playing so that you will achieve the best performance that your reflexes can muster. The game has shortcomings, but to its credit, it still moves fast.

Overall, the newest addition to the 20+ year old Need for Speed franchise isn’t a dud, but it isn’t exactly the next level game that fans expected or deserved. New players will be impressed enough with the core gameplay to give a few weekends to it.

But if you have been following Need for Speed for any substantial amount of time, Payback will likely leave you a bit dissatisfied, and you won’t exactly know why. It’s a bit of everything not progressing as quickly as it should. Light up the forums. The next installment will be your real reward.

The Xbox One X – Microsoft enters the 4K Videogaming World

With the PlayStation 4 Pro already taking a share of the 4K videogame market, Microsoft joins the fray with its own top of the line console. The Xbox One X aims at high-end gamers looking for the most immersive experience possible. Of course, an ISP with a copious amount of Internet speed and bandwidth is another important part of this equation.

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Microsoft’s new Xbox One X videogame system. Image copyright Microsoft.

If you are interested in the new videogame box out of Redmond, read further for additional details and specifications. Is the Xbox One X the new king of the console world?

Xbox One X Specifications

Featuring a robust set of specifications, Microsoft claims the Xbox One X ranks as the preeminent videogame system on the market. An 8-core AMD processor running at 2.3 GHz is the heart of the new console. A 6 teraflop GPU and an impressive amount of video RAM – 12 GB – help the box deliver smooth graphic performance in 4K HDR.

In short, if you are a gamer with a high-end 4K TV that supports HDR, the Xbox One X needs to be on your wish list, especially if already own earlier Xbox models. Ironically, Microsoft’s new videogame system is also its smallest to date. Advanced chip design and manufacturing techniques helped achieve this small footprint.

Rounding out the technical specs is 8 GB of Flash memory as well as a 1 TB hard drive. A 4K UHD Blu-ray drive is included, along with an HDMI output and support for the most popular 5.1 audio formats. Most importantly for some, the Xbox One X is priced at $499; $100 more than Sony’s equivalent, the PlayStation 4 Pro.

Bandwidth Considerations for the Xbox One X

In addition to being a high-end videogame machine, the included Blu-ray drive and streaming capabilities make the Xbox One X the centerpiece to any home entertainment system. Remember, streaming 4K video requires a significantly higher amount of bandwidth compared to “plain old” HD. At least 20 Mbps of dedicated Internet speed is a must!

Thankfully, the unit is backwards compatible with the original Xbox One as well as the Xbox One S. So if you already built a robust library of games, you are good to go with Microsoft’s latest. Early reviews highlight Forza Motorsport 7 and Gears of War 4 as the top games for the new system.

Whether you think the Xbox One X is worth the extra $100 compared to the PlayStation 4 Pro depends on your preference for Microsoft or Sony. Both systems offer a state of the art videogame experience as well as being able to stream 4K HDR video. Run a fresh Internet speed test to ensure your bandwidth is up to snuff!

AT&T Fiber expands its National Footprint

With Google bringing its own gigabit Internet service to Louisville, it stands to reason AT&T Fiber would follow a similar path. In fact, Google Fiber’s appearance in the Derby City likely influenced AT&T decision to boost its own Fiber investment in Kentucky’s largest metro area. Healthy competition makes everyone’s Internet speed a little faster.

The Southeast gets High-Speed Internet

Mid October saw the announcement of four new cities in the Southeast as the next metro areas to receive AT&T Fiber. Internet users in Lafayette, LA, Montgomery, AL, Macon , GA and Columbus, GA are now able to take their bandwidth to a higher level.

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Is AT&T Fiber coming to your neighborhood? Image copyright AT&T.

Fiber – formerly known as AT&T GigaPower – is currently available in 6 million locations spanning 61 metro areas. Plus AT&T expects to boost its reach to 7 million locations by the end of the year. These ultra-fast Internet speeds are vital for anyone streaming 4K video or playing the latest online multiplayer video games.

AT&T Fiber Service Plans Abound

AT&T Fiber currently provides two options for customers looking to boost their Internet service to a new threshold. Internet 100 offers a speed of around 100 Mbps, while Internet 1000 provides a true gigabit experience. AT&T notes that download speeds with the latter actually average around 940 Mbps.

The 100 plan is available at a monthly cost of $60, while Internet 1000 is priced at $80 per month. Add U-Verse TV to the faster service for an extra monthly cost of $40. Internet 1000 also includes an unlimited data allowance, while Internet 100 provides 1 TB of monthly data with an overage charge of $10 for each additional 50 GB.

As with any modern telecommunication service, bundling is a great way to save money. Both Fiber plans are $10 cheaper when bundled with phone or TV service from AT&T. The company typically includes installation and a WiFi router for free.

Another free perk included with Fiber is the AT&T Internet Security Suite. This McAfee-powered cybersecurity solution offers peace of mind in an era of extra vigilance due to hackers and other nefarious online activity.

So if you want to take your Internet service to the gigabit level, pay attention to what ISPs currently offer plans in your area. To check the availability of AT&T Fiber, simply click on the following link. Soon, you’ll be streaming 4K video with no buffering at all!

Google Fiber now signing up Customers in Louisville

After a long period of planning and other roadblocks, such as fighting off a lawsuit from AT&T and Time Warner Cable, Google Fiber is finally live in Louisville. The company began signing up customers earlier this month. Considering it’s less than two years since we mentioned Louisville as a potential city on Google’s radar for Fiber, the speed of their rollout is impressive.

Louisville Skyline
The Skyline of Louisville, Kentucky. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s look more closely at the process that brought Google Fiber to the Derby City to give you an idea on what it would take to bring their gigabit service to your town.

The Timeline for Google Fiber in Louisville

After first announcing interest in the location in late 2015, Google began a site survey of the Louisville metro area, looking for suitable neighborhoods for their high-speed Internet service. The company remained coy about their findings for a few months, but after the city passed an ordinance in February of 2016, allowing Google easier access to utility poles to install fiber equipment, things began to move more quickly.

AT&T and Time Warner Cable soon filed a joint lawsuit against the ordinance, with a TWC attorney claiming it “does not provide any meaningful way for TWC to know what changes have been made to its existing facilities or to assure any damage is promptly cured.” The lawsuit would stay tied up in the courts for over a year.

Louisville’s Metro Council awarded Google Fiber a franchise agreement later that June, and it appeared customers would be enjoying fast Internet speed by the end of the year. However, the October resignation of Fiber CEO, Craig Barratt, combined with Google halting rollouts in 10 cities across the country, including Louisville, put a damper on those hopes.

Plans seemed in a holding pattern for the next few months before Google announced in June of this year that construction was beginning in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood, using underground fiber due to the still pending litigation. That AT&T/Time Warner lawsuit being dismissed in August allowed Google to begin targeting other neighborhoods for pole-based installation.

Google Fiber Customer Signups Begin

Google recently began offering two service levels in Portland as well as two other Louisville neighborhoods. Fiber 1000 provides a standard gigabit service for a monthly fee of $70. A slower Fiber 100 service at 100 Mbps costs $50 per month. YouTube TV is available as an add-on, with 40 streamed TV channels at an additional monthly rate of $35.

Interested Louisville residents should click on this Google Fiber link to see if service is available in their area.

For its part, AT&T is also greatly expanding its own fiber offerings throughout the Louisville metro area. Competition remains a good thing in the world of Internet service.

Simply click on this link to test your own Internet speed. Maybe gigabit service will be available in your region soon, if it isn’t already?

G.Fast Promises Near Gigabit Speeds Over Copper Wire

A recent technology breakthrough brings with it the promise of near gigabit speed Internet service over your current coaxial or phone line. The company behind this state of the art technology expects to make it available this year. Whether it actually arrives in consumers’ homes by 2017 remains to be seen, but current Internet providers, like AT&T, are very interested in the product.

If you live in an area without current access to gigabit service, will G.Fast help put you in the 21st Century Internet fast lane?

G.Fast Lane

What follows is a closer look at this new Internet technology.

G.Fast Developed by Israeli Company Sckipio

The G.Fast technology was developed by an Israeli company called Sckipio. Leveraging a technique known as dynamic bandwidth allocation, G.Fast boasts upload and download speeds of 750 Mbps. Although, according to a CNN article, recent tests of the product didn’t reach that speed for uploads; only downloads were clocked that high.

Still, most Internet users depend on fast download speeds for streaming HD and 4K movies or playing online games. Near gigabit upload speeds aren’t much of a concern, unless a customer needs to upload or stream their own 4K videos. But this is a reason ISPs feel more customers will demand gigabit-level upload service over the new few years.

AT&T’s Hopes for G.Fast Technology

Dynamic bandwidth allocation uses a process like its name describes. Internet bandwidth — both upstream and downstream — is manipulated in real time which greatly boosts speeds. This enhanced speed works with the chipsets currently in use by modems, but the next generation chipset family is expected to double that speed to 1.5 Gbps in each direction. Needless to say, AT&T is taking notice.

“With dynamic bandwidth allocation, we believe AT&T can offer up to 750Mbps in both downstream and upstream performance over coax with today’s chipsets. In the next generation G.Fast chipsets, we should be able to double that target; achieving as much as 1.5Gbps in each direction,” said Eddy Barker, Assistant VP of Technical Design & Architecture at AT&T.

AT&T feels the G.Fast product would pair nicely with their DirecTV service in locations where GigaPower isn’t available. It would be interesting to note whether or not the success of the newer technology changes the company’s plans for further GigaPower expansion. It is obviously a more cost effective solution as no fiber needs to be put in the ground to get those speeds into your home.

Sckipio expects G.Fast to debut later this year with a trial market and ISP still to be determined. Get your HTML5 speed tests ready to run!

Will Apple Add HomeKit App to iOS 10?

With all the industry buzz about home automation and the Internet of Things, it appears the nascent technology sector’s growth so far lies in industrial applications. Perceived cyber security risks and confusion about the technology have combined to hamper its consumer adoption rate over the past year.

Apple may be poised to give the digital smart home concept a boost if rumors hold true. Cupertino is expected to include a dedicated HomeKit app in the next version of their mobile operating system, iOS 10. HomeKit is Apple’s system for controlling lights, doors, cameras, and other devices at your residence.

HomeKit smart home app

Could you soon be using Siri or your iPad to control appliances in your house? Let’s take a closer look at the latest Apple iOS rumors.

Current HomeKit Users Want One App to Rule All

While HomeKit has been part of Apple’s mobile landscape since iOS 8, there has never been one HomeKit app dedicated for a residence’s entire home automation setup. Customers are currently forced to use vendor-specific apps to operate their compatible devices. If they own devices from multiple vendors, this quickly becomes a hassle.

While some iOS developers have created their own master HomeKit apps, one actually developed by Apple as part of iOS 10 promises superior integration as well as support for future devices. The success of the voice-controlled Amazon Echo, while not a home automation controller per se, is making Apple see the light on providing a HomeKit app.

The fact that Apple uses its own HomeKit app internally and recently trademarked a HomeKit logo, adds fuel to these rumors. Technology pundits speculate the new app will be known as simply “Home.”

The Most Useful Feature of a Home Automation System

“Scenes” are an important part of many established home automation setups, where a user can script multiple events to happen with a simple button press. For example, at bedtime one scene can turn off a home’s lights, lock its doors, and set the thermostat to a lower temperature. Current HomeKit users are forced to use third-party apps to get similar functionality or only purchase devices from one vendor.

This is arguably the most obvious use-case illustrating the need for a HomeKit app from Apple.

Internet Bandwidth Considerations for HomeKit App

Most home automation scenarios use a minimum of Internet bandwidth, as it doesn’t take much data to turn a light on or change a thermostat setting. One exception to this rule involves security cameras, so if you plan on multiple cameras in your setup, be sure to perform a speed test to ensure your current bandwidth will suffice.

Expect updated news on the HomeKit App once Apple announces iOS 10 features at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Comcast Foregoing the Cable Box

Industry giant, Comcast, recently announced a plan that would allow some customers to eschew the venerable set-top cable box in favor of a streaming video app. This is yet another example of how access to fast Internet speeds sees more users streaming content over the Internet instead of watching TV using their cable box.

Comcast TV app

This is essentially a new service aimed at owners of the Roku streaming device or a Samsung Smart TV model, with other manufacturers — including iOS and Android — to come. The new plan is arguably the result of a recent FCC ruling which will require pay-TV companies to make their content available to third-party providers of hardware and software used for streaming. Needless to say, expect other content providers to follow Comcast’s lead in foregoing the set-top box as a source of programming. Let’s look more closely at this soon-to-be growing trend.

Comcast’s “Xfinity TV Partner Program”

Comcast’s new service comes with the moniker of Xfinity TV Partner Program, so if you are a current Comcast customer, keep an eye out for marketing info with information on its availability in your city. Additionally, the company hopes other device makers include support for the service, which is offered as an app. HTML5 compatibility is the essential requirement according to Comcast vice president, Mark Hess.

Interested customers need to wait until later in 2016 for the new service to go online. Other rumored features include a Cloud-based DVR for storing your own recordings. Whether content streamed using the Comcast app counts against the company’s controversial data caps remains to be seen.

FCC Favors New Comcast Streaming Service

FCC chief, Tom Wheeler praised Comcast for the new Xfinity streaming program. “I think that what Comcast just did is proving our point that you can take a third-party device, put set-top box functionality into it, and protect copyright, protect the economic ecosystem, not have to rebuild the network, and all these other horrible things that the industry has [claimed would happen],” said Wheeler.

On the other hand, the company claims the genesis of its new service was innovation and not necessarily the FCC’s directive. Of course, if Net Neutrality rules are violated by not counting content streamed using the new service against a customer’s data cap, the FCC might take a different view.

For what it’s worth, the FCC ruling isn’t yet set in stone, with the final verbiage expected later this year. Cable companies would then have two years to fully implement the government agency’s requirements. As such, Comcast is definitely ahead of the game with the Xfinity streaming service.

With full implementation of the Comcast app still a few months away, keep an eye on this space for further developments in the rapidly changing world of streaming content. In the meantime, be sure to perform regular Internet speed tests to ensure your bandwidth is up for streaming HD quality video.

Facebook Wants to Improve Your Internet Speed

Not content to let Google enjoy all the fun, with their largely altruistic projects aimed at improving Internet speed and access all over the world, Facebook also has some efforts in the pipeline hoping to boost bandwidth without the added costs of putting fiber in the ground. Of course, both technology giants rely on Internet advertising to drive revenue, so they benefit from more people enjoying a faster online experience.

Face book on the Internet

Will Facebook’s new projects allow you to stream video with minimal stuttering? Read further to learn more about their Terragraph and ARIES initiatives — one slated to make urban Internet networks faster, and the other purposed to improve wireless access in underserved areas.

Speeding up the Internet in Densely Populated Areas

Terragraph is a Facebook project hoping to leverage high frequency radio wave technology to improve network throughput in areas with dense populations. It uses an array of radio antennas attached to streetlights and other similar pieces of infrastructure to cover an area with radio waves able to carry copious amounts of data.

These radio signals boast frequencies of around 60 GHz, which hampers their range, especially through the walls typical of any urban area. That’s the main reason behind Facebook’s “antenna blanket” strategy. The company expects Terragraph antennas will need to be located at intervals of around 200 feet.

Facebook currently uses Terragraph technology at its California headquarters. A trial is planned for San Jose, but no date for that test was available at the time of this writing.

ARIES to Spread Wireless Internet Access across Rural Areas

Project ARIES (which stands for Antenna Radio Integration for Efficiency in Spectrum) plans on leveraging some of the same technologies being slated for use in 5G wireless networks. The prime technical goals of ARIES include allowing more data to be transmitted across a wireless network at a much wider range. In addition to improving rural Internet access, Facebook hopes the technology also enhances connection quality for cars, smartphones and other devices.

This project is earlier in its lifecycle compared to Terragraph, so there is no additional news about a trial project. With both initiatives, Facebook expects to partner with ISPs and network carriers as opposed to building their own infrastructure. In the case of ARIES, they may want to increase their efforts, as some pundits predict 5G wireless technology to be commonplace by the end of the decade.

Terragraph offers the most promise to improve network performance in urban areas within the next two years, depending on the results their San Jose trial. Get your speed tests ready!

Time Warner Boosting Internet Speed for Free

With Google Fiber, AT&T GigaPower, and even Comcast all expanding the coverage areas of their own gigabit Internet services, traditional ISPs like Time Warner seem like they are being left behind. But not for long. Even without fiber optic cable in the ground, some Time Warner customers are expected to get a significant Internet speed boost, and at no additional charge to their monthly bill.

Time Warner Cable

If you are a current Time Warner subscriber, let’s see if you can you expect a faster Internet service at your home.

TWC Maxx Delivers Faster Internet Service

Time Warner’s new Internet speed boosting program is using the moniker of “TWC Maxx.” The company promises affected customers will see Internet downloads at six times the speed without any additional wiring. The only potential change is the replacement of your cable modem if you currently use an older model not supporting the faster speeds.

The ISP is also improving their digital TV service with expanded on demand offerings and an improved DVR, but make no mistake — the faster Internet speed is the true calling card for TWC Maxx. As noted earlier, customers can expect no rate increase on their monthly service.

Those who subscribe to TWC’s Ultimate tier will now see speeds upwards of 300 Mbps — so get your Internet speed tests ready! Standard tier subscribers can expect speeds of up to 50 Mbps, while Extreme tier customers will get speeds up to 200 Mbps.

Increased Competition Drives TWC Maxx Expansion

The Louisville Metro area is one region slated to receive the TWC Maxx expansion. This move from Time Warner isn’t surprising, considering Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower are also expanding into the area. Not all local Time Warner customers are happy, however, as some subscribers in the rural outskirts of the region aren’t expected to receive TWC Maxx at the time of this writing.

Those worrying about the expected merger between Charter and Time Warner impacting TWC Maxx needn’t. Charter expects to maintain the TWC Maxx expansion plans, and remember the merged company is still competing with Google and AT&T over the long run.

Current customers should contact Time Warner about their eligibility for TWC Maxx. The company also expects to notify those subscribers needing to upgrade their modem to be able to receive the faster Internet service. TWC Maxx is expected to be in place by the end of the summer in most locations in the Louisville area and elsewhere across the country. Contact Time Warner for additional rollout schedule details.