Cable Company Speed Claims

I don’t know if it’s just me, but my perception of ISP and cellular advertising is that the big ISPs and cellular carriers push the envelope more every year in trying to make claims that can give them a marketing edge over the competition.

The advertising for 5G cellular has repeatedly made claims over the years that are far in excess of the ability of the technology to deliver. If your only view of the state of broadband technology is ads seen on TV during sporting events, you would be fully convinced that we live in a completely wireless world and that 5G is the end-all-and-be-all of the broadband world.

What’s funny about many ads is that carriers try to differentiate themselves from their competitors, even though their peers are delivering essentially the same product to the market. There is not much difference in the cellular technology being delivered by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon – although ads claim that each is by far the superior company. In real life, the biggest differentiator between the three carriers is the strength of their signal at your home, office, and other places you frequent – a strictly local difference based on the location of cell towers.

The competition between cable companies and fiber overbuilders is not based on equivalence. There is a clear technical advantage of a 300 Mbps broadband connection on fiber versus the same connection on a cable company. Fiber has a steadier signal throughout the day with lower latency and jitter, and any consumer comparing the two can quickly spot the difference. This puts cable companies in a tough spot. They know that fiber ISPs have a quality advantage for downloading and a huge advantage for upload speeds. Fiber networks tend to also have fewer glitches and outages.

Cable companies know when a fiber network shows up in a market that they will lose customers who care about signal quality. Since cable company prices are normally higher than the prices of fiber ISPs, the cable companies have to scramble and lower prices drastically with special prices to try to hang on to customers and lure new ones.

But cable company marketers never stop trying to make a pitch that makes them sound better than fiber. One of the latest examples comes from Comcast, which has started to advertise itself as the 10G ISP. The company now refers to its broadband network as the ‘Xfinity 10G Network’. This is based on the CableLabs 10G standard that lays out a future upgrade path for cable companies to eventually achieve an overall speed as fast as 10 Gbps download and 6 Mbps upload.

Verizon took exception to Comcast’s advertising and asked the National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs to get Comcast to stop using the term 10G. The NAD program is something that many of the big ISPs voluntarily participate in to avoid expensive lawsuits between each other over advertising claims. NAD ruled that the 10G term was not factual and said Comcast should stop using it. The participants in the NAD generally comply with NAD rulings, but this time, Comcast is appealing the ruling. An interesting sidebar of the NAD ruling is that it also felt that consumers would interpret 10G as some advanced version of cellular 5G.

As an outsider, it’s pretty easy to agree with Verizon in this case. The 10G term was based on some theoretical future upgrade to meet the CableLabs 10G specifications, and Comcast’s coaxial networks today cannot achieve that speed. The only example of where Comcast has a 10 Gbps capability today is where it has upgraded to a 10 Gbps fiber platform – a tiny portion of the overall Comcast network. Comcast’s advertising implies to consumers that the future upgrades are already in place.

In a similar dispute, AT&T took exception to Cox ads that claim that Cox cable broadband is ‘powered by fiber’. NAD agreed with AT&T and ruled that Cox could not imply in advertising that its coaxial network is fiber-to-the-home. Again, it’s easy to agree with NAD on this ruling. Having fiber somewhere in a network does not mean that the network can deliver the same quality of broadband as an all-fiber network. Many DSL fiber nodes are fed with fiber, and I don’t recall any telcos making the claim that their DSL is “powered by fiber”.

More aggressive cable marketing is inevitable in a market where cable companies have stopped growing. There has to be a lot of angst in cable company board rooms about finding ways for the companies to claim fast broadband speeds and stop losing customers.

One thought on “Cable Company Speed Claims

  1. I’m with you on the cellular vendors, but you’re flat wrong on the fiber vs cable 300M plan. The details of the claim are flat false. DOCSIS 3/3.1 has almost identical characteristics to GPON/XG(S)PON for latency and cable plants dont have any sort of time-of-day fade on signal. The PONs all have similar latency to a similar class of DOCSIS. 3.0 w/ channel bonding compares very nicely to GPON, 3.1 to XGPON, and those are in wide deployment. 4.0 for XGSPON but I’ll conceed that 4.0 is basically a myth right now but XGSPON is in deployment for most new plants. Still though, latency on these are all but idential, PON only has a small lead in upload capacity vs DOCSIS and has no benefit to latency.

    The difference between these two is entirely down to oversell on the cable plant and not the technology. Cable plans are more loaded up as they are essentially always the incumbent, so these comparisons are not remotely apples to apples.

    I’m not defending the cable companies, just refuting the constant misinformation that fiber is always better. Cable plants are often much MORE reliable because often the DOCSIS remote nodes are fed via fiber ring and so have some level of redundancy while PON fiber solutions are exceptionally difficult to build rings into below the OLT.

    The whole thing about calling 940M a 1G service or 10G for a ~9.5Gbps service is not very far off XGSPON’s limits with overhead, it’s nit-picking the details as a 10G XGSPON customer will never get 10G on a test either. And the confusion of 10G being confused with ‘5G’ service is identical for all products as well so a really crap talking point comparing two similarly performing products.

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