AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS are two of the top tier broadband services that deliver top-notch IPTV and VoIP (digital telephone) services, but the competition has just heated up; AT&T has officially unveiled its plans to incorporate a new technology into its U-verse network that will greatly increase the effective range from the neighborhood node to any property line. Currently the maximum allowable distance from any neighborhood node to a property line varies significantly based on the line quality, but 3000 to 4000 feet tend to be the real world limits in many cases.
Shotgun Technology Lives On
Anyone who was online in the days when dinosaurs and analog modems ruled the earth might remember the so-called shotgun modems. These modems used two lines and two separate connections, which were then ‘bonded’ to provide what amounted to approximately a two-fold increase in performance. Back in the day that was nothing to giggle about, though the idea of getting excited about downloads jumping from 4 kilobytes per second to around 7 kilobytes per second does seem rather silly now. This same concept is going to be used by AT&T to deliver top notch digital services and high-speed DSL to consumers.
The question many people have is: how will it work? The answer is simple, and it is something that we have covered here many times: signals traveling over metal wires degrade as they travel. The longer the distance between the property of consumer or business and the nearest node, the lower the signal quality will tend to be. This translates into lower performance, which is something that AT&T does not want when it is fighting a battle with fiber-fueled Verizon FiOS. Simply put, fiber does not have the limitations of metal wiring and thus AT&T has had to stay on top of its game in order to avoid being considered a second-tier service.
So far, AT&T has been fighting Verizon’s advances by ensuring that their fastest services are available across almost the entirety of their network. After all, comparing a low-tier DSL service to a high-end fiber service is an easy PR win for the fiber optic provider, but a high-tier DSL service such as those provided by U-verse are sufficiently fast for a large portion of consumers. This means that AT&T’s next move has to be an expansion into new markets and/or deeper penetration of markets that they already compete in. This last objective is what the new shotgun technology will enable by using two lines to carry two slower signals over a greater distance. The idea here is that by bonding two slower signals at the neighborhood node, the consumer will still feel as if they are getting a much faster service. In the end an old engineering saying applies: a difference that makes no difference is no difference.
How Much Further?
It is difficult to accurately state just how much further the shotgun technology will allow U-verse to extend, but current estimates are that an additional 1000 to 2000 feet of electrical wiring will be enabled. Anyone who has ever studied basic math knows that the when you extend the radius of a circle a little bit that the surface area of the circle increases greatly. This is very much like what AT&T is doing with this new U-verse bonding technology; even an increase of 500 feet could mean that several million homes and/or businesses will now be eligible for U-verse services.
While we have already covered DSL Phantom Mode technology, it is also possible that bonding will be part of DSL’s future in much the same way that shotgun modem technology enabled high-performance modem setups back in the mid to late 1990s. The problem is that the market is completely different from that of the shotgun modem era. Today, DSL competes with fiber and fiber is winning because it is simply a better technology that is comparably priced yet lacks many of the limitations. The era of the shotgun modem was one where dialup services cost around $20 per month each, DSL had not been widely deployed in most markets, cable modems were still nascent, and ISDN services were extremely expensive. In short, it is possible for AT&T to increase U-verse speed with their bonding technology, but it is questionable as to whether or not that will allow them to compete effectively with fiber for any length of time.
Can You Get U-Verse Now?
If you have ever tried to get AT&T U-Verse service before and have been denied due to the distance between your property and the neighborhood node, then now is the time to check again. If not today, then next week and the month after that. AT&T is actively rolling the new technology out over major portions of its U-verse network, not something that they are just talking about.