There are plenty of contenders when it comes to picking the fastest DSL in the nation, but picking the heavyweight champ is a real task. It all needs to start by defining exactly what it takes to be a contender. At a minimum the fastest DSL that we could possibly consider for the title would have to be widely available in many markets, so niche competitors that service ridiculous speeds at an equally ridiculously low distance. Secondly, price is an issue. Simply put, the only type of contenders we are going to be capable of judging fairly are those that are targeted at consumer price ranges as the wide assortment of SDSL and VDSL would just muddy the waters.
Meet The Contenders
The wide area contenders for the crown include Verizon DSL, AT&T U-verse, and Centurylink HD DSL. Each service brings its own strengths to the market, and surprisingly it is difficult to judge them. Centurylink is a scrappy new contender that has risen from the ranks of backwater ISP fame to acquire QWEST (formerly US West) to become a contender. Much like a ISP equivalent of Rocky, this contender certainly has the legs to go the distance with plans ranging from 1.5 Mbps to 40 Mbps. There are some edges in need of polishing, including the modem leasing fees and lack of support for 3rd party hardware that still have the trappings of Ma Bell about them, but this is a serious brawler looking to do some serious damage over a very large part of the country.
Verizon’s DSL services are broken down into two plan categories: regular high speed Internet, and high speed Internet enhanced. The standard DSL offerings run from 512 Kbps to 1 Mbps while the enhanced variety starts at 1.1 Mbps and soars up to 15 Mbps. WiFi access points powered by Verizon are also offered free of charge to existing customers with an enhanced account. Verizon also brings several deals to the table that make bundling very attractive, and thus it earns points as a very sly fighter that sucks its opponents in with a feint and delivers a knockout blow knows as the value 1-2.
AT&T’s offerings include a staggering 24 Mbps of broadband speed even while additional bandwidth is allocated for digital video streams and VoIP over one line. AT&T’s U-verse is inseparable from its other technologies in our view, but the company does still offer the broadband on its own. That being said, getting U-verse without the digital cable and VoIP services would be like tying one arm behind a boxer before thrusting him into the ring.
Round 1: Speed
When it comes to speed, it is nearly a no contest. The DSL performance that Centurylink HD brings to the table is incredible. The problem is that only a very limited number of consumers can actually get those speeds, or even the 25 MBps DSL speeds from the company. Furthermore, the company’s network is a hodgepodge of different ISP networks cobbled together, and there are still some reliability concerns.
AT&T on the other hand has intelligently used bonding technologies to deploy U-verse at high speeds to a very large audience instead of focusing on just a small portion of its base. The difference between these two is akin to a battle between a boxer with a murderous punch who has never gone past the third round to a boxer with excellent combinations that can go the distance. The bottom line is that AT&T and Centurylink are both strong contenders here, while Verizon comes up just a tiny bit short.
Round 2: Value
One area where Verizon is really strong is in its DSL value. Some of the lower-tier plans are extremely affordable, and quite frankly offer plenty of speed for those with simple browsing needs. On the other hand, AT&T’s entire U-verse suite has so much to offer that there is nothing else that compares to it. Of course, Centurylink offers bundles too, but they outsource their digital TV to DirecTV in most markets.
Round 3: Features & a Winner by TKO
When we get to the features offered, we see a clear winner emerge. We’ve seen AT&T really leap out front of the competition or edge them in the previous two rounds, but U-verse has so much integration to offer that there simply is no comparison when it comes to features; AT&T U-verse stands in a league all its own.