Life in the Fast Lane: FIOS and UTOPIA Speed Bumps Kick Off Bandwidth War

Verizon shook the industry with a move to 20Mbps synchronous connections. UTOPIA rocked it further by allowing providers to ramp up to 50Mbps. Now the entire cable industry has gone nuts trying to ramp up speeds in short order during Q4.

Insight Communications and Cox Communications have each decided to jump to 20Mbps downloads, albeit in limited markets and to a limited number of subscribers. Charter is rumored to be working on a 16Mbps/2Mbps tier coming Real Soon Now(TM). Charter is making their jump by using a technology called SDV that works in a fashion similar to AT&T's U-Verse. Instead of sending all television channels down the pipe at a time, it only sends the channels being actively watched. This helps conserve major bandwidth for more channels and faster speeds. Cox, meanwhile, is doing a lot more than just using SDV. They've also added a big slice of bandwidth to their transceivers and are planning to build their own backbone using some of Level 3 Communications' dark fiber.

This doesn't mean that Verizon is standing still. They've found a way to reliably send 100Gbps over a single strand of fiber and are talking about jumping to 200Mbps for their existing FIOS customers. (They're also rumored to be looking at forcing people onto FIOS to be able to get rid of their old copper/DSL infrastructure. Boo.)

In all of this, though, you're not likely to get what you think you're paying for. That clever "up to" phrase means you could experience congestion at any point from your neighborhood node to the exchange points on the cable company's carrier. Also don't forget that allowing you to use anywhere from 20-200Mbps without a cap can get real expensive for your ISP. Make sure you keep a close eye on those contracts to watch for limitations and caps.

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