Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dear at&t marketing...

Dear at&t Marketing People:

I need to edumacate you a bit about the service you're providing so the door-to-door salespeople you have coming around to bother people will know a bit more about what they're selling.

at&t U-verse is not FTTH also known as fiber-to-the-home. It's fiber-to-the-node (FTTN), and you don't have a whole bunch of nodes in little pedestals throughout the neighborhood. The round pedestals at the side of the road are splice points. The fiber nodes are cabinets in select locations in the neighborhood. They service probably a good 50-100 (minimally) subscribers. The subscribers' data is aggregated at that node, and is sent over fiber to an aggregation point further up the hierarchy in the network. Connections to the home are not over fiber, and, in fact, the data for TV, Internet, and phone are all over the same phone wiring that was used for telephony. The only difference is that the phone wiring has been conditioned to handle higher speed signaling and it ends up at the fiber node in the neighborhood.

Likewise, a HFC (hybrid fiber/coax) system that the cable companies use is a similar technology. Fiber nodes are typically in small cabinets on the side of the road or hanging from the wiring overhead. A fiber optic connection comes to the node, just as with a U-verse FTTN system. Simply speaking, the only difference is that instead of phone wiring in a star configuration from the node (home run from each house to the node) the cable company uses their coax cable in a bus topology (coax cable with taps to each home).

While it could be argued that a star topology is better than a bus topology in terms of providing service -- because each subscriber in a star topology has a dedicated connection to the node -- in reality the service speeds are pretty much the same. The equipment at the nodes used by both cable TV and U-verse providers can only handle a certain number of subscribers before connection to the equipment itself becomes saturated. In order to avoid customer complaints and lost subscribers, both will balance the proper number of subscribers to the infrastructure in place. Some companies are more proactive about this than others. In other words, when service gets slow it's usually because the node is overloaded, not because of the topology.

So that being said, at&t, let me address your salesperson's questions/comments:
  1. Does your connection get slower early in the evening? (the implication here is that my connection is getting slow because my neighbors are using their service at the same time) Anytime I have had Internet service -- whether cable, DSL, or any other technology -- there have been slow-downs to some extent during peak usage periods. Most of the time, if I investigate further, it's the server that I'm trying to connect with that's slow, not my Internet service.

    This being said, wireless providers (such as Clear's WiMAX service) do tend to degrade faster based on the number of subscribers, weather conditions, and usage patterns. This is due to the way that wireless connections work and the cost to deploy a wireless node (and thus oversubscribing nodes tends to happen more).

    So to answer your question, "No, my service doesn't get slower...and if it does, so will your's."
  2. U-verse uses fiber, not copper, so we can get faster speeds. This is a lie. You are using old copper phone wiring to get from my home to your fiber node. Judging from the difficulties at the phone companies had rolling-out DSL service at 6 Mbps down (those nodes were also typically served over fiber as well), I am skeptical about how well they can maintain even higher speeds on old phone wiring.
  3. The cable company's service is on copper, not fiber, and will cost more and be more difficult to maintain. See #2.
  4. The cost per month will be $X. No, I don't know how much it will cost after taxes and fees. If you don't know how much your service is going to cost, in total, please don't come talk to me. Give me the bottom line price. I'm not an idiot, and I don't like to order service for, for example, $60 a month and find when the bill comes it's $75-80 a month (a heck of a lot more than the 8.25% sales tax that we all know about).
  5. You'd pay a lot less if you ordered Internet service in a package with TV and phone. I know that, but I don't want TV or phone service, just like I told the cable company. I get my TV over-the-air with an antenna for free (and use an open source DVR to record programming), not to mention Netflix, amazon on demand, and Roku channels. I use a cell phone and Google Voice for telephony. While ordering these extra services from you will reduce my Internet bill, it will increase my bill overall since you're not giving me any of this stuff I don't need for free.
  6. Several of your neighbors have signed-on for service with us. I'm sorry to hear that my neighbors got suckered-into your sales pitch.

    Okay, I admit, that answer's a bit harsh. In reality, if they were actually getting all those services from at&t, and got a good price, and the service works well, then that's great. I'm happy they're getting good service. My experience with at&t has not been positive, though, and I also don't succumb to peer pressure, particularly based on what my neighbors do.
  7. What's a cap? I didn't know U-verse has a 250 GB/month cap. How much data do you use a month? Oh, they didn't tell you that U-verse customers now have a 250 GB/month cap? Well, now you know. Read that fine print. Now, I do admit that 250GB/month is a lot of data, and while I don't have a cap now, I suspect that my cable provider will soon jump on the bandwagon. The problem is that the service provider can and does change that amount on a whim, and I suspect at&t's whim will be when they reach a certain critical mass of subscribers.

    Internet data caps are stupid ... and before you flame me saying, "But...but...CPU, I don't use that data, and I shouldn't have to pay extra when other people are using all that data!" Oh, just shut the fudge up.

    First of all, data is not like water. It isn't like there are all these bits in a tank, and someone can just suck all the bits out of the tank leaving you with none. The problem -- if there actually is one, and I'm not convinced of it -- is one of available bandwidth, which is essentially instantaneous usage of a data pipe at a moment in time. If the available bandwidth (speed) to your fiber node is, for example, 1 Gbit/sec (1024 Mbits/sec), and you have 100 subscribers with 20 Mbit/sec connections, they all can't be using their connection at the same time and expecting to get 20 Mbits/sec. Why? Because 100 x 20 = 2000 Mbits/sec, and the maximum bandwidth is 1024 Mbits/sec. This is called oversubscription and it is done all the time because, matter of fact, people don't generally all use their full bandwidth all at the same time. If they did, though, then they would not get their rated speed, but instead it would be shared at a lower rate. Fine. But to limit usage by the total number of bytes is just silly and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The correct way to limit usage is to charge the correct amount for the bandwidth ordered, and increase infrastructure as needed. Let me explain this for those of you who can't understand. If I'm a cable company, and I sell 5, 10, and 20 Mbit/sec service, I should be selling this service with the expectation that whoever I'm selling it to will actually use the service. Yes, I will allow for oversubscription, but I can't expect that my customers will not use what they ordered. If I find that customers are using their service more than I expected and I need to have a lower level of oversubscription (thus, raising the cost of the data pipe to the node), then the correct course of action is to raise the price of higher tiered service. Why? Because these are the people who can, and usually are, creating the congestion.

    Said differently, a person using 250 Gbytes/month of data on a 5 Mbit connection has less of an impact on the congestion of the data pipe than a person consuming the exact same number of bytes on a 20 Mbit/sec connection. The cost to a service provider isn't in the number of bytes transferred, but rather in the amount of bandwidth consumed at a moment in time. Now, granted, the person with the 20 Mbit/sec connection will be congesting the network for a shorter amount of time, but that still doesn't lessen their impact on the speed of the network. A 20 Mbit/sec connection does have a greater impact.

    The real reason why service providers are implementing data caps is to gouge the consumer for more money (and, in the case of providers who provide TV and phone service, to discourage people from actually getting those services over broadband from someone than the service provider).

In short, at&t (and Time Warner, and Comcast, and Verizon, etc.), please tell the truth and be honest and stop lying to people to get business. In the long run, telling the truth and simply providing good service for a reasonable price will win you loyal customers who will stay with you (or come back to you, after your competitor screws them over) for a long time. You'll be getting revenue and can grow and your stockholders will be happy.

I won't hold my breath.

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