For those who’ve been using the Internet long enough to remember the interminable wait times associated with dial-up modems, you’ll know that Internet speeds have come a long way since then. And they get faster every month.
The advent of broadband put us all light-years ahead of the days when you couldn’t make or receive phone calls because your phone line was tied up sending and receiving data, which crawled across your screen like a lazy snail. And in the last ten years, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have made enormous progress in increasing speeds.
As Billshark reported recently (Speed Test Your Internet Device Here), faster Internet speeds aren’t just a nice-to-have perk. They are crucial if you’re going to download or upload any type of data, which is pretty much everything you do on the Internet. Unfortunately, not all ISPs are equal when it comes to delivering the speed they’ve promised or that you’re paying for.
In December 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the latest in its reports as part of its Measuring Broadband America (MBA) program to study directly measured consumer broadband performance throughout the United States. A summary of its key findings reported that
“maximum advertised download speeds amongst the most popular service tiers offered by ISPs have increased from 12-30 Mbps in March 2011 (when the program first launched) to 100-300 Mbps in September 2015. These increases are not uniform across access technologies and have been driven primarily by the CableTV industry, with smaller increases in fiber based systems. Average DSL speeds have increased only slightly over these years and satellite speeds, over a shorter time interval, have remained constant.”
In the coming weeks, Billshark will be presenting information on the latest speed test results for the top ISPs in the country, which will allow you to better gauge the performance of your own ISP, and the value you receive for your broadband dollar. To speed test your own ISP, click here.
This time we will focus on Verizon’s FiOS, specifically as related to speed increases and delivery.
FiOS should be faster than all its competitors, because it is based on fiber-optic cable. The difference between fiber optics and broadband is that the former is carried at light speed across thinner, lighter glass fibers, and the latter is an electronic signal carried through copper, land-line phone wires. The fibers allow for near-instantaneous (and highly reliable) signal transmission, whereas cable’s electrical pulses are subject to variances in signal strength based on a host of factors. With fiber optics, nearly 100% of the signal is able to reach your computer, although neither system is foolproof.
With over seven million customers (as of the third quarter of 2016), Verizon’s FiOS is the fourth most-popular ISP, after Comcast (24 million), Charter Spectrum (22 million) and AT&T (nearing 16 million). Yet several speed tests have found that FiOS, which should outstrip all its competition, is not always the clear winner. Other tests, though, have found FiOS far superior to its nearest speed competitor, Comcast Xfinity.
Since 2005, Billshark has found that FiOS has increased its advertised speed from 30 Mbps to 300 Mbps in 2012 (the latest figure available to Billshark). Advertised speeds vs. actual are nearly always different, however, across all ISPs. The FCC report clocked FiOS’s median speed at 54 Mbps in 2015 (the latest year for which figures are available). This figure is not far off from the results of PC Magazine’s online speed test conducted by tens of thousands of its readers, which at 49.6 Mbps showed FiOS in a tie with the other fastest ISP, Comcast Xfinity, among major U.S. ISPs.
There is another factor to consider, however. Verizon FiOS doesn’t have a data cap, whereas Comcast’s Xfinity, for example, has a data cap of 250gb per month in most states it serves, charging an additional $10 for every 50gb over the cap. Thus, you’ll save money with FiOS if you’re streaming or gaming, or otherwise heavily using the Internet. A downside of FiOS is its availability, however. Whereas Comcast’s Xfinity is available in 40 states nationwide, FiOS is available only in parts of nine Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, as well as parts of Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California.