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AT&T Gigapower Install Summary and Service ReviewPosted under Miscellaneous on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 @ 5:36:01 PM
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I had AT&T's GigaPower service installed today, which replaced my previous 200x20 Mb/s cable Internet service. Since I couldn't find much in the way of detailed installation information online I thought I'd write up a quick blog post about it with the hope that it might be useful and/or interesting to others.
Before I get into the specifics, here are my high-level impressions (for those that don't want to read):
So starting out, here is the MST (multiport service terminal) at the pedestal about two houses down the street from me. This is part of the distribution layer and is where the fiber from the main node for our neighborhood is split into connections for individual houses.
Here's another angle of the MST pedestal. You can see another pedestal immediately behind it. I believe that pedestal was preexisting and is used to deliver services over copper (i.e. POTS, DSL, etc). The new MST pedestal was installed a few months ago when AT&T installed their fiber. I was curious to see if these pedestals can be opened with a standard can wrench, and indeed they can be.
In front of the MST pedestal is a hand hole where the fiber is. As pictured, you can see the conduits going in each direction up and down my street. These lead to other hand holes.
Here's the hand hole in my front yard. The red line indicates the path the fiber takes from the hand hole to my house. Right now it's just sitting on my lawn, someone will come behind the installer and bury it (he said anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks from now). The tech had a spool of (presumably) outdoor rated single-mode fiber. He ran that from my house into the hand hole in my front yard, and down the conduit to the handhole by the MST pedestal. So at my house the fiber connects to a media converter in my office, at the other end it connects to the MST.
Inside the house, the installer terminated the fiber and used a JDSU microscope / network tester to verify that it was performing as expected. That terminated fiber goes into the media converter in my office, it's mounted on an exterior wall under my desk. The installer drilled a small hole (maybe 7/16") through which he fed the fiber. The media converter itself mounts directly over the hole. All this does is convert the optical network signal into an electrical signal (i.e. Ethernet).
From the media converter, ethernet runs over to the actual "modem". I'd much rather have simply brought the fiber into my switch via SFP, and it's my understanding that I would get basic layer 2 connectivity by doing this, but since AT&T uses 802.1X authentication on the network you need their modem to handle that.
The modem seems to be pretty full featured - it supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi as well as homeplug / powerline networking. I have all of this turned off so I can get the modem into as much of a "dumb bridge" mode as possible so I can use my own router. For what it's worth, there is essentially no bridge mode on these modems, but there is a 'DMZ Plus' setting which allows pretty much the same functionality. In that mode the modem will lease a public IP to whatever device you connect it to, but if I had to guess, I'd imagine the modem still has the actual public IP and is doing some form of static NAT to whatever you connect to it. Either way, it works fine.
As far as speeds, with my 200x20 cable service I was seeing roughly 150-220 Mb/s download speeds depending on time of day, and around 18-20 Mb/s upload speeds. When testing against an AT&T server on Speedtest.net I see around 900-940 Mb/s, which is pretty much the maximum speed you can get on a 1 Gb/s line when factoring in protocol overhead. I've tested against some servers from other ISPs and although their speeds are lower, they're still ranging from 500-800 Mb/s which is very respectable.
The biggest issue I see with gigabit Internet is that most sites can't or won't support single-threaded downloads that fast. By single-threaded, I mean HTTP, FTP, etc downloads. I tried downloading iTunes, ESXi and a few other things and most of the downloads hovered around 20 MB/s which is around 180 Mb/s. I also tried downloading a large file from Amazon S3, but only saw about 10 MB/s there.
Strangely enough, I tried some multithreaded downloads (BitTorrent) but didn't see much improvement in the download speeds. I downloaded DVDs for both Debian and Ubuntu and only averaged about 10 MB/s. Whether this is a limitation of the AT&T service, some limitation of my router (pfSense VM), or simply a lack of available bandwidth at the seeds I'm not really sure. So as far as single-threaded download performance is concerned, this isn't really distinguishable at all from my 200x20 cable service.
What IS distinguishable in a major way though, is the upload speed. I have gigabit Internet service at work and sent a test file from home to work and averaged about 12 MB/s, which is about 5-6 times better than what I was getting with cable. It's not a 50x improvement like it would look like on paper, but it's definitely a big difference if you're doing any sort of heavy uploading (i.e. YouTube, etc).
Presumably, the capacity would also be helpful if you have a lot of people and/or a lot of devices using the Internet. We typically only have one or two people using PCs at any given time, but we have a couple Chromecasts that start streaming around 6:00 and typically don't stop until mignight-ish, plus everyone has smartphones and tablets as well.
Overall, I was impressed with the simplicity of the installation and feel like I'm getting exactly what I'm paying for. Would recommend.
UPDATE - Apr 2017
I wanted to come back and update this post with some additional info. When I ordered my Internet service online, the checkout indicated that the normal price was $119/mo, but that I'd get a price break bring it down to $80/mo for the first 12 months. Additionally, the normal $99 install fee would be waived.
The first bill was incorrect (billing at full price, with an install fee). I eventually got this sorted out, but the process of doing so demonstrated the legitimacy of my worries about getting service from AT&T (customer service failings). It took no less than 9 times contacting AT&T customer service to get this resolved. Each time I'd have to re-explain the entire situation and the rep would eventually tell me that he'd have to send a ticket to the "back end team" because apparently they're the only ones that can actually fix billing issues, and they're not customer facing. After the first time or two, I got wise and asked for the ticket number, but this didn't do any good. I'd contact customer service and give them the ticket number and ask for a status update, but apparently these tickets just go into a black hole because A) the team never did fix my issue, B) I never received any follow up from any of the 9 calls to customer service (despite repeated assurances that I'd be called back within an hour, four hours, or 24 hours - I got different answers on different calls, which leads me to wonder if they were just making things up), and C) the people that answer the customer service queue apparently don't have any way to check on the status tickets they opened previously.
The way I was finally able to get the issue resolved is by posting a complaint on Reddit asking if there were any AT&T employees that could help me, since I hadn't made any progress at all in the > 1 month period I spent trying to deal with AT&T customer service. Luckily, an AT&T employee reached out to me, and was able to get things resolved for me, so I had to circumvent the normal customer service route to get anything done.
So the final takeaway is: 1) the service itself has been fine, no complaints at all, 2) AT&T's customer service, on the other hand, is the worst thing ever (worse than Comcast on the occasions I've dealt with them). So, my recommendation is to order the service if you want the speed, but if you have any problems, you may as well just cancel your service because AT&T seems to be completely inept and incapable of solving any customer issues.