Cord Cutter Guide pt 4 – Internet Services

Internet services come in many different forms. You can also do cord cutting on your ISP or internet services. This is a very unlikely scenario. You may want to (or may have no choice, depending on your geographical location). In any case, you want to figure out a few things before you do this.

Internet serviceIf you only have a few mobile devices and only want to access your email, social media and other minor services, you could go completely mobile and use a cellular “shared connection”. This means you use your smartphone to share internet services to your tablet or other devices. In this case, you need to make sure that you will nor incur into overages on your cellular plan. A quick “dry run” during a complete month should give you an idea of whether you have enough bandwidth (is it fast enough) or if you are downloading too much (for your cellular monthly cap). This is normally not the case as there are some down-sides to going all cellular on your internet access.

However unlikely this may be, you may be “cutting the cord” on your ISP regardless. If this is the case, the next level up is to get your internet services through a MiFi device. You may want to only do this when no other services are available, for example. A MiFi device is a WiFi router that connects into your cell phone carrier and uses the cellular service for your internet access, it is nothing more than the equivalent of a cell phone sharing the connection via WiFi. All cellular carriers offer these devices. MiFis are expensive and have data caps like your cell plan. A typical home internet connection is either unlimited or capped at 1 Tb per month. One terabyte is about 1000 gigabytes. A typical large subscription MiFi service has a cap of 25 Gb but allows you to download more by charging you overages.

If you don’t need a mobile service, you certainly should use a fixed-address service. Normally I would recommend that the higher the bandwidth, the better. This is normally true for most people, but there is a point of diminishing returns on your bandwidth speed where you don’t want to go over and overspend. Faster connections are great. Just watch out for more expensive connections you don’t necessarily need.

In general terms you can shop around for your ISP while you have a contract with your current provider. This makes you a customer in high demand. Carriers may offer you a bonus, just to make the switch. These bonuses include paying your ETF (early termination fee), a gift card (ranging from $50 – $350), a tablet, I’ve even seen Xbox One and Playstations offered along. Keep an eye and see what you can get, it might be worth it.

What are my internet services options?

In any case, you still need to make sure that the service you use delivers on speed and amount of data when you need it, so keep also an eye on the goal here. There are a many additional options for your wired connection, but in general terms you can categorize them into these few:

  • Satellite: These internet services can technically be used from any location… all you need is to re-aim to the right coordinates and you are ready to use. You either need to know what you are doing or you need to call customer services with your ISP… which will count this as moving your service. There are local vendors, states taxes, services and fees for satellite; so let’s count this service as a fixed service. This type of service is OK for streaming. It is also notably slow when you need more interactivity.
  • Copper-based: The typical implementation of this internet service is DSL. These are ISP services are provided over the typical phone network that companies have laid out over the last 50+ years. The older the infrastructure that the data needs to go through, the worse you should expect the service to be. Typical problems that affect your bandwidth are an old house with the original copper lines on the walls or a local phone service provider with old local infrastructure. Aside from these risks, bandwidth on this service is not super high but prices are reasonable. DSL technology has been around for at least 15 years on a massive scale. The nature of copper wires (what you use for phone lines) has its limits and therefore, bandwidth is not as high as other options. In addition, you are required to have a landline that drives the service, so even if you do not need that service you should count that towards the cost of having internet.
  • Coax-based: These are ISP services provided over the typical coaxial cable. Cable companies laid out these networks over the last 30+ years. The infrastructure is newer than copper wired options. It does not perform much better than copper. In this case, services suffered from bandwidth degradation as it became more popular. Service providers do not optimize for high usage. Whenever an ISP of this type becomes popular in a neighborhood, the actual measured bandwidth is degraded as well.
  • Copper/Fiber Hybrids: This is the evolution to the older copper based internet services. ISPs such as U-Verse are in this category. They love to highlight their “fiber optics service”, when in fact it still comes into your home through copper wires (the ones existing for your phone service, whether you use it or not). The network does not suffer from slow delivery because the infrastructure is built on fiber optic cabling. This is great but then it comes into the home through copper cabling which is slow. Your connection cannot benefit from your fiber infrastructure if there are local bottlenecks. Bandwidths on this type of network are still much faster than regular copper-based. They normally reach 24 – 48 Mbits.
  • Coax/Fiber Hybrids: Like its competitor the Copper/Fiber hybrid, this technology is an evolution of its predecessor. Coax cables in the house can provide higher bandwidth and by replacing the coax network with fiber optics network, the degradation issues of its predecessor are virtually gone. This type of service providers allow 150 Mbits (more in some markets). The typical vendors for this service are Xfinity from Comcast, FIOS from Verizon, and Time-Warner. The service rates are similar to Copper/Fiber hybrids, but given that the bandwidth is better, you can benefit of higher speeds for a similar price.
  • True Fiber based: These are not widespread internet services for home use. Some companies are starting up to provide these internet services in their local markets. Google Fiber had developed the network for these services but since has retired from this business. Other companies, much smaller are taking this opportunity to fill the gaps that Google fiber has left open. In addition to these ISPs, there are other unexpected ISPs with this type of networks. Power companies have recently surged with fiber services. They have come up with the idea that since they already have a network of laid out power lines, they can also have fiber laid out on their network as well. They seem to be approaching these services and offering them to businesses first. This makes business sense, as they only need to lay cable into large industrial and corporate parks first. Their next step is to offer services into residential areas.

Services that are faster than copper into the home normally resolve the delivery within the home by either turning into a WiFi router or an in-home Ethernet LAN. Obviously, WiFi always wins because all you need is reasonable coverage for connecting from every room.

Watch out!

The devil is in the details. While making changes to your ISP, or just eliminating other services you will no longer need as a result of your cord-cutting; you also need to consider the consequences of unbundling. Unbundling means that you are breaking up a “discounted group of services” or “bundle” because you are cancelling or making changes to your plan that is not allowed as part of a bundle. These services are cable, internet, cell phone and/or landline; although you do not need to have all these to have a bundle. Sometimes it is enough to have only two services for enabling a bundle discount. Unbundling services so you only have an ISP bill to pay  means that now you will be charged full list price for such service.

When you shop around for services don’t just go with the advertised rate. There are local, state and federal charges on some ISPs and little to none on others. Ask before you commit to one or another vendor.

In order to chose wisely, think about your real bandwidth needs. Do not let ads on the “latest and greatest” technology sell you on a faster service than you actually need. Most users will not need more than average bandwidth at home. Think about the most likely scenario and the most extreme scenario. What would you need in those cases, and how likely are those cases to occur on a daily basis. For example, in my case at home; my wife and I mostly watch TV together. There are a few occasions where each watches something different, one of us watches and the other users their Surface.

In addition to this, our boys (9 and 6 year old) stream Disney XD, PBS Kids and other videos, play Minecraft, and other games that are typical for their age. The most extreme scenario, in our case, means that we would have 4 streams running in parallel. We have been using consistently 18 Mbits to 24 Mbits and it has worked out just fine. Of course you could have more “just in case”, but it’s not like you can save it for another day. Bandwidth is a use it or lose it kind of deal, so you are better off paying for what you really need.

To go to the next part of this cord cutter guide, follow the link into “Cord Cutter Guide pt 5 – Choose a Video Service

About Diego Samuilov

Editor in Chief/Founder Diego Samuilov is an executive, consultant, IT strategist and book, e-book and web published author. Diego has worked in Microsoft’s environments since 1990. Since then, he has successfully filled many positions related to the Software Development lifecycle. Having worked as a developer, analyst, technical lead, project lead, auditor and, since 1996 a project manager, manager, director and VP in the Software Development, Server, Desktop and Mobile environments. Diego is very passionate about the software development process, which has played a great part in his skills development. Since the introduction of the first ever PDA (the Apple Newton MessagePad) in 1994 and Windows CE in 1998 he has pioneered and pushed the envelope in the field of mobile software development. He has developed many solutions used in mobile markets, desktop and server environments. He participates in public and private developer community events. He actively collaborates with the community at support forums and blogs. Diego is the author of "Windows Phone for Everyone" available [HERE].