AT&T Fiber – 70,000x faster

I had AT&T Fiber internet (at gigabit speed) installed at my apartment back in February. Before talking about that, I have to provide a little history and context.

I’m a total infrastructure and internet nerd. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with learning about how the internet works, including the physical lines that hold it all together. Our first connection at home was, like many, a dial-up modem. I believe we started with a 14.4k connection to the local university, gradually increasing to 28.8k and 33.6k as the school upgraded their equipment…up until the vaunted 56k standard was released toward the end of the ’90s. I sometimes reminiscence about the good and bad old days of dial-up technology with YouTube clips such as this that highlight our archaic internet past. A past that was cutting edge just a couple decades ago.

My siblings and I tied up the phone line day and night with the modem, and disconnections and hiccups due to electrically noisy phone lines were common. It was rare to obtain a full 56k connection during the screeching “handshake” process between modem and host but, when it did happen, the speed increase was noticeable and seemed like a quantum leap at the time.

I remember watching as the local cable company (ironically “AT&T Broadband” at the time, post-acquisition of TCI and before becoming Comcast) strung fiber optic cable around the area and began offering cable internet service to a select, lucky few. But alas, our home was not within range of the new service for a few years. At that time, I was an avid online game player. However, my connection was far too slow for me to serve as the “host” of gameplay, meaning the individual who would serve as the hub for all players’ game data zooming back and forth across the nation. Those who had a cable or commercial-grade T1 connection (*gasp*) were revered as gods amongst men and would always be the go-to host. Internet speed typically refers to bandwidth, or how wide the pipe is. Successful online gaming relies on low latency, or delay in transit, for information traveling back and forth across the internet between gamer and host. Because of the data compression and overhead involved, dial-up modems are not suitable for applications like online gaming that require low latency.

Our family’s first broadband connection finally arrived in the early 2000s. It was DSL service provided by SBC (formerly Ameritech which, with some more irony on top, became AT&T in 2006). The service was incredible. While only rated at 1500k download and 128k upload, it screamed with speed as compared to dial-up.

As the years went on, cable prevailed over DSL as the dominant mode of broadband connectivity for US homes, and now even mobile (cellular) broadband makes up a good chunk of that share. Legacy copper networks were originally built for landline phone, then became a conduit for dial-up, then DSL, then advanced VDSL service (such as U-Verse). These networks have proven costly to maintain and upgrade to keep pace with modern data-hungry households and have even been abandoned by their owners, pending regulator approval in some cases.

Enter fiber optics. Fiber is currently the most efficient way to transmit large quantities of data. In the digital world of fiber, bits are represented by incomprehensibly fast pulses of light rather than analog electrical waves on a copper phone or cable line. While fiber optics have been at the core of the modern internet backbone since the late ’80s, Verizon was one of the first major US telecom companies to push “FTTH” or Fiber to the Home. This has expanded the range of services and bandwidth available to many households, and has provided a relatively future-proof upgrade path as compared to the rotting copper lines still strung across the nation. An existing fiber optic cable can support a nearly limitless data capacity simply by replacing the equipment at either end of the thin glass strand.

Once I had AT&T Fiber installed this year, I was pleased to see both upload and download speeds very close to their maximum 1000 megabits per second, or 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). I reflected back and realized how far we’ve come in such a short time – 1Gbps is just shy of 70,000x faster than the 14.4k dial-up modem I used back in the ’90s.

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>