Double and triple play broadband provider comparison: AT&T U-Verse vs Comcast Xfinity

Introduction:

Via the IEEE ComSocSCV discussion group, I’ve surveyed several hundred IEEE members on their double and triple play experiences with Comcast and U-Verse over the past several months for high speed Internet, pay TV service, and digital voice (mostly VoIP).  Verizon FiOS is not available in the SF Bay Area, so it was not included in the survey. 

 Almost all the responses were related to U-Verse customer experiences- probably because it’s only been available in the SF Bay Area for a couple of years now (less than one year in the city of Santa Clara where I live).

I have also received a comparison chart from Comcast comparing their Xfinity service to AT&T’s U-Verse (see Table 1. and 2. below).  AT&T was invited to provide an equivalent chart or feedback from their customers, but chose not to do so.  Hence, there is no input from AT&T in this report.

We report the conclusions below along with selected anonymous comments related to our findings.

AT&T U-Verse

a]  The Good

User experience is overwhelmingly positive with respect to the qualtiy and reliability of U Verse TV and high speed Internet services.  Here are a few selected anonymous comments that support that finding:

We’ve had ATT Uverse since it was offered in our neighborhood (West San Jose area) about 1 year ago.  I’ve been very pleased with the service.  The install was straightforward, the service just worked out of the box.  We’ve had virtually no interruption of TV or internet (we have both delivered over UVerse).   Upload and download speeds work as advertised.”


U-Verse has been completely satisfactory! I have had it for about two years and have only had to reset the modem (power off) once in that time. The internet speed is superb at MAX (12 Mbit). The TV service has also been great – four receivers including a DVR and a wireless receiver on my home network. I do not have AT&T VOIP. Instead I use Vonage which was subscribed to prior to U-Verse and has also been completely satisfactory including the features. I have only called AT&T tech support once which led to resetting the modem which, in turn, corrected the problem. There have been no other outages, TV or internet, that I am aware of.  The on screen TV guide has been useful using the Favorites feature which has eliminated much of the guide scanning and going to the “station” produces a useful listing of programs for that station only.”


“I have had a great experience with UVerse (voice, internet and TV bundle) so far. Some specifics:

Installation:
– Installation was completed successfully in one day. I was aware that my drop-wire was rather old and was likely contributing to increased noise on the line. I explained that to the installer, and they sent a second technician late on the same afternoon to replace it (with zero cost to me, and even though there was no observable issue at the time). All DSL statistics and metrics have been solid ever since. The installation was very “clean”, because they ran an entirely new line from the NID (the box outside the house) to the location inside the house where I wanted the gateway.
– I discovered a small voice problem a few days after installation. After talking on the phone for a few minutes, an AM signal could be heard. A technician came to check within a couple of days. He immediately knew what was happening: The internal wiring for the phones included a number of bridged taps. Given that I was not really using those bridged taps, he recommended that I connect my (only) phone directly to the gateway, and eliminate the bridged taps. (My explanation for this is that there is a hardware design issue with the impedance matching of the SLIC of the gateway, and that the unterminated bridged taps were just acting as receiver antennas.) Everything has worked perfectly ever since.

Quality:
– TV signal quality has been outstanding the whole time.
– Voice quality is exceptional – better than “old” POTS, and of course miles better than cellular.
– Internet speed is very good. AT&T currently “reserves” a portion of the available bandwidth for the TV signal. I wish that portion could be made available to the internet connection, when the TV set-top-box is not in use (no TV viewing and no recording).
– The DVR is fantastic. I think I barely watch any live TV any more.

Pricing/billing:
– AT&T eliminates some discounts after the first 12 months, and I had to call to ask for a better deal. I think that this is just too common with all communications service providers. I wish there was a way to avoid that.
– On the other hand, the AT&T customer service staff have been very willing to give me various upgrade offers, and I am now enjoying an internet speed two tiers higher than the one that I originally ordered (but for the same price).

Based on my experience, I would recommend UVerse to SF Bay Area residents.”


Regarding uVerse, after some early startup issues related to getting the pair bonding to work, the service has been solid and I am a happy customer.  I was comped for the service during the “start up” issues time. My only current complaint is that as of today uVerse had not cut a deal with the Pac12 sports network.”


b]  The Bad

However, there were several complaints that were mainly related to tech support, pricing after promotion period ends, and lack of customer retention effort:

-When there is a technical issue with service, e.g. outage, frozen image/channel, Internet problems, etc,  AT&Ts tech support is very bad/deficient and needs to be improved.  The customer is transferred to either India or the Philippines where personnel can not effectively trouble shoot the problem.

“The only issue I’ve had was with very poor customer service from the U-Verse phone reps I spoke with.  They don’t seem to understand the services- especially U-Verse TV.  Also, the very long time it takes to reach a live person to answer your specific question is quite frustrating.”

-Prices rise sharply after the promo price period ends.  Subscribers must threaten to cancel and go to a competitor to get reduced prices which they say is a major hassle.

-AT&T makes little or no effort to retain customers that threaten to switch to another double or triple play service provider.  (A friend of this author recently switched back to Comcast from U-Verse due to lower entry prices.  AT&T made no effort to retain her as a U-Verse customer, despite several calls and emails).

-Navigation and search need to be greatly improved using existing remote/Set Top Box (not via a third party mobile app running on a second screen).

-Start up time after power on takes too long. [That might be due to IPTV processing and synchronization vs Comcast’s  RF broadcasting of TV channels].


There was one complaint about U-Verse high speed Internet speed being too slow (compared to Xfinity and other broadband Internet providers):

In Netflix’s monthly speed rankings, AT&T was called out for poor performance on both U-verse home broadband.  AT&T U-Verse was in 11th place for Netflix average speed per video stream as per the table in this post (URL below):” 
http://www.theverge.com/2012/12/11/3755486/netflix-monthly-speed-rankings

That same individual switched from AT&T U-Verse to Comcast Xfinity:

“After re-evaluating AT&T U-Verse, I decided to switch back to Comcast (Xfinity). Originally, I came to U-Verse from Comcast and I immediately noticed the difference, some pixelation in video and the longer zapping time. Within two years perhaps pixelation improved but the zapping time was annoyingly long, especially with the bad lineup.  The deal breaker is that the basic package I needed was mostly kiddie programming with U-Verse, whilst with Comcast I even get ESPN (with MNF and I can watch Sports Center as often as I feel like).  Also, I was surprised that when I lost like 5 days of service when the battery died.  AT&T had to ship me one from Arizona. How can that happen?”

“Comcast has gone through a lot of challenges in transforming itself from an old style cable company to a credible telco & satellite competitor, while AT&T is still in the business of milking copper (Ok, maybe a wireless provider too, with the lowest ranked customer service there as well).”


One final anonymous comment on AT&T making false promises regarding the availability of U-Verse (San Jose, CA):

“We still can’t get U-Verse!  Our home is 12kft from the C.O., but we’re only a block away from a U-verse node (confirmed this the other day, that this is still the case). A few years ago, I got so tired of receiving advertisements from AT&T suggesting that I could upgrade my 1.5 Mb/s service (actually only 300kbs) to U-Verse, which still isn’t available in my neighborhood.  I switched to Comcast and vowed never to go back to AT&T. I even opted out of their phone calls and direct mail (which would tease me with impossible upgrades).”

Personal Observation:  This author had AT&T “DSL Pro” from 2008-mid 2012, which provided 2.5Mb/sec downstream (before that I had DSL at 1.5Mb/sec downstream).  To get a higher Internet access speed I had to switch to U-Verse, which only became available in my neighborhood this summer. 

I am very satisfied with the U-Verse quality and reliability of both high speed Internet and TV service.  There has not been a single outage of either one since July 28th when U-Verse was installed!  The TV picture quality is terrific, which was quite a surprise as I expected IPTV quality to be inferior to RF broadcast.


In contrasts to the results of our survey, the on line postings of U-Verse customer service experiences seems to be quite negative.  Here’s an example: 

“Thomas estimates he’s spent five fruitless hours on the phone with AT&T trying to simply keep the service he’s had for the last four years.”  

http://consumerist.com/2012/08/att-wont-move-my-u-verse-service-because-they-cant-find-my-address.html

And another: 

“After 8 months, WHY can’t Uverse get my bill correct?  After 8 months and HOURS AND HOURS on the phone and online chat, we STILL cannot get a correct bill. I have been assured each time it will get handled and STILL NOT RIGHT! HELP!!!!! Does anyone have a direct corporate or executive email I can contact? Or other suggestions?”

http://forums.att.com/t5/U-Verse-Billing/After-8-months-WHY-can-t-Uverse-get-my-bill-correct/td-p/3277743


Comcast Xfinity:

a] The Good

Xfinity offers much faster downstream and upstream Internet speeds then AT&T U-Verse. For example, 105Mb/sec downstream vs a maximum of 24 Mb/sec with U-Verse (see Table 1. below).  This is a powerful reason for heavy duty Internet users to chose Comcast over AT&T.

b]  The Bad

Price for a given bundle is generally higher and their are often extra charges,  such as for a DVR or multiple TVs/STBs.

“We have Comcast Xfinity triple play. Comcast is charging us an extra $18/month to get an HD DVR and converter box.” 

Meanwhile, a San Jose Mercury reporter wrote that he was switching from Comcast Xfinity to AT&T U-Verse.  You can read why here: 

http://www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton/ci_22093000/wolverton-so-long-comcast-hello-att-triple-play-bundle

It’s somewhat amazing that Comcast apparently made no effort to retain the SJ Mercury journalist, considering he might and did write a negative article about Comcast that could conceivably damage their reputation.  I had the same experience and switched from Xfinity to U-Verse- Comcast made no effort to keep me as a customer, despite me reaching out to them in several emails.


In the June 2012 issue of Consumer Reports gave Verizon FiOS a score of 77, AT&T U-verse a rating of 72  and Comcast Xfinity a grade of 65 (near the bottom of the list of triple-play providers)

http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2012/05/regional-cable-company-wow-also-top-rated-for-all-services-and-bundling-report-highlights-five-ways-to-get-great-service-and.html

http://www.fiercecable.com/story/consumer-reports-wow-verizon-are-best-triple-play-providers/2012-05-08


Tables 1. and 2.    Comparison Charts (provided by Comcast): 

 AW Comment:  The above charts seem to be a fair comparison of service offerings and promotions.  However, they don’t address the critical issues of customer service and support.  From my personal experience, both AT&T and Comcast are severely lacking in these areas and need to improve.  We’ve heard that Verizon provides much better support for FiOS (one reason for their higher consumer reports ranking), while other MSO’s offering triple play services provide reasonable good customer support, especially for problem isolation and resolution.

 

References:

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