Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cox and their "Nerd-Level Wi-Fi"

Cox Cable, your "nerd-level Wi-Fi" commercials are not only an insult to the intelligence of nerds everywhere, but they are spreading misinformation in the name of marketing.

For those who may not have seen or heard these breathless commercials, Cox has been advertising heavily that they have the "fastest Wi-Fi available", which they are referring to as "nerd-level Wi-Fi". Here's an example (double-click it to go full-screen):

Cox's offerings are fast, sure, but they're going over a line my saying they are giving their customers the "fastest" anything available. Here's my evidence:

1. My mom just got a brand new cable modem from Cox a month or two ago, just like the one in the TV commercial above. It is, I believe, a Ubee Ddw365 modem, and it supports the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. This is indeed the fastest Wi-Fi standard which is in common use right now, but a true nerd is not going to be satisfied with that when it is easy enough to find Wi-Fi routers that use the newer and much faster 802.11ac standard. According to Wikipedia, 802.11n tops out at 600 megabits/second, and 802.11ac can potentially reach 1300 megabits/second. "Nerd level" on the Wi-Fi side: myth busted.

2. A true nerd is not going to be satisfied with the admittedly fast Internet access from the cable TV company if there is any chance that he can get a fiber-to-the-home connection, which can potentially run five to ten times as fast as the maximum speed of a cable connection. On top of that, what Cox isn't publicizing is that cable Internet technology relies on a shared connection to the Internet. When your next-door neighbor is watching movies on Netflix through his cable modem, there is less capacity for you to watch your movies on Netflix through yours, and your connection slows down a little. The more people around you have cable Internet, the less likely you are ever going to approach maximum speed with your cable modem. Best case, your cable modem will top out at around 100-107 megabits per second; business accounts may be able to get as high as 400 megabits/second. In my area, Cox's fastest residential package offers 150 megabits/second. Fiber can reach speeds of 500 megabits/second or more - in the area I live in, the newer houses all have fiber-to-the-home capability, and the ISP offers up to 1,000 megabits/second to homes (and 10,000 megabits/second to businesses!) "Nerd level" on the speed side: myth busted.

3. Real nerds don't use Wi-Fi for tasks that require serious speed anyway. A real nerd is going to have Gigabit Ethernet, which means that he will have his whole home network delivering a steady 1,000 megabits/second down the wire to his computers. His 802.11ac Wi-Fi access points may suffer temporary slowdowns due to radio interference, sunspots, or whatever, but his wired connection won't have that problem. If he has a great job and can afford the REALLY new hardware, he might even have 10gb (10,000 megabits/second!) running in his house; the technology exists, although his Roku 3, which is wired into his network and not using Wi-Fi, is still toddling along at "10/100 Fast Ethernet" speeds (100 megabits/second).  But his computers will be pulling down data so fast it will make your head spin. (Actually, he probably isn't using a Roku - he's probably built his own media streaming box from a spare computer, so he's streaming considerably faster than that. But that's neither here nor there.)

And don't even get me started about all that "writing binary poetry" junk, and the other flights of fantasy that are in the commercials in a clumsy attempt add humor. It only highlights the true fact: that these commercials are an example of something written by people at ad agencies who, instead of trying to learn the technology and speak intelligently about it, are trying to "talk dumb" so that people who deep down feel dumb about all this inter-network-mubo-jumbo will feel like Cox is all chummy, on their side, helping them to binge-watch HBO Go a little easier.

The fact is, it IS a lot to understand. You have to do research if you want to have "the fastest". Heck, I had to do some quick research to make sure I'm more or less factual in what I've written here (and it's entirely possible I've got some errors or outdated information in what I've written). I don't have any issue with it if they are going to say "We are faster than DSL" (which, in general, barring heavy load, they can be). I don't mind if they say "Fastest Internet available in the area" (even though several parts of my geographical area do have fiber to the home). But don't tell me I can become a cool nerd by getting my new Cable modem. Just tell me it's fast enough that when I spend all night Friday watching episodes of Daredevil, I won't have to wait for them to buffer. That's fast enough for me.