Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cutting the cord, continued, and why USI Wireless is awesome for us

I gave up on #resound11 about half way through. Just got behind from the 8 ball and couldn't keep up.

But I am still working on reducing my Internet and Cable bills. When we last discussed this topic, I was getting ready to order USI Wireless on a trial basis to see if it could serve as a reasonable substitute for the Comcast service I've used for the last 8 years or so at multiple addresses.

I've always been something of a sucker for speed with these connections and since I've been able to afford it have typically purchased mid/high tiers of service. I most recently had 20Mbps service which I was paying 54 bucks a month for. I enjoyed fast podcast downloads and other media files purchased from a variety of sources, and no challenges from a streaming perspective but was also aware that this kind of speed is probably borderline overkill considering the data cap on Comcast is 250GB so if you stream constantly in HD you'd probably get in trouble with them anyway. .

USI Wireless in the city of Minneapolis comes in 3 flavors, 1, 3 or 6Mbps. They allow you to pre-pay for a year, which amounts to a substantial savings of $144 on the most expensive tier, or about 33%. It works out to 23.95 per month. Even Comcast's cheapest tier, which is 1/3rd the speed at 2Mbps is 26.95 per month (and probably rising) and in order to get at least 6 you have to spend 44 a month with Comcast. So clearly, if you can make it work, the price is very attractive for USI wireless.

I had two concerns besides going to a much slower speed (and I wasn't that worried, because for most things I do, 6Mbps is adequate) - latency, and reliability.

I got the service set up about 6 weeks ago on a Sunday Night. I was very impressed with the available USI install appointment windows - they offered a variety of night and weekend options - very convenient if nobody can easily be home during the day. Everything went smoothly. The tech checked my preferred locations for their wireless device to be mounted either to a window or the side of the house. We ended up having to put their equipment on the top floor of my house in the back. This was line of site to the pole with their transmit/receive equipment on it and allowed me to get fully advertised speeds.

This placement likely would have been a problem for the less technically minded. I was working off a cable connection coming in at my TV in the basement where I had several wired applications that needed to remain so. Luckily, I already had a second router set up as a wireless bridge and repeater so I swapped it in and it worked perfectly for both wired and wireless connections. The main router went upstairs to serve as the main wireless broadcast for my house directly off of the USI equipment. I have nothing directly wired to that box.

At some point, I will probably upgrade the router upstairs to an N router for better range (and to reduce reliance on the g repeater in my basement, an aging Linksys router than may go at any time).

Performance wise, it works as advertised. I'm able to get 4-6Mbps down, slightly less during peak times and I haven't had any noticeable service interruptions. Quite manageable speed even for downloading Podcasts, music from Rdio, etc. Video files and larger files take a bit longer but queuing them up still results in getting them in a semi-timely fashion. 1Mbps up is a bit on the slow side, particularly when uploading photos, but nothing that you can't queue and forget about either (and still much faster than what I had with Comcast a few years ago-and Comcast wasn't that much faster on the up-side today either)

On the TV side, we had mixed results from my trial run, and I haven't cancelled cable yet as a result. I did end up ordering a RCA ANT1650R Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna from Amazon. It picks up all the major stations, but not without some adjustments on occasion. I had a couple of Vikings games that didn't record because the antenna needed adjustment and several other times where the signal has been borderline. Also, the NBA resolved their differences, the Timberwolves have a product worth watching, and the Bulls are on national cable TV approximately 20 times (which are games that are blacked out on the NBA Season Pass). There's also the college game which I go in and out of being interested in but come tourney time it would be nice to have cable.

So I haven't cut the cord with Comcast all the way , but we're half way there. I'm impressed with USI Wireless's customer service as well. In addition to sending me an email highlighting the different avenues of customer service, they also gave me a call to make sure everything was OK and it was working well for us. They also handled my request to switch the modem rental to a purchase without any hiccups. Compared to my Comcast fiasco a few years ago, it was smooth sailing. 

The TV thing we'll reevaluate after basketball season. It's always the sports that keep me connected. I didn't watch much baseball last year and could probably get by with an antenna for the summer months.   It's possible I'll pursue a dish connection too, but over there, there's contracts, a new DVR box and other shit I don't really want to contend with.