For the last few years, the speed of my home internet access via TimeWarner Cable was an acceptable if unremarkable 10 to 15 megabits per second (Mbps). It was fast enough to watch HD video from sources such as Netflix and Amazon Prime and support the frequent Web access required for my wife's Web-development business and my site for tracking the latest crowdfunded gadgets.

A few days ago, though, our internet access started getting flaky, slowing down or going out completely for hours at a time, leaving us to lean on a cellular hotspot. Calls to customer support on two consecutive days revealed that there was indeed an outage in the area, not wholly surprising given the terrible weather gripping the region. However, the service gaps persisted even after the company said the outages were resolved.

After taking some info about my cable modem, the service representative suggested I upgrade it, as the company had started rolling out a faster version of internet access about six months ago that the current modem couldn't manage well. (I never ascertained why the problems were surfacing only now.) In any case, I went to my local cable company's office the following morning and picked up a new box by ARRIS that was much larger than the RCA-branded Sicilian pizza slice that had served as our internet gateway. Ten minutes and one signature after showing up when the office opened, I was out of there.

After reattaching the cables and running a few speed tests, the numbers impressed me. While my old downloads only sometimes approached their theoretical speed of 20 Mbps, I was now regularly getting speeds in excess of 100 Mbps--all for the same price, and all without switching providers. The uploading speeds are now much faster as well, around 10 Mbps, although they still represent the asymmetry Verizon pokes fun at in its "half-fast" commercials.

Web pages now load much faster, uploads are much quicker, and streaming is more reliable than ever. Why is the new box so much faster? It relies on a relatively new standard called DOCSIS 3.0. DOCSIS is a standard developed by CableLabs, the R&D arm of the cable industry that allows one cable modem to work with multiple cable providers, such as Comcast, TimeWarner Cable, and Cox Communications. Of course, it would have been nice if my provider had urged me to upgrade as soon as the newer speeds were available instead of my having to encounter problems to spur the upgrade. Perhaps one day, there will be a 5x increase in the company's customer-service speed

Published on: Feb 22, 2015
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