Cable Companies Use Old Tech: Why This is a Problem

cable companies

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We’ve already compared cable and satellite in order to figure out which is the better service. However, there we looked at it more from the television perspective rather than from an internet one. Given the fact that broadband internet is so important to many of us these days — whether its for streaming video, or even working from home — taking a closer look at the technology behind how cable companies serve us internet is wise.

There’s just one problem: Cable companies are using decades-old technology to bring broadband into your home. The coaxial cables which bring that signal to your cable modem come from a time when the internet didn’t even exist, much less the idea of sending high-speed data back and forth over it. We’ll explain why this is a problem.

Cable has bandwidth limitations

The coaxial cable itself is a big issue, and while it is built to send a lot of data to the home, coaxial cable is not built to send large amounts of data the other way, says Ars Technica. So, while we’ll likely see our download speeds increase as demand calls for it, your upload speeds will likely increase at far slower speeds.

This might not sound like a big issue to you, but think of it in these terms. Are you using a cloud service, or stream a lot of your video gaming? Both require large amounts of that “upstream” capacity (and will require more and more as time goes on), something that at some point the traditional coaxial cable system will become a bottleneck for.

Cable has signal limitations

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Comcast | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Coaxial cable also has another issue, which I myself have experienced on my own. If you are too far from the source of your cable internet signal, two issues can come into play. One is signal strength, and the other called “signal-to-noise ratio.” Just like an FM radio, your cable signal becomes “quieter” the further away you are from the source. DSL Reports discusses some of these issues, noting insufficient signal strength can cause “slow speed, packet loss, and connection loss issues.”

Another issue is coaxial cable will have some level of background “noise.” Again, let’s turn to that FM radio analogy. As you get further away from the transmitter, you’ll begin to hear static with the signal — and far enough away, the static becomes loud enough that you can’t hear the station. The same general concept applies with signal-to-noise ratio, Radio Electronics says. Too much noise, and your modem won’t connect.

You’re sharing a connection

As Geek Squad notes, while the connection to your home might be private, you’re sharing a connection with your neighborhood. While the signal splits to get to your home, before that it’s coming across the same transmission line as everybody elses. During high usage periods, you might find that your connection slows quite a bit.

To some extent, the two previous problems we’ve discussed can also play a role here too. Since the connection is shared, if it’s poor coming in, the bandwidth and signal strength will likely be less than what it should, magnifying the issues related to sharing the same internet connection.

It’s expensive to build out

While you might find the idea of living in the countryside appealing, your cable provider might not. Many rural areas lack access to cable internet because cable companies don’t think setting up the equipment necessary will be cost effective, as Indiana Public Media found out in researching issues rural Indiana residents were having in getting high-speed internet.

Laying the coaxial wire necessary and setting up other equipment is expensive. While typically cable companies will just tell you no, there have been cases where they’ve said yes to it, but bill you for the installation costs. Last year Wisconsin resident Cole Marshall got his cable company to agree to connect him to their cable internet service, but for a fee: $117,000. It’s safe to assume many of our readers wouldn’t have that kind of disposable income just to get their internet running a bit quicker.

Follow Ed on Twitter @edoswald

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