Most homes are wired with TV, telephone and Internet services coming in on one or more cables. Even if everything is digital, the services don’t talk to each other. It would be great if we could browse the Internet on our TVs, watch television channels on our PCs and take telephone calls on a TV or PC, depending on where we were in the house and what we were doing. AT&T’s U-verse doesn’t do everything, but it takes a step toward offering these capabilities. It offers TV, Internet and phone in one compatible package that gives you access to some controls and information across the services.
The AT&T U-verse System
U-verse stands for “universe” and AT&T wants to show that it can satisfy all your communication and data needs in one package. On the AT&T side, everything goes through one cable. The company has rolled out an optical fiber network across the country and, as of the end of 2011, the U-verse service was available in 30 million homes — mostly in large cities. The optical fiber terminates in a junction box on the street and can service all homes within 3,000 feet.
From the optical fiber junction box, AT&T runs twisted pair copper wire cable to each house and terminates it at a modem/router unit it calls a gateway. When you order the U-verse service, AT&T sends technicians to install the cables and the gateway unit. They also run cables from the gateway to TV set-top boxes and to any computers that need a wired connection. The gateway delivers wireless Internet throughout the house and you can get telephone service through the system as well.
How U-verse Works
AT&T delivers all the services through its private optical fiber network, which is interconnected with the public Internet. The biggest innovations are in the TV service that the company delivers in digital form via the same protocols that the Internet uses. This makes the signal compatible with the Internet and phone services and allows the company to offer some innovative features.
Basic service includes a large number of digital channels and three TV set-top boxes, one of which has a DVR built in. The high capacity of the optical fibers lets you watch and/or record up to 4 programs simultaneously. You can watch recorded programs from any of the three TVs and you can pause a program on one TV and continue watching it on another.
You can program the DVR to record a show that you are watching, related episodes or shows at a specific time and date. You can also program it through your computer or from a smartphone. The programming is accessible from anywhere you can find an Internet connection. AT&T claims this innovative ability is exclusive to them.
Other, more common features are also included. Picture-in-picture surfing, video-on-demand, movies for rent and pay-per view, as well as some free offerings from part of the package. A special button on the remote gives you instant access to customized local information such as weather and traffic reports. The High Speed Internet comes through the same cables and this service includes security software to protect your computer from viruses or other malware.
The optional phone service is VoIP, but that runs on the AT&T private network and not on the Internet. This results in better call quality and higher reliability than Internet-based services. The standard phone features such as Caller ID and Call Waiting are included for free.
As of 2012, the cost of a typical package of AT&T U-verse services, including a mid-range number of channels, standard broadband Internet and VoIP phone service cost between $89 and $114. You could pay an even lower rate without the phone service, and for slower Internet with only 130 TV channels.
Reviews of the U-verse service package have been mixed. When the optical fiber installation, the external junction box, the connection to the houses and the internal cables are all installed properly, the service has worked extremely well. Customers are satisfied and report that they are paying less than they used to pay for the three services while getting more features and more convenient operation.
Customers have reported issues that, when fixed, were mostly the result of installation problems somewhere along the line. Complaints have centered on TV pictures freezing, which also affects the Internet and telephone services. Since everything comes over the single cable, a technical problem often affects all the services.
Reviews have also criticized customer service. Technicians couldn’t find the problems and gave inconsistent reports on what was wrong. Some customers could not get their service to work properly and had to cancel it. Those who did eventually have their problems fixed, reported a high level of satisfaction with their AT&T U-verse service.
Apparently, once it works, it works well and is comparatively problem free. When you judge that against other services, it’s a relatively good risk to take.
AT&T U-verse is an innovative product that delivers extra flexibility in digital home entertainment and communications services at a competitive price — as long as AT&T U-Verse is available in your area. And many that are shopping for new TV, Internet and Phone services, also consider AT&T U-verse compared to Time Warner Cable.
As the company rolls out new features, the integration of the three services will improve. Once you have working service, it’s relatively problem-free. Checking with neighbors who have it is a good sign of whether the installation in your neighborhood is working properly.