We’ve been in several meetings with a local Charlotte executive from Time Warner Cable (TWC) and wanted to share the latest news on their broadband Internet upgrade to TWC Maxx. This story is not an endorsement post, nor a bashing post, rather a statement of facts as we understand them. (Be sure to read the Equipment section below – it’s critical to achieving the bandwidth speeds promised by TWC Maxx. We recently purchased a gigabit wif-fi router for less than $100 (TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router) and have been pleased with the results.)
TWC is one of the dominant Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the greater Charlotte region and their Internet upgrade plans have a major impact on community access. TWC has committed to increasing Internet speeds across their product lineup. Read about all the speed increases here.
Coverage – TWC Maxx will blanket the Charlotte region
TWC has one of the largest footprints across the Charlotte region. Within the city limits they claim to be able to provide broadband service to 99.9% of residents. Along with residential service TWC also provides Internet service to Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The best news we heard last week was TWC Maxx will be available throughout the greater Charlotte region, not just within the city limits. Unlike Google Fiber, TWC Maxx is being deployed in Huntersville, Matthews, Gastonia, Mint Hill, Waxhaw, and other towns and cities around Charlotte. This is good news for those in Union County, Gaston County, Iredell County, etc. who are looking for faster Internet service. Maybe Google Fiber will follow suit one day, but we doubt it will be anytime in the next couple of years; it will take them quite a while to construct their Charlotte network.
Speed – Better, but trails Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower
TWC Maxx is a 300Mb download, 20Mb upload service (although results can vary). This is much faster than any of TWC's existing consumer Internet service plans. However Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower both have symmetrical Gigabit Internet speed; 1000Mb download and 1000Mb upload. Will you know the download difference between 300Mb and Gigabit? In some cases yes, but in other cases no. Streaming Netflix will make no difference. Neither will surfing the web or checking email. However if you want to download a large file, like a high definition video or large data file, TWC Maxx will be 3 times slower than Google Fiber and AT&T. There’s nothing magic here, simply a difference in the speed. If this matters to you, the full Gigabit service will make a difference.
Upload speed is the weak link in TWC’s service. Many of us are using cloud storage, uploading videos to YouTube and Vimeo, uploading pictures to Flickr, etc. Google Fiber and AT&T’s upload speed is 50x that of TWC Maxx. This is a substantial difference (think of waiting just 1 minute to upload your Vimeo video on Gigabit, versus 50 minutes on Maxx). The Maxx service upload speed is far superior to TWC’s current Internet upload speeds, but falls short of the Gigabit providers. Take heed if this is important to you.
Please note that the more online devices, the slower the speed. Think of how many devices you have in your home that are online. It could easily be over 20. Think of all your phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, Internet connected Blu-ray Players and TVs, and media streaming devices like Roku or Apple TV. For a family of 4 it would not be unreasonable for 20+ devices to be online simultaneously. The Internet of Things will increase this number dramatically over time as your appliances and other household items become Internet connected. We believe the more bandwidth you can have, the better.
When – This year
TWC is currently migrating their cable television service to all- digital throughout the Charlotte region. While this is causing analog consumers to install a converter box for every TV in the household, a benefit is that bandwidth is being freed up on their network to use for Internet. Our local contact told us that individual channels are currently being migrated. Once complete, individual neighborhoods will be converted to TWC Maxx service. TWC Internet customers will “automatically” have access to the faster speeds (forewarning – read the equipment section below). The executive told us TWC Maxx will be available across the Charlotte region by November 2015.
At this time TWC is planning to provide increased speeds for each service level at no additional cost. In order to receive the 300Mb TWC Maxx service you must be on the Ultimate Plan ($64.99/mo). Other service plans will receive speed increases, but below the 300Mb Maxx level.
TWC is facing competitive pressure from Google Fiber and AT&T which have been pricing their Gigabit service at $70/month. TWC would likely have lots of customer defections if they didn’t attempt to match their competitors in speed and price. Isn’t competition great? We really have Google Fiber to thank for this; it’s commonly referred to as ‘The Google Fiber Effect’. That aside, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth; we’ll take the faster speed from TWC at no additional cost.
Equipment – Forewarning, this section gets slightly ‘techie’
Once TWC Maxx is available you will immediately see the speed difference, right? Not so fast (pun intended). Until now, equipment capacity far exceeded the speeds delivered by the ISPs. Your tried and true Motorola Surfboard 5101 cable modem only supports 30Mb. Why? Because it was built on DOCSIS 2.0 standards. Newer modems like the Surfboard 6121 have been built on the DOCSIS 3.0 standard, but even that modem will max out (yes, another pun) on TWC’s network at 50Mb. In order to achieve the 300Mb download speed on TWC Maxx you will have to either lease a suitable modem from TWC, or purchase a new one. Here is a list of approved TWC modems and their speed limits.
Beyond your cable modem you need to also ensure your wireless router supports 300Mb+ speed. The newer 802.11ac standard routers support Gigabit speed, and if you don’t already have one you may need to purchase one. Lastly, your device may limit your throughput speed. Older computers may have a Fast Ethernet card, otherwise known as a 10/100 card, which limits you to 100Mb. And your computer’s wireless card will need to be 802.11ac in order to receive the 300Mb speed. You may need to upgrade your device in order to effectively utilize TWC Maxx. Mobile devices typically won’t reach 300Mb speeds. This iPad Internet speed performance test showed a maximum tested speed just under 75Mb – and only with the 4th generation iPad. We confirmed this at the recent GigHacks event held at DC74 Data Centers.
If you get TWC Maxx service, and your speed test doesn’t reflect 300Mb download speed, the issue may not be TWC as a service provider. Be sure to examine your equipment specifications to see if that is throttling your speed. It should be noted that Google Fiber and AT&T do not work with your own modem – you must use Google Fiber’s Network Box, and AT&T’s U-verse box.
7/26 update: We exchanged messages with Triangle Fiber Forums (@WakeGigFiber on Twitter). They informed us that if you subscribe to TWC Maxx as Internet only (no TV) it will require a truck roll to remove video trap filter from pedestal. TWC Maxx requires 16 channel bonding up from 8. One of the 16 channels is 555mhz, the video trap blocks that frequency and causes issues with the cable modem. If you 'only get 50-60Mbps download on your Maxx connection, this may be the issue, and removal of the trap by a TWC technician should resolve the matter. Triangle Fiber Forums also reported "we've had ours for a little over a week. I've still spent all day uploading vacation video and photos... upload needs some love. Also of a note, we are getting 351mbps download due to standard over-provisioning."
The rollout of TWC Maxx service is a boon for the region. It will be available throughout the Charlotte area, offering Internet speeds up to 6x faster than today, for no additional cost. It’s not as fast as Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower, but will be more widely available. Be sure to check your equipment for compatibility with the faster speed.
Charlotte Hearts Gigabit will be testing the three major ISPs and will keep readers posted on our findings. We welcome reader input! Please email your experiences with TWC Maxx, AT&T GigaPower, and Google Fiber: firstname.lastname@example.org.