- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Verizon’s FiOS service is often advertised as an “express lane” for computer users, versus the traffic-jammed other services from competitors. While I’ve had nominal FiOS service for the past three years, at a cost of $39.99 per month, the firm recently offered a test of its super-speed service, something that, if purchased, would add about $250 per month to my bill, although what part of that would be directly attributed to the Internet is not clear right now.

So for 30 days, I’m testing the high-speed service, which is supposed to deliver speeds up to 150 Megabits-per-second for downloads and 65 Mbps for uploads. On the download side, that’s about 100 times the speed of many DSL connections, and about 428 percent faster than the 35 Mbps download speed I had been accustomed to receiving.

To accomplish this, Verizon had to swap out the Internet router, the “device that forwards data packets across computer networks,” as Wikipedia defines it, to handle the higher speed. That meant a boost for my Wi-Fi signal as well, since the new router has two antennas for Wi-Fi sending, not one. It also meant an upgrade in wireless security, requiring a much more serious password, of which more in a moment.

The installation was fast and clean, the way Verizon has done just about everything I’ve seen it do. The only “speed bump” was an apparent lack of speed: Things were testing somewhat higher on my circa-2009 iMac running a 2.66 GHz Intel Core Duo processor. It’s not the speediest iMac these days, but it’s not chopped liver, either.

One of the Verizon technicians suggested a visit to the firm’s website for an online “optimizer,” to reset the MTU, or Maximum Transmission Unit, for data packets on a networked device. At first, that was a “fail,” since Verizon’s website will only optimize Windows-based PC devices. Mac users need to resort to an Apple-created application called “BroadbandTune,” the running of which will supposedly take you to MTU nirvana.

A vintage-2009 HP notebook/tablet PC, running Windows Vista no less, could be optimized the Verizon way and, presto, it’s getting those 150Mbps download speeds. The iMac, not so much. Depending upon which test I use, Verizon’s own or the online Speedtest.net service, I’m getting between 45.754 and 72.11 Mbps on the download side, and between 56.36 and 66.296 Mbps on the upload side. Using a 2010 MacBook Pro, there was less discrepancy on the upload and download speeds, but I topped out at 72.11 Mbps download and 66.905 upload.

These are respectable numbers, but are they worth the price Verizon is asking for this service?

Well, if you’re using a compatible PC that’s got its MTUs optimized for Verizon’s service, the answer is yes. On the Mac side — which accounts for between 8.5 and 10 percent of all U.S. computer sales, according to industry analyst firms Gartner Group and IDC — it will very much depend upon the model you have.

Apple promises its latest iMacs, launched last month, will easily handle the super high speed, and one is arriving soon for testing. If it delivers as promised, great, and I’ll certainly go to Apple for help on this if needed.

But Verizon would do well to see if it could offer more complete optimization advice to people using non-Windows computers. Besides the Mac there is Linux, after all, and while nowhere near approaching the Mac’s market penetration, there’s a coterie of loyal users.

My bottom line: I like the concept of faster network speeds, and I’m looking forward to giving this service a good workout. Then again, Sweden, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and Portugal offer Internet at speeds up to 1,024 Mbps, and I hear tell the countryside in Slovenia is just beautiful.

The bottom line: In my opinion, America needs to step up its development and implementation of higher Internet broadband speeds. This could not only revolutionize the way entertainment is delivered, but also create vast swaths of telework opportunities, easing commuting and improving lifestyles. The Verizon service I’m testing might be the opening effort toward that brighter future.

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