Xfinity now offers Gigabit Internet

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Comcast’s cable TV and Internet provision service, Xfinity, has introduced a little treat for members. Where you might have warmed up by now to paying $80 a month for 30Mbps (megabits per second) up and down, 2016 is the year where that’s set to make the sudden jump to $70 a month for 1Gbps — but only if you live in one of the qualifying zones, first, and second, agree to a three-year contract with the service. Otherwise, you’re looking at $150 a month for an off-contract deal. Still, we’re not complaining — that’s a ludicrous price tag (in a good way) for the speeds you’re getting.

Now, we have no reservations about contracts — they kind of suck. Nobody likes being bound ball-and-chain to a years-long financial obligation, especially if it’s an expensive one for a dubious benefit in exchange. However, there’s something to be said for having Internet that downloads gigabytes worth of goodness in as much time as you can cook a Hot Pocket with, and let us assure you that gigabit speeds are not going out of style within the next decade.

Straight from Comcast’s own corporate website, these are the figures you can expect with their $70-a-month service:

  • a 15GB game in two minutes
  • a 5GB movie in 40 seconds
  • a 600MB show in four seconds
  • a 150MB album in two seconds

On the surface, it sounds great. But there are a few, shall we say, essential questions to ask:

  1. Are they going to consistently deliver on those figures in all service areas?
  1. What sort of upgrades will need to be done to your wiring, modem and router to take advantage of it?
  1. Do the devices in your household have enough processing power and modern-enough WiFi modems to handle all of that bandwidth?
  1. Did a somewhere-hidden throttling data cap get pushed up in proportion to the bandwidth improvement?
  1. Can Comcast really handle potentially millions of customers tapping into this service within the next two years?

On the other hand, there’s the question of diminishing returns. Who really needs that kind of bandwidth? Nobody, not even most high schools or college campuses, require that much throughput capacity for even HD media streaming; these sorts of places — which need reliable bandwidth for their computer labs, student mobile connections and faculty-managed online services — usually bring 100Mbps in tow, which is one-tenth the speed Xfinity is now offering.

To top that off, most essential applications use kilobits at best, if even that much. Even online gaming takes only a handful of kilobits at worst (although goodness forbid anyone were to seize a chunk of a 768k bandwidth for Facebook or Google image searches). What really kills bandwidth are things like 1080p, 2K and 4K video streaming; large image files, including webpage backgrounds; full over-the-net model renders, and basically anything else that doesn’t communicate with a simple yes/no protocol that mobile apps and video games typically use.

Setting the technicalities aside, there’s no immediate drawback to affording $70 (or even $150) a month for that much speed. However, it’s worth noting that not all customers have had the rabbit’s foot with signing up for the service. Still, if you’re willing to pay for it, and you live in an area that’s provided with it (Chicago being the best spot to find it at the moment), then by all means — give it a shot.

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