Ever since Bell Aliant began their rollout of FibreOP in New Brunswick two years ago, I've been anxiously awaiting its arrival in the Halifax area. Early this year, it was announced they would be rolling out the service in HRM over the summer months. Summer came and went, and while FibreOP was deployed in my neighbourhood in August, my cul-de-sac street was passed over. Well, ultimately in mid-October it became available to my address and I made the appointment. A week and a half later, I finally had my 70/30 internet connection and the FibreOP TV package.
I've always been an eager beaver when it comes to faster internet speeds. Back in 1998 I was torturing the phone company (then called MT&T) on a regular basis to bring their ADSL offering to my town so I could get off dial-up. That eventually happened, of course, and while the DSL speed was increased over the years, it finally topped out at about 6.5 Mbps downstream, and only 0.5 Mbps upstream. It was serviceable, but way behind the times especially with Eastlink offering a 40 Mbps service. Still, I had my Sympatico email address that I didn't want to give up, so I stuck it out with Bell Aliant.
On the day of the appointment, I got up bright and early to await the arrival of the FibreOP tech, who would be here "between 8am and 6pm". After much hand-wringing all morning thinking the appointment might be cancelled, the techs (2 of them) arrived at about 1:30. They got right to work stringing a fiber-optic cable from the telephone pole to my house, and preparing the ONT (Optical Network Terminal) inside my house. About 3 hours later, they were all done and I had 70/30 internet and FibreOP TV.
Connecting the fibre optic line.
Hooray! He's here!
First off, the internet speed is a world of difference from the High-Speed Ultra DSL service I had been using. I wasn't sure if regular web browsing would be much different, but it is noticeably more responsive. Of course, it depends on the site you're using, but most popular sites now completely load in sub 1-second speed. Some even feel nearly instantaneous. Since I never used Eastlink's internet offering, I can't compare the experience with them, but it is a much better experience than DSL. As for file transfer rates, as you might expect, it is an order-of-magnitude difference. With DSL, my downloads would max out at around 0.8 MB per second (800 KB/s). When I can find a server with big enough pipes, my FibreOP downloads will sometimes reach 8 MB/s, though 5 MB/s seems to be more common. This makes a tremendous difference with usability, since as a Microsoft developer I am often downloading large installers from MSDN which I previously had to let run overnight, but can now run pretty much on-demand, as even a 1.5 GB download will take only 15 minutes. Oh, and my wife's web-browsing experience is unaffected when I'm downloading large files, which wasn't the case on High-Speed Ultra.
Upload speeds are also in a completely different class. This is extremely important with the advent of "cloud computing" and the internet-based backing-up of files. If you upload files regularly (such as using Carbonite or Mozy for backup, or even say uploading images to blog posts), you'll definitely appreciate the 30 Mpbs upstream capability of FibreOP.
The new "modem" is an ActionTEC R1000H (bottom) that dwarfs my old DSL modem (top).
Moving on the TV service, well, I had my reservations about moving off Eastlink to FibreOP TV. My thinking was that Eastlink has been doing TV for decades, and Bell Aliant has only recently gotten into that game. I like the "phone company" for my telephone, and the "cable company" for my TV (I have too many trees around my property for satellite service to be an option). Of course, both companies now offer pretty much the exact same services, and their pricing structure is such that, financially, it makes little sense to divide your services between the two. The "bundle" pricing from both companies is designed to ensure you are very motivated to keep all your services with that one provider, and FibreOP is no different. Even with the $15/month upgrade to 70 Mbps downstream, and opting for the "Best" bundle offering which includes the movie channels and HBO, I'll be saving somewhere in the neighbourhood of $75 a month (after the 3-month promotional price of $99 per month) versus having my cable service separately with Eastlink. So I decided to take a leap of faith and switch my TV to FibreOP and cancel my Eastlink account.
I've only had FibreOP for five days, but the TV service actually does seem to be adequate. Some individuals on internet forums had been reporting that the picture quality with FibreOP TV was a bit "soft" or less sharp than Eastlink. This may be true, but if it is the difference is very subtle. And it would surely be noticeable to me, as my "TV" is actually a 120-inch front-projector (smaller TV sizes are better at hiding signal flaws). And while the picture may not be as sharp (I haven't really decided yet if it is or isn't), what does seem to be gone, or at least much less prevalent, is the "macro blocking" on high-definition stations that was so frequent on Eastlink. Macro blocking is the pixilation effect you see on a video image when there is a lot of motion on the screen, and the video compression is turned up rather high by the provider. If my research is correct, this may be because Eastlink uses MPEG-2 compression while FibreOP uses MPEG-4 (H.264). MPEG-2 is good (it's the compression used on Blu-ray discs) but requires almost twice the bandwidth that MPEG-4 needs for similar image quality. So, perhaps FibreOP doesn't have to compress the signal as much due to the lower bandwidth requirements, but I'm really just guessing and I'm not very sure of my facts here. One thing that I am sure of, however, is the irritating lack of proper lip-synchronization on at least one channel (CityTV) with FibreOP. I'm not sure what the root cause of this is and I haven't spent any time trying to fix it yet, but it's a problem I didn't have with CityTV on Eastlink.
The ONT (Optical Network Terminal) attached to a joist in my basement.
The PVR that FibreOP uses is the Motorola VIP1216 running Mircosoft's MediaRoom IPTV software. It's a much smaller unit than Eastlink's Motorola DCX3400 unit and while the features are similar, the user interface looks completely different. Instead of the colourful, opaque UI on the Eastlink box, MediaRoom uses a translucent overlay on top of the video that's currently playing. I don't find either interface to be inherently better, but the MediaRoom fonts are much more smooth (no jaggies) and the TV listings show a 2-hour window instead of Eastlink's 90-minute window. Also, the FibreOP unit is nearly silent compared to the constant hard-drive spinning and clicking you hear from the Eastlink unit. In fact, I had to double-check that the FibreOP box even came with a hard drive because I couldn't hear it at all! The recording options are slightly more impressive than the Eastlink PVR I was using, too. The FibreOP unit can record up to four programs at once, although only two of those can be high-def. FibreOP's PVR is also "whole-home" capable, essentially acting as a kind of media server for all the TVs in your house. Eastlink also has a "whole-home" PVR option, though I've never tried either service - I only have one TV.
Not everything is rosy with the FibreOP machine, though. Eastlink's is definitely more responsive - I've found the FibreOP box hesitates more often, frequently requiring an extra second or two before it will process a command from the remote. Not a big difference, but noticeable. Also, Eastlink's PVR allowed me to plug in an external 1GB eSATA hard drive to obtain a vastly increased storage capacity. The FibreOP PVR only has a USB port but it currently serves no function. I'm not even sure if USB 2 can support the speed necessary for real-time recording of high-def video anyway. The hard drive in the FibreOP unit is a measly 160 GB (using a quaint IDE interface instead of SATA), but the MPEG-4 efficiency allows it to store just about the same amount as the bigger Eastlink drive. Still, not being able to expand the storage capacity of the unit is a definite disadvantage. Also, on occasion I've used the Firewire port on the Eastlink machine to record material to my computer for longer-term storage. No such ability exists with the FibreOP unit.
FibreOP TV has a robust offering of "video on-demand" (VOD) services, and so did Eastlink. I haven't bothered much with either, but I'm completely aghast at FibreOP's $7 price-tag for "rented" movies using VOD. Sorry, but that's way too much to charge for a movie rental. I'll be giving this feature a big miss.
Lastly, there are some differences in the channel line-up, both in available packages and stations. Moving from Eastlink, I've lost AMC, History HD and MovieTime HD (FibreOP doesn't offer AMC at all, History is in standard-def only and MovieTime is only available in standard-def in a $5/month theme pack) but FibreOP's movie package includes MPix, which was an additional charge with Eastlink. There are likely other differences (say, with Sports programming, but I'm not much of a sports fan anyway) but by and large, I'm satisfied with the FibreOP channel offerings.
Overall, I am extremely happy with my move to Bell Aliant's FibreOP services. I mostly made the move for the high-speed internet service, and opted to include the TV service only for the cost savings over a separate Eastlink account. Naturally, the internet offering blows pretty much everything else out of the water, while the TV option isn't bad at all. If you can live without AMC or some of the other channels only available on Eastlink, I would definitely suggest you consider FibreOP TV. As a bundled service, I would highly recommend it.