Cable providers pushing the new DOCSIS 3.1 protocol are finally getting competitive with fiber, boosting average home download speeds in the US to over 67Mbps, according to a new report from Ookla Speedtest.
Ookla, which is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company, looked at 111 million tests over the first half of 2017 and anointed Comcast Xfinity as the fastest overall ISP, beating Verizon Fios by a nose. The key here is that cable has gotten fast enough to beat fiber.
“Over the past year, XfinityXfinity has been aggressively seeding the market with advanced modems capable of bonding more channels, delivering a more consistent experience for customers,” the Ookla report says.
Xfinity also leads the ISP pack when it comes to consistently providing acceptable speeds that don’t slow down too much during busy times, Ookla says.
“Xfinity is ahead when it comes to consistently providing fixed broadband service that’s fast enough for common use. Spectrum and Cox are neck and neck for second and Verizon Fios is not far behind. AT&T Internet and Frontier make up the middle of the pack with service that meets the 10Mbps or higher threshold about two-thirds of the time, while CenturyLink struggles with only half of samples seen on their network meeting or exceeding that acceptable speed threshold,” the study says.
Nationwide results are more about bragging rights than anything else, though, because most Americans don’t have a broad selection of ISPs. So Ookla also broke down the fastest ISPs for 100 different metro areas.
In those results, you see clearly that where there’s a smaller, local competitor, it’s often the one to go with. Google Fiber torched the competition in Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Kansas City and Raleigh, and its Webpass product won in Miami and Oakland, CA. Other small competitors including Sonic Internet in San Francisco, Wave G in Seattle, and Buckeye Cablesystem in Toledo also took their cities.
Ookla’s results differed from our Fastest ISPs study because it used a different threshold for which providers to consider. Our top two providers were Hotwire and Suddenlink, both of which Ookla kicked out of its rankings, judging them to be too small. After that, we had Verizon Fios and Xfinity locked into a top-two battle, and Ookla does as well.
None of these studies, by the way, are able to parse out the effect of different service plan options on available speeds. But Ookla confirmed for us privately that where Google Fiber is listed as the fastest, it is in fact the fastest—it isn’t just that they don’t offer a slow tier.
Competition Is (Almost) Everything
Cable companies are upgrading, but it’s those smaller providers that offer Americans hope. Ookla speaks well of DOCSIS 3.1, which is helping cable providers deal with steadily greater amounts of streaming video demand by widening their pipes. We’ll see more of those rollouts this year.
But it’s clear that when you have an option that isn’t one of the big, default cable companies, it’s often the best option. (And that option can even be an alternative cable company; RCN and Sonic, both cable overbuilders, won cities in Ookla’s awards.)
“Regardless, the future of fixed broadband in the US is bright and fast,” the report says.