Faster Streaming Helps Keep This Company One Step Ahead

The Wicked Witch of ISPs asks: "Mirror, Mirror on the wall, which network is the fastest streamer of them all?" The Mirror responds: "If your name is AT&T, it ain't you."

Streaming-video services need big pipes to dispense all those bytes as quickly as possible to media-hungry consumers. So it is crucial for companies such as Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) -- especially since it is trying to wean itself off its dependence on mailed-out DVDs -- to find out which Internet service providers can deliver the goods the quickest. To learn which indeed is fastest, Netflix ran the major ISPs through its speed trap and released the results last week.

I found the findings a mixture of "well, I expected that" and "how can that be?" It won't surprise most people that the fastest ISP uses fiber-optic technology, but it may be a bit of a shock that the slowest of the fiber/cable ISPs also uses fiber. The six other companies in that category all use cable.

Following are the results of the cable and fiber ISP tests. I have to point out that I had to extrapolate the speed figures from the Netflix graphic that was posted on its "Tech Blog" Web page. Verizon's (NYSE: VZ  ) FiOS fiber-optic network is the speed demon here. But how can AT&T's fiber network be the slowest of the group? That's a head-scratcher.
 

Cable and Fiber ISPs

Speed

 (Kilobits Per Second)

Verizon Communications FiOS

Fiber

2,550

Charter Communications

Cable

2,450

Comcast

Cable

2,425

Cablevision Systems

Cable

2,400

Time Warner Cable

Cable

2,380

Cable One

Cable

2,315

Cox Communications

Cable

2,310

AT&T

Fiber

2,260

Source: Speeds extrapolated from Netflix graphic.

Quite a bit further behind came the DSL deliverers. Included is Clearwire's (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) wireless broadband service, called Clear, which uses that carrier's WiMAX 4G technology. Followers of the Sprint Nextel and Clearwire saga know that Clearwire is trying to upgrade its 4G wireless services to LTE, a much faster technology than WiMAX. Funding is the major problem here for Clearwire.
 

DSL and Wireless ISPs

Speed

(Kilobits Per Second)

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL  )

DSL

1,760

Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN  )

DSL

1,720

AT&T (NYSE: T  )

DSL

1,575

Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR  )

DSL

1,500

Verizon Communications

DSL

1,460
Clearwire 1,300

Source: Speeds extrapolated from Netflix graphic.

Bragging rights
It's a dog-eat-dog ISP world. Just witness the Verizon FiOS vs. Comcast Xfinity wars. I wouldn't be surprised if these speed figures show up in a FiOS commercial soon. It wouldn't shock me either if somehow Verizon tried to use its bragging rights in the ISP world to give it an edge in its wireless competition with AT&T.

But the speed testing probably won't help Netflix restore investor confidence after its recent gaffes involving splitting off its DVD-rental service and its streaming-video services. Something like that doesn't happen quickly.

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Fool contributor Dan Radovsky owns shares of AT&T and Frontier Communications. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix and AT&T. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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