San Diego County’s cable providers have recently boosted Internet speeds across their networks to a gigabit per second to handle the growing demands of streaming video.
Cox Communications, the region’s largest cable provider, said this week that gigabit speeds are now available in 94 percent of its San Diego County coverage area.
Charter Communications-owned Spectrum, formerly Time-Warner Cable, began offering gigabit Internet speeds in April within its San Diego footprint, which generally lies north of Interstate 8 and up to Rancho Bernardo and Carlsbad.
Faster speeds come as cable and telecommunications firms struggle with subscribers ditching their pay TV packages for streaming Internet video services such as Netflix.
Last year, cable and teleco firms lost 3.6 million video subscribers nationwide, according to Kagan Research, a division of S & P Global Market Intelligence.
But their broadband Internet subscribers increased by more than 2.3 million.
“People still associate cable with video, but broadband overtook video quite a few years ago in terms of their largest subscriber service,” said Ian Olgeirson, an analyst with Kagan Research.
Speed matters for some of these households where multiple family members are streaming Internet video to tablets, smartphones and televisions simultaneously.
“We know YouTube is consuming a ton of data,” said Suzanne Schlundt, a vice president at Cox Communications. “But there are also a lot of other devices in people’s homes.”
Gigabit speeds can download a high-definition movie in 60 second, 100 songs in three seconds and about 1,000 photos in a minute.
“It used to take almost as long to download a movie as it did to watch it when you were getting ready to go on a flight,” said Schlundt. “With this, you can do it so much faster.”
It’s not cheap, however. Cox’s gigabit plan starts at $120 a month for Internet-only customers. It’s $100 a month as part of a TV bundle.
Spectrum charges $125 a month for stand-alone gigabit Internet and $115 for a TV bundle. New Spectrum customers get a break. They can sign up for $105 a month.
“Speed has always been the primary seller of broadband services, and the operators recognize that,” said Olgeirson. “Gigabit speed carries a premium price tag.”
Less expensive broadband plans that deliver 200 megabits to 400 megabits per second usually are enough for most streaming subscribers, he said.
But as streaming video increases and more gadgets – from refrigerators to security cameras to thermostats — are connected, “you can certainly see a road map in which a gigabit becomes less marketing and more reality in terms of the need for it,” said Olgeirson.
San Diego ranks among the more savvy cities nationwide for over-the top video streaming, with 71 percent of households having access to an Internet streaming device, according to Nielsen’s Local Watch report, which examines Internet video trends.
Gigabit Internet has become the marquee speed target for Internet providers over the past few years. Verizon FiOS and Google Fiber set the gigabit bar by running fiber optic cables to homes in certain neighborhoods in a handful of cities nationwide.
These uber-fast speeds have been limited in San Diego County. Verizon FiOS and Google Fiber aren’t available here. Existing Internet providers such as Cox and AT&T offered gigabit service to new neighborhoods where fiber cables could be installed during construction.
Upstart Internet provider Webpass also serves up gigabit speeds in San Diego, but its coverage is limited to certain apartments/condo complexes mostly downtown and in nearby neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, cable companies nationwide have been upgrading their networks to Docsis 3.1 technology this year, which powers gigabit speeds without having to run fiber optic lines directly to individual homes. About half of Cox Communications customers nationwide have access to gigabit Internet. In addition to San Diego, the company operates cable systems in Orange County, Phoenix, Atlanta and several other cities.
“We know others do offer gigabit speeds but they are selecting specific neighborhoods and we are bringing it to all of our customers,” said Schlundt.
Within Cox’s footprint, some neighborhoods around Poway can’t get gigabit speeds just yet. But the company expects to complete upgrades for those households later this year.