Faster internet upload speeds finally coming for Comcast customers who pay more

Comcast cable internet customers have long suffered with uploads that are a mere fraction of download speeds. As I wrote in January, that is going to change when a newer cable modem protocol starts rolling out late next year.

But on the not-as-distant horizon is a new, transitional approach from Comcast that lets its Xfinity internet customers enjoy dramatically faster uploads. While it’s not yet in Houston – and local Comcast officials don’t want to talk about when it might be – upload speeds as fast as 200 Mbps are being offered to customers in the northeast.

For an additional price, of course. And a requirement that you use Comcast’s modem/router gateway rather than your own equipment.

The moves come as Comcast and other cable internet providers face challenges from traditional competitors, such as AT&T, and newcomers alike.

While AT&T continues to build out its fiber-optic-based service in Houston and nationally, both T-Mobile and Verizon are aggressively marketing wireless home internet service based on their 5G mobile networks. And in the suburbs, smaller internet providers are making inroads by installing fiber and going head-to-head with incumbents there.

Comcast announced the new service with faster uploads earlier this month, saying it initially is limited to 14 northeastern states, from Maine to Virginia. The company is also introducing a new, 2-gigabit-per-second download speed tier. The news was first reported by Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica.

In the Houston, Comcast’s Xfinity service currently has download speeds ranging from 75 Mbps to 1.2 Gbps. Upload speeds are limited to 10 Mbps for the 75- through 400-Mbps plans. That jumps to 20 Mbps uploads for the 800- to 1-Gbps download tiers. The 1.2-Gbps download tier gets you 35 Mbps uploads.

The company periodically increases download speeds, and it recently did so in the Houston area. All of its tiers got a speed bumps with the exception of the 1.2-Gbps one. Upload speeds, however, remained the same, even though that half of an internet connection is even more important in the work-from-home and internet-gaming era.

A lot of that has to do with the limitations of the current cable-modem standard, DOCSIS 3.1. Technical issues prevent cable providers from selling symmetrical download and upload speeds. Meanwhile, fiber internet service typically is available with symmetrical speeds, giving them a competitive advantage.

The next version of the cable standard, DOCSIS 4.0, allows symmetrical speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 10 gigabits per second, although the earliest implementations will be nowhere near that fast. The industry is branding this as 10G.

When I first wrote about 10G at the start of 2022, Comcast executives said they were hoping to offer DOCSIS 4.0 service by the end of this year or early next. Now they’re talking about beginning later in 2023.

So what Comcast is doing in the northeast – and will eventually offer in Houston – can be considered a stopgap measure until the new standard rolls out.

Here’s what the company’s northeast customers are seeing:

Comcast is offering customers there improved upload speeds that are five to 10 times faster than what they currently have – between 75 and 200 Mbps. But to get that, they must pay an additional $25 a month for Comcast’s xFi Complete package and use one of the company’s xFi gateways. That price also includes an online security service, a gateway upgrade within a three-year window, and, if needed, a WiFi extender called an xFi Pod.

In some northeastern markets, Comcast is starting to offer a 2-Gbps download tier with 200 Mbps uploads. It’s worth noting that Comcast does not have a data cap in the northeast, thanks to greater competition and consumer-friendly lawmakers.

In the Houston area and many other parts of the country, Comcast has a 1.2-terabyte limit on the amount of data used in a billing period. Customers get one “courtesy” month to go over, and after that they are charged $10 for every 50 gigabytes over 1.2 terabytes.

Comcast already sells the xFi Complete package in the Houston area. While it doesn’t include the faster upload speeds yet, it does include unlimited data. Heavy users can also remove the cap by paying $30 a month. But given that xFi Complete is $25, includes an advanced gateway and, eventually in Houston, faster upload speeds, it’s a much better deal for data hogs.

As I wrote in March, the high price of routers and modems capable of gigabit-plus speeds and the latest WiFi standards means the conventional wisdom that owning your cable-network equipment saves money in the long term is not always true. The XB8 I reviewed in April is $14 a month outside of an xFi Complete package, while high-end modems and routers with similar specs can run in the $300-$500 range, or more. It would take many months of not paying Comcast’s $14-a-month rental fee to recoup that outlay.

Unfortunately, there’s bad news for those of us who use our own modem and router with Comcast’s network. Even though that equipment may be capable of providing faster download and upload speeds, Comcast will only offer it to users of its own hardware. The company told Ars Technica that user-owned equipment won’t get faster uploads until “later next year.”

At least it’s coming. But as is often the case with Comcast, you’ll pay more for it.

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