Optimum Ultra: So how fast is it?

Optimum Ultra: So how fast is it?

Summary: Optimum Online's $99 per month Ultra DOCSIS 3.0 service is one of fastest residential broadband offerings available today.


Optimum Online's $99 per month Ultra DOCSIS 3.0 service is one of fastest residential broadband offerings available today. But is it really "Up to" 101Mbps as advertised?

As I mentioned in a post last week about broadband service outages, Last Friday, I was upgraded to Optimum Online's Ultra service. Ultra is a new service offering from Cablevision which provides DOCSIS 3.0 service, which is rated at 101 Megabits (Mbps) or 12.53 Megabytes (MB) per second for download speeds and 15 Megabits or 1.85 Megabytes per second upload. Both of these speeds are advertised as "Up to", in other words burst mode speeds in optimal network conditions.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

The CISCO DPC3000, the premises equipment used for Optimum Online's Ultra Service.

Optimum's Ultra service is deployed no differently than any other cable broadband install, but even if you are an existing cable broadband customer with Cablevision, you will be charged $300 for an on-site visit and the new equipment, which is a CISCO-Scientific Atlanta DPC3000 DOCSIS 3.0 modem. The DPC3000 has a 160Mbps max throughput, but this is only if all four RF data frequencies are being used simultaneously. Currently, Cablevision is only using 3 of the 4 frequency channels on the DPC3000. DOCSIS 3.0 itself has a theoretical burst mode speed limit of over 300Mbps, but this is by using 8-way channel bonding and no product currently exists on the market which does this yet.

DOCSIS 3.0 Systems Architecture (Source: Cablemodem.com) Click on the diagram to enlarge.

The on-site visit is required because in order for the service to function properly, only a minimal amount of RF noise can be on the coaxial cable line, so typically the premises cable and connectors are swapped out and the line run to the local "Node" is tested for signal quality. Each Cablevision distribution node services approximately 500 customers, and connectivity from the node is home run via fiber-optic cables back to the main Optimum collocation centers.

In most circumstances, the visit should be a half hour or less to swap out the modem and check the signal quality. In my case, the supervisor elected to replace my entire cable infrastructure, and do some maintenance on the street-level signal amplifier that was mounted on the telephone pole which was having some moisture-related issues with its physical housing, so it was a 3 hour visit. I appreciated his thoroughness and attention to detail, so I have no qualms with the length of the outage.

After the modem is installed, the technician runs a series of speed tests using OOKLA's Speedtest.net site, using a direct CAT-5 connect to the DPC3000 from his laptop, which has a 1000Base-T (1Gig Ethernet) connection. On the first run, he got over 112Mbps using a server connection that had 21ms latency which was less than 50 miles away on Cablevision's own network. Satisfied, he went on his way, and I connected the modem to my router at the time, a NETGEAR Prosafe SRXN3205, which is an upper-end, branch office 5GHz wireless VPN rules-based firewall router with 8 gigabit Ethernet LAN switch ports, and a gigabit Ethernet WAN port for connecting to DSL, cable modem or other network equipment.

PDF Download: optimum-online-speed-tests-ookla

The architecture of my home network consists of 2 NETGEAR GS608 v2 8-port gigabit Ethernet switches, both of which host several desktops and test servers in my office and are directly attached to the broadband router. In addition to the switches the broadband router is connected to a VOIP appliance and a dedicated NETGEAR 5Ghz 802.11N wireless bridge that is linked to two other 5Ghz 80211.N bridges, one of which resides in my wife's office and provides her PC and printer with connectivity.

The second bridge provides 270-300Mbps connectivity for my Slingbox and my Roku Netflix streaming device in my living room. Additionally a single 2.4Ghz Linksys Wireless-N game adapter is connected wirelessly to the router for my DirecTV DVR in my upstairs bedroom. All the NETGEAR bridges are forced into 5Ghz Wireless-N mode so that there is no mixed traffic coming in from these devices and are dedicated to high-bandwidth tasks such as downloading movies. Every PC or server which is wired to a switch is forced to 1Gbps Full. Suffice to say this type of high-speed home network is exactly the type of customer that Optimum Ultra is designed to service.

So as soon as the Cable Guy left the house, I jack in the SRXN3205 and start doing some tests, with only my desktop PC switch connected so that my XP laptop and test Windows 7 PC have connectivity. The first thing I noticed was that on every single OOKLA speed test that I did to local NY-based, low latency servers is I maxxed out at about 50Mbps.

I had thought that Cablevision had pulled a fast one on me, but sure enough, when I direct connected the modem to my laptop or the Windows 7 test box, I got much higher transfer rates, around 100 megabits. This led me to suspect that either the SRXN3205 was misconfigured or some type of protocol negotiation issue or packet loss was occurring.  I'm not entirely convinced that the SRXN3205 is a bad solution, but I haven't had the chance to follow up with NETGEAR yet to see if we can resolve it -- I had my installation on July 3rd, and had little time to resolve the problem before everything shut down for the holiday weekend.

EDIT: Here's what I heard from the NETGEAR product manager, Jason Leung:

This is because the SRXN3205 is only rated 60 Mbps!  A firewall is very different from a router and you can’t compare the throughput between the two.

This is because a Router is not a Firewall.  A Router routes every single packet as fast as it can.  A Firewall has to do real work to determine which packets to route and which to drop ---- hence it’s a VPN/FW, not a router.

A lot of consumer grade equipment advertise FW capabilities but in reality all that consumer grade equipment is doing is NAT.

For customers which need a true rules-based VPN firewall for Ultra or FiOS, Jason recommends the FVX538, which has a WAN port that is rated for 100Mbps sustained data transfer, as opposed to the SRXN3205.

To eliminate the possibility of it being the NETGEAR router, I went out to Best Buy and purchased a new Gigabit SOHO router, an Apple Airport Extreme. Sure enough, I got very high throughput with the OOKLA tests with the Airport Extreme, and I probably would have kept the device had it not been for the fact that the Extreme has very limited firewall capabilities and lacks port triggering and a number of other advanced networking features I need for various types of testing.

The Airport Extreme also lacks a web-management interface, and only has 3 switched Gigabit Ethernet ports for LAN attached devices, which I think is a bad design choice for what is probably the most expensive SOHO router on the market. In my opinion it should have a web GUI and more advanced firewall functionality and at least five ports for $179.00. However, if you are a SOHO user that happens to use a bunch of Apple products such as the Apple TV and Macs, you'll probably love the product, particularly if you are using a service such as Ultra or FiOS. You'll also notice from the speed test PDF that is enclosed in this post that it scored overall the fastest in the 3 routers I tested with on the OOKLA benchmarks.

In any case I returned the Airport Extreme to Best Buy and decided to go with another product, the CISCO Linksys WRT610, which is a gigabit Ethernet 5Ghz/2.4Ghz dual band SOHO router. My rationale with going with a Linksys instead of another NETGEAR was that I wanted to eliminate any possibility of there being a vendor compatibility issue between the CISCO and NETGEAR equipment. In theory, the WRT610 should be fully optimized and certified to work with CISCO's own broadband equipment even though Scientfic Atlanta and Linksys are two different subsidiaries.

Over the 4th of July weekend and through early this week, I ran a battery of OOKLA speed tests on Speedtest.net to determine just how fast the quality of service I was actually getting. OOKLA's methodology for SpeedTest.net is documented on their web site, but suffice to say that the lower the latency you have to the target server, the faster you are going to go. So anything under 20ms ping times you are going to get very fast results.

As you increase packet trip times, your speed decreases dramatically. Trip time is entirely dependent on the speed of the link at every step of the route and how many "hops" you have between your premises equipment, to the backbone of your broadband provider, out to the Internet, and to the target server. You also have to assume that with any network connection that a SOHO router itself is going to add packet overhead, around 10 percent, and you'll see another 20 percent overhead on the WAN connection itself just added by using TCP/IP itself. So 70 percent utilization is really the best you can hope for, in fully optimal circumstances.

That being said, OOKLA's SpeedTest.net site is not necessarily a good overall test of whether or not you can saturate the broadband connection, because it only does about a 10-20 second burst of data from one end to the other. If you are connecting to a low latency server, that is barely enough time for the transfer to "Ramp Up".  Therefore I decided to do more extensive testing and "Loaded the deck" for a best-case scenario to max out the line.

For my first series of speed tests, I contacted Limelight Networks to see if they could provide me with some large files I could download over http protocol using Linux's wget utility, which is the web protocol equivalent of an FTP client. Limelight, as some of you may recall, is a large content delivery network provider and was the hosting solution that NBC chose for delivering the Olympics video content. They were happy to oblige, providing me with a set of files that were within 9ms ping time from my premises equipment, and less than 3 hops away from Cablevision's network.

PDF: limelight-pingresults

PDF: limelight-bigfiles-withrouter (100 and 500MB file download using WRT610N)

PDF: limelight-modemonly (same tests as above with CISCO modem direct connected to PC)

Note: All tests above use obfuscated results to mask identity of the servers used to protect content and supplier bandwidth. All metrics are unaltered.

As you can see from the test results, when downloading from Limelight, the transfer speed was maxxed out at around 32Megabits or around 4MB per second, way short of the full 101Mbps that is advertised. I'm still not finished doing tests with Limelight and this slower than expected speed may due to a QoS configuration issue, so continue to watch this space. [EDIT: See "Trafficking in Michael Jackson" for an explanation. We got Jackdotted.]

As a second test, I contacted a friend who owns a large ISP based out of Boston, who has a collocation center with 3Gigabits of aggregate bandwidth. His servers are less than 20ms ping from my premises, so I did some large file download tests using the same methodology as with Limelight. I did a lot better, around 8.5 to 10MB per second. The tests were performed at off hours, at 10-11PM at night, where the least amount of traffic was hitting his servers, so this was a purely best case scenario where latency was as low as I could expect and incoming bandwidth was as big as I could possibly want.

PDF: 3gigpipes (ISO file download using WRT610N)

[EDIT: A re-attempt at the Boston-based 3gig provider on July 9th yielded a burst transfer rate of 11.4MB per second, or 91Mbps on 579MB ISO]

The results match with my expectations of 20 to 30 percent overhead on the bandwidth with an expected net performance of about 70-80Mbps (10MB a second) under very optimal conditions.

In summary, I do think that Ultra and other high-bandwidth services such as FiOS do provide unparalleled speeds to subscriber households, but the caveat is that you cannot expect to get performance like this all the time, and that network overhead, latency and routing is a reality we're never going to get away from. As more content ends up at CDNs like Limelight and Akamai where bandwidth-intensive files are locally cached near the customer, the benefits of these fast broadband connections will be more evident -- but until then, early adopters will have to put up with vastly fluctuating performance.

What have your experiences with Optimum Ultra and Verizon's FiOS been like? Have you performed similar benchmarks? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Mobility, Broadband, Hardware, Networking, Servers, Telcos


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Up to 101Mbps is not fast

    I get a MINIMUM of 100 Mbps plus VoIP (including the phone) for a whopping $20/month. No limits. No caps. I don't live in America, but you guys are getting seriously ripped off. Just my 2 cents.

    Fastest service where I live is being advertised at 160Mbps.... sweet.
    • Korea?

      Where are you located? Although the US is considered a leading nation for many things when it comes to technology we don't have an updated infrastructure. People here get excited to have their cellphone able to take video while people in places like Japan have video calling for years now on their cells.

      100mbps is not available to consumers in most US markets. Its not even available to businesses in all markets and where it is available you pay alot for it.
      • Leading?

        "the US is considered a leading nation for many things"

        like what? being the financial centre of the western world isn't about leading

        I've always considered US to be the leading edge on media drama, capitalistic idiots and self hype. But I honestly can't think of any - and I mean ANY - leading anything to come out of "THE(/OUR) STATES" in a while.

        Half of Europe has started subscribing to the idea of 'the American dream' as though it is attainable. It actually repulses me to a degree that I feel like setting fire to my American passport and apologising for our exports.

        Why can't we actually lead? With some integrity, honesty and direction? Forget the 300Mbps connection, free healthcare anyone?

        P.S. had a rather bad morning, apologies
        • I understand

          I often feel the same way about it.
          Hey no one is gonna pass our trade deficit anytime soon! We're number 1!
        • Leading no matter where we go?

          "free healthcare anyone?"

          There's no such thing as "free" healthcare. There's simply healthcare paid for by someone else.

          I would like America to resume the leadership role where freedom is concerned. Freedom is not letting the government dictate the lightbulbs you use, or provide you with cradle-to-grave healthcare. Freedom is having authority over your own life and responsibility for it. So, if you want healthcare, don't be a feudalistic serf and have your employer provide it. Don't be a socialist drone and have the government provide it. Work for what you want and buy it for yourself. Don't force me to join a government program (or pay a $1,000 fine) just because *you* want to be able to visit the doctor every time you get a hangnail, at no charge to *you*.

          America used to be the leading beacon in the concept of individual liberty, where each of us was considered competent to run our own lives. Now we're all potential terrorists and incompetents; we must be coerced to strap ourselves into our vehicles whether we want to or not and instead of happily sitting on mommy's lap, today's baby is likewise strapped into a torture chair in the back seat; the decision made by the government and not the parents (but when the baby gets old enough for an abortion... suddenly only then is it her body).
          The only thing we are considered competent to handle is the voting booth... provided we vote for the left candidate.

          Let's lead the world in entrepreneurship. Let's lead the world in allowing the individual to do whatever he wants with his life, if it's driving an SUV or eating sixteen cheeseburgers at once, creating the next Wal-Mart or Apple Computers, or inventing an internal combustion engine that runs off of polar bear tears.
          • Right On!

            We need to preserve the freedom of the health insurance companies to
            wring as much money as possible out of the people they insure and to
            decide which Americans deserve the privilege to be able to pay them for
            Did you ever wonder how the insurance companies could afford to build
            those huge buildings, pay their executives so much and also provide a
            good profit for their stockholders? I thought not. Probably a side effect
            from sitting in the back seat of your parents car and occasionally flying
            forward and hitting the windshield with you head.
          • Right On? You couldn't be further Off!

            First of all this is way off topic. Second of all, look at every country around the world who offers "free" healthcare, it is just passing the costs along to those who actually work (or want to work). Insurance companies are not the ones causing costs to skyrocket, their profits are steady, not skyrocketing. It is the drug companies, medical resources and others making it so easy for someone to go into a doctor's office and explain that they need an MRI or a scan to determine the problem.

            Somewhere along the way, our country and now much of the world has decided that it is their "right" to get something for free, i.e., a hand-out.

            For your uninformed mind, most health insurance companies run at about 93%-95% payments. They take in money, invest it till they need to pay claims and those investments are where they are able to give bonuses (and lots of the salaries). This is why so many of them have done so poorly over the last couple years.

            But, you seem to have it all figured out, government healthcare is the way to go, right? How is medicare working out for your parents/grandparents -- don't forget, you take away the insurance companies and you won't have any supplemental coverage, suddenly Grandma's retirement checks will be cut by 40% and all her retirement savings will be subject to and ADDITIONAL 40% tax to pay for you to get "free" healthcare.
          • things like

            being required to be "strapped in" (seat belt law) became required because people were no longer being responsible or taking responsibility for their actions or the consequences. once that happens the gov gets involved. if you don't want the authorities cracking down on something don't let it get out of control...
        • We're still recovering from Al Gore inventing the Internet

          We'll soon be paying the price for the Kyoto shakedown.
    • Have you actually tested your connection?

      Have you tested it with various sites?
      • Thankfully -

        Were back on about internet speeds,not a Nanny State discussion.Here in UK paying ?20 for a 10Mb's from Virgin cable,but only getting 5.8Mb's.Feeling a bit miffed,but going back a few years to 56Kb's,I should really be happy.
  • RE: Optimum Ultra: So how fast is it?

    Ah - just replied to a different column with same
    story. Outages in Dix Hills with Cablevision again!
    Makes anyone want to scream!

    Do you really think it will be fast all the time? With
    constant outages in this criminal conglomerate of a
    company, I can't imagine service will be reliable with
    Ultra. Fast is good, except when fast only works 1/2
    of the time.

    As you pointed out before, Cablevision will not be
    quick to respond to my concerns. (more accurately,
    they are not being quick or responsive in the least)
    We can't all be columnists for major blogs :)
  • RE: Optimum Ultra: So how fast is it?

    From what I hear, FiOS can supply up to 300-400MB
    without having to change much at all. It will be interesting to see what happens to the DOCSIS speeds when saturation occurs and "bandwidth stealing" occurs.
    • This is FUD

      Optimum is just as fiber-based as FiOS is, it has all the same back end infrastructure. The only difference between the two is with FiOS you have to be your own "Node" and home run the fiber to the central office/back end, whereas with DOCSIS 3 you have a large community node with telecom-class switching infrastructure that services a lot of customers and has huge fiber trunks going back into the DC. The only major advantage FiOS has is that with fiber, you arent as susceptible to the elements as Coax strung over telephone poles and to the premises over a period of several years will degrade and needs replacement, whereas with fiberoptics buried underground its less of a problem. The cost of tearing up the streets and such for many communities and the disruption it will cause makes FiOS a no-go for a lot of people in this country.

      FiOS will win out only when everyone gets fiber runs and they can crank the bandwidth over 1Gbps, in which case the limitations of Coax will be apparent, maybe 5 or 10 years from now. Until then DOCSIS/Cable is just as fast. FiOS will have the same limitations on latency and routing that I identified in this article.
      • RE: This is FUD

        Quote: [i]The only major advantage FiOS has is that with fiber, you arent as susceptible to the elements as Coax strung over telephone poles and to the premises over a period of several years will degrade and needs replacement, whereas with fiberoptics buried underground its less of a problem.[/i]

        I am sorry to dispute you, but NOT EVERY FiOS service area is [b]completely underground.[/b] In my neighborhood, several blocks are supplied by aerial cable to the back yard utility pole. Then, Verizon will run you underground. The funny thing is that a few streets away, everything is underground, right up to the house. Go Figure! Since I live in a hurricane prone state, I am curious as to the reliability of that aerial fiber optic cable during high winds. If it gets whipped around a lot, it would not surprise me if the glass strands break.
        • Really?

          I had no idea, I thought they buried everything so they could prevent degradation.
          • No, much infrastructure is above-ground...

            Here in Westchester County (NY), it depends where you are. Most suburban areas have overhead wires exclusively, and there are NO plans to change that in the future (which is why we are hard-hit with outages due to weather events). Some more-expensive housing developments have underground utilities, probably mostly for esthetics, but even those typically have above-ground feeds somewhere "down the street".
      • Jason, people just don't get it with the Internet.

        Hi Jason -

        The current design of the public Internet is such that consistently high speeds are not yet possible - throughout the world.

        That's why Internet-2 was invented for the Military and certain Amademic institutions.

        All of these Speed Test sites are rather worthless when you cannot reliably stream HD level content to your computer.

        What Cablevision is offering is just Market Hype. Watch the speeds fall when the kids get home from school, or the nature of your web intensive application demands more.

  • Speedtest

    try using both toast.net's speedtest ( you can select both multiple file type and different host servers ) and testmy.net. I think these 2 speedtest sites are a better match fir the type of testing you want.
  • Only for the cosmopolitan

    I love these arguments! Hell, I'd be happy if i could get a 10mb cable connection. The best we are offered by Charter is 5mb!