Cutting Cable and Satellite: The Big Picture

On our lists of businesses we love to hate, our cable/phone/Internet providers and satellite TV providers rank right at the top, regardless of who it is. The temptation is overwhelming to cut our ties with each and every one of them, and many people have given up landline phones and cable or satellite TV. Many have resolved to cut them in 2016. If you’re thinking about making your great escape, consider the possible consequences.

At first glance, it all seems pretty simple. Get rid of cable and satellite and stop paying for all the channels in your bundle that you never watch. Program providers and carriers such as Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon, Hulu and Roku, to name a few, all stream content over the Internet. Even longtime cable and satellite staples, such as HBO, Showtime and ESPN stream programming, and so do the over-the-air networks. All have charges, and all limit program availability.

So, if you think you are going to save a bundle of money by unpacking a bundle of TV channels, you may be in for some big surprises. A recent article in the New York Times can give you an idea of what some streaming services might cost you if you choose an a-la-carte combination of services. Depending on the services you choose, you could easily hit $100 for very limited offerings. And, just like any provider can suck you in with low introductory prices, you can expect to see prices go up and take you back to Square 1.

In the meantime, despite your monthly cable or satellite bill of $200 or more, you are getting a “deal” by bundling TV, phone and Internet for a certain period of time. When you unbundle your services and just take your Internet connection, you’ll need high-speed service, say 100 Mbps, and that could be $100 per month right there. Verizon’s FiOS service, for example is $44.99 for 50 Mbps and $264.99 for 500 Mbps. On the 50 Mbps plan, you get TV for $30 more per month.

Further, you need to either rent or buy your gateway – or modem and router system – that’s compatible with your Internet provider’s service, and you may need a network of boosters throughout your house to make sure wireless devices get a quality signal in every room. The Wi-Fi modem from Verizon for all packages is $10/month or $199 to own it.

So far, you may argue, we’re not that far off from what we’re paying for our cable and satellite bundles. You’d be correct. But now, let’s look at data caps – because the big providers are looking at them long and hard.

Just like the electricity, natural gas and water coming into your house are measured by a meter, it’s very easy for your data providers to measure what you use. Your cellular carriers already cap your limits, although some are lifting caps, at least for now. They can do that because your phone or tablet doesn’t require as much data to watch a movie or TV show. We bring that up just for comparison.

In reality, data caps are just around the corner. An article in the Motley Fool, which always shows you the money, says Comcast and AT&T are testing programs, and warns that you’re gonna pay. Comcast is testing a 300 GB/month limit in several markets around the country with a charge of $10 per 50 GB over the cap. They are looking at $30 to $35 a month more to go unlimited. AT&T is looking at 150 GB/mo for DSL customers and 250 GB for U-Verse customers. GigaPower fiber customers receive either 500 GB or 1 TB of data each month, and all customers can spend an additional $10 to receive 50 GB of data.

How much will you use? “To put this amount of data in perspective, ArsTechnica recently mentioned a Sling TV report that said if users streamed about 4.8 hours of TV per day they would hit 300 GB of video streaming each month,” the article says. “Data from Nielsen shows that adults in the U.S. spend an average of more than 5 hours watching TV each day. So it would appear Comcast’s data limits are already coming very close Americans’ TV viewing habits. As more viewers start streaming their content (as opposed to watching it through cable or satellite) it’s easy to see how users could start reaching their data limits quickly.”

That ties in with some thoughts in a Yahoo Finance article that looks five years into the future. Cutting the cable appeals to millennials and to any group of people who want to share subscriptions and have a small group of shows they want to watch. And right now, it’s likely cheaper.

However, the inevitability of data caps, expanded tastes in programming and more data-intensive viewing equipment – a really big 4K high-def TV uses a lot more data than an iPad – can easily wipe out those savings. With cable/satellite providers always looking to bundle products to lock in customer commitments, some cord-cutters might want to return to the fold.

“We believe that if consumers knew now what they will know in five years, they would change their mind and go back to the big bundle which costs them $0.25 per viewer hour and gives them 300 channels to choose from at any time,” says a note from financial analysts. The analysts say that putting together your own show list will eventually become more expensive than your cable bill.

If you really want to cut your costs way down and are happy with over-the-air TV, you can buy HDTV antennae for your HDTV TVs. As long as you have good reception, you will get an exceptional picture – and a bonus; many HDTV broadcasters have side channels that can provide extra programming.

As techie as I am, staying with the cable company I hate makes sense for my family of four. But if cutting the cable ditching the dish makes sense for you, we can help make sure you have the right network set up to power the TV sets – as well as the devices you’ll use for viewing. Give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or drop us an email to arrange for a survey.

Are You Smarter Than a House?

The smart home is the rage at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Devices, gadgets, appliances and cars are generating a lot of buzz – along with TVs you can’t buy and drones that you probably can’t fly. Here’s what got our attention.

Apple’s HomeKit platform is ready to install. If you ever marveled at the X-10 or the Clapper, this will have you doing backflips. With Siri-control of Wi-Fi connected to home automation accessories, you can control ceiling fans and window blinds. Very soon, you should be able to control electrical outlets, switches, thermostats and door lock options. HomeKit is matched to products come from some notable companies such as Honeywell, Lutron, Kwikset, iHome and others.

With Apple getting heavily involved, you can expect to have a lot of capabilities all tied to a single app, and using Siri’s voice capability will make it a snap to turn appliances and systems on and off or lock your doors with a simple spoken command.

We’ve already had a preview of how you can keep tabs on everything going on at home even if you’re nowhere near your house. We installed an Internet-accessible doorbell monitor a few years ago that uses a camera and two-way sound system to talk to anyone who rings the bell. It came in really handy soon after we installed it when we were able to accept the delivery of equipment needed for a client installation. Without the system, there would have been no delivery, and the project would have been delayed.

One system at CES takes our old one a step farther by also enabling you to unlock the door to let people into your house. For some families, that can add a totally new dimension to what used to be called “latch-key kids.”

Inside the house, a smart refrigerator is generating some cool news. Expected to hit the market later this year, the deluxe models take pictures of what’s inside your fridge after you close the door – or doors. You can use the pictures for your trip to the supermarket on your way home – unless, of course, you order your groceries online and use a credit card app to pay for them. It’s a combo play from Samsung and MasterCard. Oh, and just to give a good-old warm and fuzzy feeling, the refrigerator has a screen for leaving messages and notes or displaying (scanned) artwork from your kids.

Ford got a lot of attention with its Sync 3 and its compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it’s not alone. Many auto manufacturers are jumping into the game. Systems will feature a lot of infotainment applications, but they will tie more closely to smart-home systems.

To be prepared for all the smart-home systems coming to the market, you need to be a smart homeowner by making sure your Wi-Fi network is secure. We’ve discussed network security many times before, but now more is at stake. Smart-home systems will require more passwords and stronger passwords, and you’ll need to make sure you only use secure networks to access your home remotely. If not, it will be just like telling the world the key to your front door is under the mat or in the mailbox.

All of this new technology is both exciting and overwhelming. We can help you eliminate the anxiety by helping you understand how the systems work to make smart selections, and we can make sure your home Wi-Fi network can handle all the technology you install. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can help

Microsoft Pushes IE to Edge of Extinction

Sometime this week, Microsoft is ending its support for Internet Explorer 8, 9 and 10. It’s not that the company didn’t tell you it would happen. Word – make that Notice – went out in the summer of 2014. One final round of patches for those versions of IE came out recently, but that’s it. Your options are to upgrade to IE 11 or make the jump to Microsoft Edge.

We recommend making the jump to Edge, which you’ve already done if you run Windows 10. While it has some quirks and limitations, it gives you a couple of good features as soon as you launch it. The first thing you see is “Where to next?” It’s the address bar to go right to a website or you can use it to search. Speaking of searching, you can use Cortana, Windows 10’s virtual assistant. Cortana pops up as you browse with Edge when you highlight a word and choose Ask Cortana or when you type in queries for weather and other common search terms in Edge’s search bar.

You can also have a lot of the features already enjoyed by users of Firefox and Safari. Those features include a Reading List feature to save articles and webpages for later reading, much like Pocket or Instapaper, though it doesn’t work offline. You can see a page in a stripped-down format that removes ads and extraneous banners for easier reading, similar to Apple’s Safari browser on OS X. A note-taking mode lets you doodle and mark up a webpage, then save that image to OneNote or share it though another app. Edge’s native sharing feature makes it easy to post a link to Twitter or Facebook without having to bounce between apps.

Part of the strategic thinking behind Edge is to make it compatible with mobile devices, such as the Surface tablets and Windows-based phones. That has led to a lean, mean browser that loads pages much faster across all platforms. In many ways, Microsoft’s move reflects those of other software publishers, most notably Adobe and Flash, as old standbys give way to new generations.

If you are a Microsoft devotee and have weathered IE and all of its faults, you’ll like Edge a lot better. But beware of those quirks and limitations. Changing your default search engine from Bing to Google, for example, is a chore. You’ll have to go to Settings in Google to make it your default.

It doesn’t have some Chrome and Firefox features, nor does it support extensions or plugins or have the ability to pin tabs. For now, you can’t sync your browsing history or favorite sites with your mobile device – not until Windows 10 for phones launches. Edge also doesn’t play nice with Google’s web apps.

We don’t think the shortfalls are reason to back away from the Edge, but if IE is still your choice, you should upgrade to IE 11. With close to 350 million IE users worldwide, Microsoft is not about to let it just die, but you should consider it a transition from IE to Edge. For most individuals, the switch to Edge should be beneficial with a short learning curve. For organizations that use IE for a number of Internet functions, take this as a warning that you need to make the switch sooner rather than later. We can help you with installing Edge and bringing over the sites you use to drive your business. Give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or email us to ride the Edge to better browsing and Internet utilization.