Sonic High-Speed FAQ
Sonic's answers to my questions starting in December, 2017
Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
Table of Contents
Dec. 2017: Gigabit
Sonic may be installing Gigabit fiber optic service in the Piedmont Avenue area of north Oakland, California, in late 2018. There are some answers on Sonic's fiber page. However, I still had questions. They provided these answers which other potential customers may find helpful:
Net neutrality and AT&T
- Q. If your service comes over any AT&T equipment at any point, AT&T can throttle any part of it that it wants, now that net neutrality is gone, even though Sonic supports net neutrality. Is that true?
A. No, we have full access to the speeds of your service. The fiber service is not through AT&T's lines, they are 100% Sonic.
- Q. I know that you have stated plans to install your own gigabit fiber optic hardware. But some people have said on the web that you might still be using some AT&T lines for your gigabit service in some places. Is that true?
A. FTTN [Fiber to the Node] is piggybacking off of AT&T's fiber lines, but it is 100% a Sonic service. Fiber is not AT&T at all.
- Q. Will service in my area be entirely on Sonic equipment (i.e., totally free of AT&T)?
A. For FTTN we use AT&T's equipment, for copper, we use an AT&T branded unit, but it is a Sonic router. For fiber it is also sometimes AT&T branded depending on the modem we roll out with to your area, but it is fully Sonic as well.
- Q. I'm a little confused about the AT&T and net neutrality answers. It sounds as if you're saying that even though some of the signal is transmitted on AT&T hardware, it will be entirely unaffected by any throttling AT&T imposes. I must confess that if a friend asked me about that and I gave them your answer, they would likely say, "How is that possible? If the signal goes through AT&T hardware and AT&T, for example, blocks a certain vendor, such as Netflix, let's say, how can Sonic get around that?" Here's my guess at one possible answer: Some of the hardware does belong to AT&T, but you are merely sending a signal through it, without AT&T getting the opportunity to decide what to throttle; Sonic connects directly to the Internet backbone without going through any place where AT&T can mess with the signal. Is that the idea?
A. The fiber service is all on our network, but even if it did go through AT&T's network, we lease the use of their lines. Think of renting a storage unit, your storage unit is in the storage company's space, but they don't know what is in your unit. So AT&T can see that traffic for Sonic is traveling over their network, but they can't see what that traffic relates to.
- Q. How long will the price be $40?
A. $40 (plus taxes and equipment) is the one year introductory fee for new users, after that it goes up to $50 per month.
- Q. What will the total price be, with taxes, fees, modem rental, and all other charges included?
A. The service is $40 for the first year, plus taxes at about $12 (the cost changes every month, but no more than a few cents, last time we checked Oakland taxes were $11.07, but I like to round up for worst case. One month you could be paying $11.07, the next might be $11.25, the month after that could be $10.53) and modem rental is $9.50, this is all monthly. You are encouraged to use Sonic equipment -especially for the first month just to make sure there are no bugs going on - but may use your own modem at any time. If you do opt out of the modem rental the promotional deal ends as well.
- Q. Will there be an option to buy my own modem/router to avoid the monthly rental, which I read will be about $10 a month?
A. Yes, as said above it will opt you out of the modem rental and promo deal though. If you do use your own modem please make sure it is gig capable, we cannot recommend brands though as it sounds like Sonic is endorsing one brand over another.
- Q1. You said, "If you do opt out of the modem rental the promotional deal ends as well." I agree that starting with your modem is a good idea to make sure everything works. (In fact I am still renting your modem for my DSL-style Sonic service after several years.) But, just so I know, exactly what is the promotional deal that would end -- the $40 price for the first year? What would the price be without the promotional deal? More than the $50 + taxes and fees you mentioned? If the price just jumps from $40 to $50, I'd break even after amortizing the modem, since I'd be saving $10 a month modem rental.
Q2. You said, "$40 (plus taxes and equipment) is the one year introductory fee for new users". Since I have been with Sonic for years, am I a new user? Would I get the introductory fee for a new user, or would I start at $50 per month + the other charges?
A. (Answer to both questions) As an existing Sonic customer, unfortunately you would not be eligible for any introductory discounts, so returning our equipment on day one would not void any discounts and would save you the $9.50 rental fee, and the cost for the service is $50 (plus taxes and fees).
- Q. I'm currently paying $50 a month, plus taxes and fees, for Fusion Broadband - X1. Since you say I'll be paying $50 a month, plus taxes and fees, for Gigabit, I'll be getting faster service for the same price, won't I? How long is the $50 price good for?
A: The $50 a month price will stay until the economy dictates that we need to raise our prices to keep up with inflation, so probably 10-20 years. Your $50/mo service doesn't include some small fees and taxes, but the total price you will pay is virtually identical to other customers with the same service and shouldn't change unless you change your service.
- Q. I understand that I can sign up for your gigabit service now, to be available in late 2018 or so. Aside from being nearer to the front of the line, what advantages are there to me in signing up now?
A. To be honest, there are no special deals aside from being the first on your block to have fiber, and bragging rights.
- Q. If I sign up now, will you want any payment now?
A. If you were to sign up today we would take a down payment of $54 if I am remembering correctly.
- Q. If I sign up now and change my mind later, is there any penalty?
A. If you sign up today and decide to not go through with it you will not be charged any fees for changing your mind and the down payment will be refunded.
From the various answers here and on their Speed Page, it seems that wifi speed could be anywhere in the 20-600 Mbps range.
If you get Sonic's gigabit fiber service, it includes their VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone service. That raises these questions, which I sent them in January, 2018:
- Q. I know that I will not actually receive 1000 Mbps downloads. But how likely is it that I will receive, say, 500 Mbps? Or 100 Mbps? Or 10 Mbps? If I can receive even 10 Mbps for less than I'm paying now, that would be an improvement.
A. Plugged into the ONT (Optical Network Terminal) A.K.A. Fiber box/modem (Adtran 411) or the modem you should see no less than 899Mbps, over wireless is a little more difficult, you can see speeds ranging from 20 at the lowest up to 600 depending on the device/network card/wireless interference - there are a lot of variables.
- Q. I need only one entry into my house, which I hope can be put through an existing entry hole for a cable from my roof antenna. Will there be any fees for converting my support to Sonic gigabit?
A. There are no fees for an install, we try to use existing holes if possible. If not we do make discrete holes, usually no larger than 1/2 inch; we do seal them up and weatherproof them after.
- Q. Let's say I want two new holes so that the two computers I use most frequently can be set up with wired connections, but I also want to use the existing hole for the modem so I can connect wirelessly from other places in the house. Is that where the $200 charge that I read about comes from? Would someone have to string an ethernet cable from your modem to those two locations I mentioned? They are about 20 and 40 feet away, respectively, from the intended modem location, so that would be awkward.
A. For the computers that you want to be connected via ethernet, if running the wires along the wall is not something you want to do the only other solution I can think of would be to have an electrician come in and run some wire through your walls, but I would recommend connecting them wirelessly to the 5Ghz network. Based on the distance to the router and the capability of the 5Ghz network, you most likely wouldn't notice a difference in performance when compared to an ethernet connection.
Jacks: Will all the phones in my house work as before, plugged into the regular phone jacks scattered around the house (known as Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS), or just the one plugged into the new hardware you will provide? I understand that I can get around that by plugging in the base unit for a bunch of wireless phones into your hardware, and plugging in remote wireless units around the house using just the electric sockets, not the phone jacks.
A: We guarantee at least one working phone jack that you can simply plug your regular phone into. This will be connected to the ONT (optical network terminal), which is effectively the base unit. It's possible that more phone jacks will be activated when the service is connected if your wiring is already set up for it. It's not a bad idea to set up remote cordless phone units with the main base connected to the ONT.
Fax: My girlfriend has an all-in-one printer with an ordinary phone line connecting it to the wall jack. If we have only VOIP, how will she be able to send and receive faxes? I guess the only way we will know whether our existing phone jacks will still work (which you said is possible) is to try them and see, after we switch to gigabit. So, if they don't work, she'll have no way to fax. Unplugging her all-in-one and carrying it over to plug directly into your new hardware is not an attractive option. The only other options I can think of are to get a super-long Ethernet cable, like 50 or 60 feet, to connect her fax to your hardware temporarily, but that's not attractive either; or to replace her all-in-one with one that connects wirelessly. Can you think of anything to add?
A: Another option comes to mind regarding the fax issue. All of our connectivity customers have a digital fax service free of charge in our member tools.
You can read about our send-a-fax tool here:
Send a Fax.
[Author's note: I have tested it by sending a fax to a real fax machine, and it works.]
Here is some info on our free virtual fax service for receiving faxes:
Power failure: I understand that my phones won't work if there is a power failure or the Internet is out. (I understand that I have the option to buy a battery backup system.) But I read that some modern ATAs (Analog Telephone Adapter) can switch to old-style service if the power goes out. I take it that the ATAs you provide do not handle that.
A: The phone service goes through the ONT, and doesn't actually utilize a separate ATA. If the ONT has power it will be able to connect to the internet and provide you with phone service as well. If there isn't any power, then the phone service will not function.
Message Waiting Indicator: I've read that some people had to change settings with you or their phone so that the Message Waiting Indicator would work and the time would be set correctly on their phones. I assume we will be able to work that out if I have the same problems.
A: This is an uncommon issue, but we can certainly help you configure your phone settings if we are able to should it become necessary.
Q1. 911 identification: I've read that although using it for 911 calls is not recommended, it may be possible if you agree to transmit my home phone number and location when I make a 911 call, which I guess is part of E911, or even figure out what local emergency service to connect to. Is there documentation about that? I recently needed to call 911, and they asked for my phone number and address even though I'm still on old-style phone service, so I imagine that would be the same even with E911. Your E911 page seems to be saying that if I get your Gigabit service, it will have E911.
Q2. 911 routing: If I call 911, where is the call routed if I don't have E911? What if I do have E911?
A (answer to both): All of our VOIP phone services are connected with an E911 service, and should be able to send your contact info if you dial 911. It will be routed to your local police department as determined by your zip code.
Call from anywhere: I've read that it should be possible to make a VOIP call from anywhere in the world if you can connect to the Internet and have the right phone, or maybe just a headset for your computer.
A: You can use a program called Accession to access our VOIP phone service if you have internet access. This can be downloaded on PC, Mac, and mobile devices. It must be enabled on your account (for free) to work.
Quality: I'm particularly concerned that the quality of VOIP calls apparently depends on many variables that can not be predicted and may even be worse than plain old analog service. I'm so concerned that I'm considering waiting until some of my neighbors are using Sonic gigabit and seeing what quality they get.
A: I've not heard of anyone having any issues with our gigabit phone service that weren't hardware related. It should be relatively crystal clear, and hum or static free.
Sept. 2020: Other speeds
In September, 2020, while we wait for gigabit fiber, Sonic advertised two other products at slower speeds. One of them (Fusion IP Broadband Fiber, also known as IPBB-F and FTTH (Fiber to the Home)) is not available yet in my neighborhood because we don't have fiber. The other (Fusion IP Broadband Copper, also known as IPBB-C and FTTN), is available here now, so I asked them some questions about it. For more explanation of these answers, see the Gigabit section above.
- Speed: Maximum 75 Mbps download, 10-15% of that (7-9 Mbps) upload. As usual, speeds will be slower over wifi.
- Cost: $59.99/month as advertised, plus about $10 mandatory rental of their modem/router, plus about $6 rental of their ATA, plus the usual taxes and fees. Their advertising says the rate will go up after September 10, 2020, but they said they don't have a price in mind yet.
- Voice: It comes with VOIP. You could buy your own battery backup for a one-time cost of about $100, but those are only good for about 5 hours, and if the internet is down in your neighborhood it won't help. You might possibly get Sonic to downgrade your voice plan to POTS, but that's not guaranteed. Or you could buy your own POTS plan from AT&T if they still offer them.
- Alarm compatibility: Our alarm system uses our wifi if it is working and cellular communication if not, so switching from our current Sonic setup would have no effect on it.
- Installation work: At no charge, AT&T would add a copper wire to the pole in the street and run it through a hole in our house, using an existing one if possible, and making and then sealing a new one if not.
Feb. 11, 2021: lmi.net, and more Q&A
On February, 11, 2021, lmi.net distributed flyers to some customers on our street saying they were installing gigabit fiber and inviting people to pre-order. They said they may have it in place in Q2 of this year. A little research seems to indicate that their fiber and Sonic's fiber will have the same features at the same price, although I did not find out whether lmi also offers spam call blocking, low-cost web hosting with new domain name, and fax-to-email service. I called Sonic with some questions:
Starting Feb. 22, 2021: Sonic coming to Oakland Real Soon Now
- Feb. 22, 2021: I received email from Sonic with this excerpt:
Starting this month through 2022, Sonic Fiber will begin lighting up the Town. Since you are a current Sonic customer in this area, here is what to expect:
Of course, in December, 2017, they said they might have fiber here by late 2018. So when they say "through 2022", who knows? On the other hand, by the time they install, the pandemic may have eased to the point where they will come inside to make the wiring changes.
- CONSTRUCTION UPDATES. In these emails we will tell you how far along in the build we are, an estimate of completion, and anything interesting or facts about your build.
- LIVE FIBER. We will notify you once your address is reachable with fiber and will schedule your migration from copper to fiber.
- SCHEDULED INSTALLATION. We will safely install your new Sonic Fiber!
- Mar. 9, 2021: "Your area is set to go live this spring and into summer"
- Apr. 12, 2021: "this Spring and be fully live by the end of Summer"
- May 10, 2021: "begin going live with Sonic Fiber this summer"
- June 8, 2021: "We appreciate your patience"
- July 14, 2021: "continuing discussions with the city"
- Aug. 12, 2021: "begin lighting up your community this Winter 2021/2022"
- Sep. 16, 2021: "Our Sonic team is adjusting for appropriate staffing levels for your Fiber build. We are working to bring on new team members and contractors to move as quickly as possible, but unfortunately, our build team is a bit smaller than we would like. Because of this, we are forced to push your area's fiber network completion date to Spring 2022. We apologize for the delay, but we promise our Sonic Fiber is worth the wait!"
- Oct. 19, 2021: "Our splicing team is working through a few repairs in the network build in your area. Sonic is working with subcontractors to add additional teams to your area to keep up with our projected timelines. We expect your area to begin activating next month and be fully complete by Spring 2022."
- Nov. 10, 2021: "As of this month, Sonic's network is 16% active in your area. Currently, we are working with your city to get additional permits. We expect to have those permits in hand by the end of the month, so we can continue to make steady progress in your neighborhood."
- Dec. 14, 2021: "As of this month, Sonic's network is still 16% active in your area. The city has notified us that we should be receiving permits any day now to finish the remaining cable placement in your area. Once that is complete, we will begin the splicing work (bringing the fiber to your house prior to your installation appointment)."
- Jan. 11, 2022: "As of this month, Sonic's network is 20% active in your area. We have the permits in hand from the city to move forward with the remaining construction in your area. We now expect to be fully live with Sonic Fiber by the end of Spring 2022."
- Feb. 16, 2022: "As of this month, Sonic's network is 36% active in your area. A portion of the fiber build has moved into the splicing phase, this is where our team connects the fiber from the pole to your home prior to installation. In other parts of your community, our Sonic Team is placing cable and routing the fiber throughout your neighborhood. Both are intricate parts of the Sonic Build in your city!"
The Home Stretch
- Mar. 14, 2022: Email from Sonic:
Questions from me to Sonic Tech Support (Sales said Tech should handle these), with their email answers on Mar. 16 ("A" or A1"), and, if relevant, more answers from a follow-up phone call ("A2"):
- "We are excited to announce that Sonic has completed upgrades in your area and we can now deliver Sonic Fiber to your address with speeds up to 10,000Mbps. Your existing Sonic connection will be migrated to this new and improved service.
- We will begin your migration process by first assigning you an installation date and time. This will be a contactless installation to protect the safety of you and our team.
- Note: Due to the technology migration, your phone preferences and any customized greeting will be reset to defaults.
- Stored voicemails will be archived, and made available through our webmail interface."
- Q. I use the Internet for work and would like to keep downtime to a minimum. (Twenty-four hours would be acceptable.) I've heard from a friend who upgraded her Sonic service (but not to fiber) that she had a lot of trouble making the mechanical changes inside the house that were asked for. I'm hoping to avoid a similar experience. Can you estimate how long the downtime will be?
A1. If she wasn't upgrading to Fiber, that can only mean she either upgraded to a faster DSL service with us, or to an IP Broadband (resold AT&T U-Verse) product. Those both require action from AT&T. I'm not sure exactly which mechanical changes indoors you're alluding to, but Fusion DSL and IP Broadband are generally not the same as Fusion Fiber in terms of installation. With Fusion Fiber, we install a gadget called an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) somewhere in your home. The fiber optic cable goes into the ONT, and your VOIP phone and WIFI router both plug into the other side. The ONT acts as a fiber modem. There's generally no failed self installation that normally happens with DSL customers upgrading to a bonded connection, and there's generally no issue of there not being enough pairs or not enough bandwidth being available that can happen when a customer orders an IPBB upgrade. We install the ONT, plug in the fiber, and activate the service.
A2. Confirmed that they will now come inside to install the ONT. A subsequent automatic email said they won't, but I suspect that email needs to be updated. Also, a neighbor who just had the install said they came inside.
- Q. We understand that our old POTS line and phone number will be migrated to VOIP with the fiber installation. However, in addition, we would like to have a new POTS line with a new number. When I discussed that with Sonic between Feb. 11 and 22, 2021, I was told that you could arrange a POTS line for $10 a month. Today, Rachel said we would have to downgrade our existing service to voice-only and then request a fiber installation. The main problem with that is that it would cause the old phone number to remain with the POTS line and a new phone number to be assigned to new VOIP service. That is the opposite of what we want. The second problem with that is that she said we would have to go to the back of the line with our new fiber request. She said that could take several weeks, but what if it takes several years, like the whole fiber project?
A1. You have the option to assign your current phone number to the POTS line *or* the VOIP line through the fiber circuit. It takes about 5 minutes for someone here in Customer Support to migrate the number in either direction as we control both the POTS line and the VOIP line. As far as whether or not you'll lose your place in line, once we have fiber installed in your neighborhood, the whole neighborhood is generally able to get fiber installed in their home on demand. I just checked your address on Sonic.com and you can order fiber right now. To keep your POTS service and also install fiber, I highly recommend calling us at 1-855-394-0100 so that we can go through the proper steps to make sure we order the fiber service as a separate circuit without accidentally deactivating your copper landline. After that, we will be happy to downgrade the DSL connection to POTS-only.
A2. It turned out they do need to downgrade the existing service to POTS-only ($99 one-time fee), and will install the fiber as a new request. We could have gotten a morning appointment for as early as 4 days from now, but opted for the afternoon 6 days from now.
- Q. A few years ago, our Sonic Internet service was occasionally slow. Your technicians determined that the old phone wiring to several sockets was OK for voice but not good enough for high-speed data. So, they disconnected all the phone sockets at the outside box except for one, which greatly improved things. Does that create any problems for our proposed new setup, with fiber (including VOIP) coexisting with a new POTS line? Would you be able to reconnect the old sockets so they could be used with the new POTS line?
A. The fiber infrastructure makes no use of these phone jacks, so no, that does not create problems generally if you want to have the fiber and the POTS line side by side. And most likely yes, we can reconnect the old sockets so that they can be used with your existing POTS service. To you, it will be a "new" POTS line but for us, we're just assigning a new phone number to your existing POTS connection and migrating the phone number to the VOIP service.