Review: AT&T U-Verse Business Class DSL

To borrow from a Country and Western tune of some years ago…

Gektoids, don’t get your customers U-Verse
Even the doctors and lawyers and such
Don’t need them rascals eating their lunch

Seriously. For any kind of business that requires VPN support, or for home service where static IP’s and VPN Terminations are needed, look to someone besides AT&T U-Verse. Better service is out there and can be had for less money and with far better support.

Here is my experience as a cautionary tale.

One of my clients (a charitable organization in San Francisco) recently converted to AT&T U-verse as their ISP provider. Had I been consulted before the switch, I almost certainly would have encouraged them to choose a provider other than AT&T, as my experiences with them (dating back to their days as Pacific Bell and SBC) have been less than satisfactory. Instead I found out after the fact when things stopped working. I’d really rather have provided a free consult and subsequent revisions up front.

This experience did nothing to improve my opinion of AT&T.

The offices are small and sparsely staffed, and all of the staff live at considerable distances from The City. In consequence of this (and some other considerations) they opted to have a VPN installed to allow their staff to work remotely. The VPN solution I installed for them was based on static IP’s for the office and the remote end points, and thus stopped working when the ISP (and thus the public IP of the office) changed.

Putting things back together again revealed some “features” of the AT&T service which left a great deal to be desired.

First of all, AT&T U-Verse provides a 2-Wire DSL Modem/Router/Wireless device which does not support VPN termination. Strike One.

Second of all, the provided equipment requires that any router or firewall attached to the Modem/Router/Wireless device be configured to pull a DHCP address vice being statically IP’d. That borders on a quibble, but is nonetheless annoying.

Third, in order for the inside firewall/router to work as a statically IP’d VPN termination, one must use the “DMZ+” feature of the provided 2-Wire router.

Fourth, when a device is configured in “DMZ+” mode, all of the “static IP’s” provided by AT&T became inoperable and only the un-advertised external IP (DHCP based, but not reserved) address of the provided 2-Wire device was reachable from external networks. I verified this observed behavior with AT&T’s technicians; it is indeed a known, but not corrected, issue.

Fifth, the AT&T Technical Support for their “Business Grade” service are the exact same folks who provide residential service. Their first level technicians are NOT intimately familiar with the provided 2-Wire device nor with IP based networking beyond the “reboot the router” level of support.

Sixth, the second level technicians are, once again, the same folks who provide support for residential service. While more knowledgeable of IP based networking than first level support, I found that their level of competence varied widely depending on the tech who happened to catch the call or chat session. The best level 2 technician I spoke with was proficient, the rest were laughable.

Seventh, getting through to a technician via phone or chat takes 15 minutes to half an hour, with at least another ten minutes wasted convincing the first level technician that they are out of their depth. Some folks might consider this to be a net neutral when billing by the hour. I found it a waste of time.

Eighth, support beyond level 2 is only offered via a paid service chargeable to the customer. The bad news there is that they are not much better. The good news is that when they failed to resolve my issue, they refrained from billing for their non-support.

In summary, if you are or support a business that has needs beyond the most basic, AT&T U-Verse should not be among the ISP Providers considered.

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