Saturday, September 5, 2009

The U-Verse Install Process

As one of the first folks among my friends and colleagues with U-Verse, one of the most common questions is "what is the install process like?"

AT&T allocates up to 6 hours for an install, and ours ended up being very close to that, but the amount of time it takes depends greatly on what services you order and how much in-home work is required.

Our own process wouldn't be a perfect example, because we are a bit more knowledgeable then the usual subscriber. We also did some preparation work (setting up TVs and so forth) in advance, and we knew exactly what we wanted. Even with these caveats, 90% of the installation could be fairly generalized.

The AT&T installer called about half an hour in advance to let us know he was on the way, and when he arrived, he introduced himself, gave us a welcome package with some documentation, as well as his personal business card with his cell number (a nice touch!) He then verified with us what services we ordered, and did a brief walk around the house.

The purpose of the walkaround is so the installer can get an idea of what the wiring is like in the home, as well as the general layout (where TVs and computers are and such). He also takes a look at the home's telephone network interface box. At this point, he left our home for about 45 minutes to "turn on" our service at the VRAD. When he was done here, he came back and now, for the first time, could measure the actual capability of our home to receive service (prior to this, our "readiness" for service was purely theoretical). Basically, he was checking the actual distance from our home to the VRAD and the amount of throughput we got...the strength of the VDSL signal.

In our case, the throughput was fine for the top level service profile, which allows for multiple HD streams as well as internet and phone. At this point, the technician talked nitty-gritty about wiring with us. In many homes, they may try to use existing coax cable. This was not an option for us, since we are keeping our Sunflower service. Thus the installer needed to run some new cat 5e ethernet cable.

We discussed where the residential gateway box (the central "hub") would go, and decided on a first floor office as the most central location. The installer then asked us where we wanted the holes for the wires drilled in each room where there was a TV. This was a very collaborative discussion about the network and wiring layout; if the customer wasn't as technical as were were, I imagine the installer might have been more prone to use his own judgment. I was very impressed with how the AT&T tech worked with us and listened to our needs and requested locations for the new wiring.

The next couple hours were essentially spent by the gentleman actually running wiring. When he was finished, the overall network topology was essentially DSL into the home (via ethernet) to the residential gateway. From the gateway, there are four outbound cable runs: two television, one hardwired PC, and a backfeed into the home's main telephone interface (feeding all the phones in the home with a normal dial tone, which the gateway converts to VOIP).

When the wiring was finished, the AT&T tech then installed the residential gateway, which is about the size of a Playstation 3, along with a Belkin UPS (required to provide power for the phone system during outages). Before physically hooking up the main cabling to the gateway, he tested the actual, in-house signal strength of the VDSL signal to make sure everything was is spec. It was, and so now at this point, we had internet; the gateway was operational.

Next up, installation of two set top boxes: a DVR in the living room, and a satellite unit in the bedroom. The boxes needed a brief initialization and a firmware update before they were ready. We verified that each box could get a good HD signal. Interestingly enough the first box he tried in the bedroom was "bad" so a second box was tried, which worked fine. I already had prepared for the boxes by hooking up HDMI and audio cabling as needed; I don't think the average customer may have done this, and I am not sure if the techs have cabling with them or not (I suspect they do, to use as needed).

With the internet and boob tube up and running, the last item of business was telephone. We are almost five hours into the process by now. I didn't pay much attention to this portion of the process; the tech was working in the basement, hooking the outbound cable from the gateway into the home telephone network interface box. I know he was testing each phone jack with a tone generator.
We also called our alarm company to verify that the alarm system was working fine with the new system (it was, and I forgot how loud that damn thing is!)

The install was finished now. We talked briefly with the installer at this point about our concern (which I noted in yesterday's post) with some dips in signal we noticed, and he said that we should give AT&T a chance to replace the line from our home to the pole before getting too concerned. He also re-iterated that we could call him personal phone number (on his card) any time during the first 10 days after install to follow up on this. This is great customer service off the bat, but I am honestly worried that after 10 days, we will be in the usual out-sourced AT&T hell should anything not be working right. Time will tell.

As an aside, the tech specifically asked us at the end of the install if we wanted him to show us the details of the television interface; we declined, as we want to figure these things out for ourselves. However, average users can probably expect at least some time at the end of the install for basic int ructions from the installer on the new system.

So, in a nutshell, that is how the process went. From start to end, about six hours, of which about half was wiring-related, a quarter equipment installs, and the remaining quarter prep work outside the house.

And yes, someone does have to be home the whole time. Are in our case, two geeky someones.


  1. Do you have ethernet cable running along the floors or did they install outlets in the walls?

  2. They ran the cables under the floor (in the ceiling access area in the basement, same place the electric and water lines are accessible.

    Neither :-)

    We have an old home with wood floors, so I had them drill up through the floors in the corner of the room, to avoid the need to actually install boxes in the walls (we have plaster walls which makes it much more difficult to place outlets then with drywall).

    I actually do not know if they would place actual outlets in a drywall wall.

  3. So, you're saying a cable or cat5 line must be installed to each TV? how about to each computer? We have at least 4 TV locations in our house (one in basement, one on main floor and two upstairs in the bedrooms. Also have computers in basically the same locations. Can any of these run off wireless....a router, etc or is everything hard wired?


  4. Cable or cat5 to each TV set top box.
    Computers and other non-set top box devices can connect wirelessly.

  5. My system was installes Oct 28th, It took the tech a little over four hours with much success. It was a really easy? installation (if there is such a thing) My TV wiring from the Cable service was arewady RG6 (very best grade ) I had installed it about a year or so ago. He modified the Phone box outside, installed a new triplexer, used all Coax> He set up the gateway, set up the receivers, and added wireless network, then put the wireless phone system base station next to the gateway. Plugged in everything in set it up, WAH LAH. TV, Phone and internet On and operational, How easy could that get? Always give new technology a good try!