The cable industry has seen a major shakeup in recent years, with a series of "mega mergers" redefining competitive boundaries, Internet speeds, and channel lineups. Two of the biggest players are Spectrum and Xfinity by Comcast, each of which has grown significantly larger in size and scale over the past half-decade. Though the companies are similar in the packages and features they offer to consumers, there are some key differences that prospective Spectrum or Xfinity customers need to know about before they opt for either company's bundles and hardware. Keeping an eye on the fine print, the customizability of each package, and the technological features supported by each company, will make it easier to enjoy a long-term, more rewarding relationship with either of these major cable providers.
Internet Speed: There is a Clear Winner Among the Two Companies
In the 21st century, most people who are choosing a cable package care first and foremost about the Internet speed that they'll get to use when the service is installed. The channel packages and lineups are rarely the top concern anymore. While both Spectrum and Xfinity by Comcast offer faster Internet services than they did even a few years ago, there's a clear winner among the two companies: Xfinity by Comcast.
Spectrum, until the merger with Time Warner Cable to become Charter, was known as a relatively small and regional cable provider with limited access to high-speed infrastructure. As a result, it hasn't been able to offer the fastest speeds in the industry to most of its customers across the country. With its recent consolidation of Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable, however, that is going to change. Until it does, Spectrum service offers speeds of either 60 megabits per second or 100 megabits per second. These speeds are suitably fast in an era of high-speed streaming and multi-device households, but they still don't measure up to Xfinity's options.
Xfinity's base speed is slower than Spectrum's, at just 25 megabits per second. Even so, the company also offers an affordable upgrade to "Blast!" Internet service. This tier of service offers up to 150Mbps. A further upgrade to 300Mbps is also available in most markets served by Xfinity. In a growing number of markets, Xfinity is rolling out 1Gbps or 2Gbps service that is between 10 and 20 times faster than Spectrum's top speed. It's worth noting, however, that Spectrum has agreed to upgrade its speed tiers dramatically in the years to come as a condition of its recent merger activity. Until then, however, Xfinity by Comcast wins handily.
Channels Offered: A Tight Race Between Spectrum and Xfinity
In the modern era of cable packages, channel lineups are virtually the same between every major operator. Only a few exceptions exist, the most notable of which is Verizon Fios' refusal to carry NBCUniversal's The Weather Channel due to its claims of an inflated cost and relatively sparse, weather-related content throughout the day. No such disputes exist at Xfinity and Spectrum, and that’s good news for customers.
Perhaps the biggest differentiator between the companies, at least in terms of channels, is the price tiers associated with certain premium networks. The base tier at Spectrum includes all of the most popular broadcast and cable networks, while Xfinity's base package offers only a random assortment of cable channels and leaves many others out. While the mid-tier package at Spectrum offers customers HBO and Showtime, the mid-tier package at Xfinity includes no movie channels at all. This means that most customers can save quite significantly on their channel bundle by choosing Spectrum over Xfinity. Still, the race between these two companies remains something of a tie in terms of pure channel availability across various tiers.
Features: Another Tight Race, But a Clear Winner in Xfinity by Comcast
Xfinity in recent years has sought to define itself as more than a cable or media company. Indeed, the company is currently building a massive new tower next to its Philadelphia headquarters that will house only technology and engineering-related jobs. In recent years, the company has worked hard to bring its own, custom set top box to market in the Comcast X1 system. The X1 box, which features a voice-activated interface and Netflix integration, is leaps and bounds ahead of anything that Charter Spectrum can offer. The company is also the largest provider of open-access, Wi-Fi hotspots in the nation, is working on launching its own mobile subsidiary for wireless data, voice, and text communication, and is the industry leader in deploying next-generation DOCSIS 3.1 broadband services.
Spectrum, by contrast, still has the mark of a much smaller cable company when it comes to features. The company's set top box is not developed in-house. Instead, it's developed in partnership with Arris, who also provides the company's modems and routers to customers. While Spectrum is compatible with more "TV Anywhere" apps on mobile devices and streaming boxes, the company lags behind in adoption of DOCSIS 3.1 technology when compared to Comcast's Xfinity service. Charter once had plans to compete in the mobile space as well, but decided to get out of that industry. This is a competitive opening that Xfinity looks to seize in the years ahead. For these reasons, Xfinity by Comcast is the leader on features in today's marketplace. There is no more high-tech, high-speed viewing solution among cable companies.
When it Comes to Price, Everything is Local
Xfinity is often known as one of the most expensive cable providers in the nation, but it's important to consider the "where" of this assertion. In most cases, Xfinity by Comcast is only a high-priced cable provider in markets without a viable second option, like Spectrum or Verizon Fios. Charter, meanwhile, has a far more affordable pricing structure in both competitive and non-competitive markets across the country. Charter Spectrum is often the price leader when compared to Xfinity, but customers in search of the best price and value will need to do a little research in their own, local area before committing to either company.
Customer Support: Xfinity by Comcast Continues to Struggle
Customer support from cable companies has often been described as a "race to the bottom,” largely due to a desire to keep the cost of customer support low. This means customers often suffer from limited customer support hours, outsourced customer service agents, or other difficulties when seeking a resolution to common problems. These practices are common for customers of both Spectrum and Xfinity.
With that said, Xfinity by Comcast still ranks as the least-liked company, from a customer service standpoint, in the cable industry. Though recent efforts at the company have seen its reputation improve somewhat, primarily due to new policies during the installation process, Comcast's Xfinity service is still associated with a bad customer support experience. Charter doesn't do much better than Comcast, but reviews from its own customers allow it to rank a bit better during the installation process, troubleshooting, and even during cable package changes. These are all issues where Xfinity suffers, primarily due to a language barrier and unanticipated costs being passed along to its customers.
It's safe to say that must cable subscribers don't choose their provider because of its sterling customer service reputation. Even so, there's a clear winner here: Spectrum. The company's smaller size, and its desire to be a strong competitor in the markets its services, have caused it to focus a bit more strongly on the customer experience than Comcast has had to do in the last several decades. As a result, Spectrum customers are more likely to have their issues resolved the first time, without incident, than are their Xfinity counterparts.
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