The Clock is Ticking on My Cable Subscription

Altice One’s mesh network technology is kind of a mess

I have a weekly ritual. Every Sunday, regardless of what time I get up, I eat my breakfast while watching CBS Sunday Morning on my den TV.

Since it starts at 9 AM and I may not get out of bed and settled into eating breakfast until 9:30 or 10AM (don’t judge me), I record it on my DVR and play it back when I’m ready. I’ve been doing this for at least 15 years. It’s my routine.

Angry about cable
 Lifewire / Ellen Lindner

On a recent Sunday morning, I turned on the TV, hit the dedicated “DVR” button on my Altice One remote and got an error message. I tried navigating to the DVR through the set-top box’s system menu. Same error message. I unplugged and restarted the box. Same message.

Now a normal person might say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll just start watching the show in progress.” I thought about this, but with just 35 minutes left of the 90-minute show, I knew I’d be missing some good stuff. This is not just a TV show; CBS Sunday Morning is a 40-year-plus institution that rivals 60 Minutes for magazine-quality stories.

I decided I wanted to see all of my show.

DVR screen error message
Your issue should not be my problem.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Altice Numb

I switched over to Altice (formerly Cablevision and also known as Optimum) a couple of years ago because they significantly beat Verizon’s FiOS on price and, thanks to new ownership, seemed to be both a better—and more technologically advanced—company.

But the transition has not been without its issues.

Altice installed a sort of hub and spoke cable and network system in my home that, while attractive for all its cutting-edge features (integrated router and modem, voice-control remote), turned out to be a bag full of bugs and under-performing technologies. Wi-Fi performance and consistency has been spotty from Day 1 and the DVR performance is abysmal. When I fast forward, the DVR slides to a stop, usually ends up missing the mark, and restarts a show in progress. To this day, the voice control and search is useless.

On the other hand, the system has undergone a number of significant updates that have largely improved performance and utility.

Recently, Altice introduced a mesh network system, Smart WiFi, that, surprisingly, could work with my existing hardware. Let me tell you, it’s rare for a cable company to offer such a significant upgrade without forcing you to buy new hardware add-ons or completely new cable boxes. Altice isn’t even charging a premium for the mesh network service. In hindsight, this is probably because the system is worth about as much as it costs.

I like new technology—duh—so when I saw the option of switching my Altice Network to a new mesh system, I jumped at it (I thought it might solve some of my existing Wi-Fi network’s stability issues). A mesh network, by the way, is a system that more or less interconnects multiple network access points to create a broader and more ubiquitous mesh of network connectivity. Instead of each access point needing a direct wired connection to your router, each shares the connection from the original node and spreads it evenly (and often powerfully) across a much wider area. Google Wi-Fi and Eero are two such third-party mesh network systems. I’ve been using Eero for years.

Altice One Smart Wifi
This sounded great, but that more information link led to a dead end.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Less is Not More

In making the switch on my Altice system, it took my two existing Wi-Fi networks, a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz one, and combined them into a single network. Then, according to the update, there was just one network connection option that used the 2.4 GHz network’s SSID.

However, since I made the change, nothing has gone smoothly. My computers and our game systems cannot seem find the new network. Most list the old 5 GHz network as still existing, even though none can connect to it. I tell my devices to forget the network, but it still appears. Meanwhile, the new network doesn’t appear on most of my available Wi-Fi lists.

One of my Altice boxes upstairs temporarily lost access to a number of cable channels. A hard restart fixed that issue—until it returned the next day.

And now there’s the DVR issue.

I know, what does my local Wi-Fi network have to do with the DVR? Altice One does not store my DVR shows locally. Instead, they are all in the cloud and the menu system for accessing the recorded content is through the Altice Network, which mostly appears to run through the Wi-Fi, now mesh network, connection.

Since I made the change, nothing has gone smoothly. My computers and our game systems cannot seem find the new network.

As I struggled to figure out how to watch my favorite show, I realized that I could bypass the crappy Altice One set top box system altogether. As my wife watched, I left my cooling breakfast in the dining room and grabbed my 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

After updating the Altice One app and signing in, I found all my DVR content, including the full episode of that day’s CBS Sunday Morning.

iPad Pro with video
Oh, so this is how a DVR should work.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

We settled in and started watching. The resolution was a bit sub-par, but otherwise, it was a good experience. In fact, it was ten times better than watching it through the Altice box where the remote is terrible (it only works if you point it directly at the box) and makes it impossible to perfectly skip commercials or go back when you overshoot your mark. On the iPad, I tapped a little “go forward 30 seconds” icon to instantly skip commercials and a little “go back 10 seconds icon” if I went too far. This worked perfectly, and I wondered why Altice One could not replicate the experience on their set-top boxes.

So What

The good news is that the days of storing TV content on local and fallible hard drives is over. The bad news is that companies like Altice One are terrible technology companies that do not understand the importance of smart interfaces and reliable operations. They get excited about the next new thing, but then dump it on consumers before they’ve adequately tested the product. At one point I visited Altice One’s web site to learn more about Smart WiFi, but when I clicked on the “Learn More” link, it led to a “Page Not Found.” Nice job, Altice.

Ultimately, we’re in a transition period. Cable companies have a lot of work to do to match the slick and effortless systems we can buy from companies like Apple and Roku.

I seriously started considering dumping Altice One’s cable service, but there are still too many network shows I like and I’m not yet ready to pay à la carte for everything. I say, “not yet," because the clock is ticking on my cable subscription. My goal is Internet service only by 2022. In the meantime, Altice, please get your technology house in order.