Scott Hanselman

Review: Trying Clear from Clearwire - Mobile Broadband Service

October 9, '09 Comments [27] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews
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imageAs a remote worker, I really need decent internet when I'm not in my home office. Sometimes I'll be at the local coffee shop, but more and more restaurants with Wi-Fi are kicking folks out who are leaching their bandwidth. I probably, in aggregate, waste an hour or two a month hunting for Wi-Fi.

Clear Wireless - The Good

One of the newest entries into the mobile wireless internet business in the US is ClearWire from clear.com. It's a WiMAX technology and it's got extremely limited coverage at this point. However, it covers where I am 90% of the time:

Clear Coverage Map

You can go an put your address in, of course. For the Portland/Metro area it's pretty good on paper:

image

Clear just started a new promotion where you get 1/2 your service for the first 6 months. That means about US$22.50 a month for unlimited mobile wireless.

ClearWire Clear Speed TestThey call it "4G WiMAX" and the package I got included:

  • 3-6mb/s download, 1mb/s upload. I got over 6 in my tests around Portland. It does drop off some inside buildings.
  • I paid $49 for a USB modem
  • They have a 2 year contract, but I reject contracts and instead opted for a month-to-month. I paid $35 for the privilege.

So, $100 out of pocket, but $22.50 a month for the next several months. If it's awesome, I'll pay $45 a month. If not, I'll cancel.

Rude Q&A

Some folks might immediately ask these questions. Here's my best answers.

Q. Why not just tether your phone?

A. AT&T's 3G network is not only crappy, but they are threatening to cap their most leachy users. That will no doubt affect me. Most 3G phones max out their bandwidth at about 3.6mb/s depending on radio. Others can do 7.2mb/s, but seriously,when have you EVER seen that kind of sustained throughput on your 3G phone?

Q. Is it faster than 3G?

A. So far it feels faster. I was totally able to hold a two way 640x480 audio/video conference with screensharing and with no lag. I just don't see that happening over a tethered phone connection.

Q. But really, the coverage is non-existent.

A. True, and it bothers me, but I realize that I really *am* in the NW 90% of the time and my hope is that this will open up more places for me to work around the region. I'm tired of hunting for a connection, and as this was a near daily irritation, for the price of $22.50 a month (for the first few months) I've removed that irritation. This seems a reasonable trade-off so far.

Q. What about caps?

A. So, I know that most 3G providers with "unlimited" bandwidth cap at 5gigs. I could barely sync my email with 5 gig. ;) I could use that in a few days of video calls, so I really need more like 30-40 gigs a month...so, I prefer the comfort of an "unlimited" package. It remains to be seen if Clear really means unlimited when they say it, but I certainly don't think they mean 5gigs a month.

Q. Their site seems amateurish.

A. Agreed. Something doesn't "smell" right about ClearWire, and it's likely the lack of good design on their website. Their previous one was WAY better. It's amazing how these kinds of things can really color your impressions of a company. As a company precense, they just don't seem "polished." Their Services Overview page is unnecessarily complex

The Bad

Clear There is no formal support for Windows 7 and their "highly trained support professionals" have no idea what they're talking about.

The installation drivers the Clear-branded Motorola USB WiMax Beweem model that the service came with totally didn't know what to do with Windows 7 x64. Additionally, the online August 2009 drivers for Vista failed to install. What I ended up doing was opening Device Manager in Windows and doing a manual "Update Drivers" and pointing it to the drivers folder on the October 2008 CD that the device came with. So, basically, old drivers and new software. They promised it'll work someday with Windows 7. Maybe it will, but until then, I'm MacGyver.

Conclusion

Too soon to tell. Is it a great idea? Sure. Wireless that works over miles? I'm all over it. However, they've got Comcast, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and everyone else to compete with. If AT&T really gets their tethering act together and starts really pushing it, that could be a problem for Clear. We will see. Until now, I'm going to give it a go.

Dear Reader, post your ClearWire experiences in the comments! I'll update this post as mine observations change.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009 12:55:43 AM UTC
When I had ClearWireless as my backup Internet connection, I kept having issue with the fact I have large tree around my house, and thus would have weak or no signal. It did not last long as my back up solution.
Saturday, October 10, 2009 1:28:18 AM UTC
@Scott, you can also try Sprint: http://www.nextel.com/en/solutions/mobile_broadband/mobile_broadband_4G.shtml, it looks like it is available in the same area as Clear. Sounds like they use the same infrastructure.
Saturday, October 10, 2009 2:22:17 AM UTC
Clearwire has earned a special place on my shit list, because they took advantage of my dear Mom, praying on her naivety and lack of tech savvy. Her long story short is that she went from dial-up to them. I didn't find this stuff out until I tried using the service at her house. Here's the crap they pulled:
- The unit she had installed was supposed to have a built-in wifi router. It didn't work, the replacement didn't either, and they wouldn't/couldn't figure out why, so she ended up having to buy a standalone wifi router.
- Her download speeds were about 5KB/second. That's right - Kilobytes. Since she was coming from dial-up, she didn't know how it should've been like.
- After I discovered all this and educated her on how things should really work, she tried resolving the issues with their customer service, but they wouldn't/couldn't fix the problem, and they refused to let her out of her contract.

I found out that in her area, there's a plethora of customer complaints, and I'm surprised the company still has a presence there at all. The local business bureau recommended that people contact the Attorney General's office in the company's home state (I think that was somewhere on the West coast - these incidents happened in Minnesota).

So, if you have a good experience, great. But if you don't, please don't hesitate to use your powers of communication to let others know.
Saturday, October 10, 2009 2:28:12 AM UTC
jstawski:

Sprint uses Clear's 4G network.

Scott:

Have you had any latency problems with games, skype, video chat, etc?
Saturday, October 10, 2009 3:04:50 AM UTC
No latency problems at all. I was on a Video chat today for nearly 2 hours with nary a problem. I was sitting on the patio at the Beaverton Chipotle. I called my wife via Skype afterwards, again, no problem.

Wow, that's messed up...I'm sorry to hear about that with your Mom. How did she get hooked up on Clear? I would definitely say that they are trained to sell the systems and as soon as I hit a technical problem I was basically talking to myself. I wonder if your Mom was dealing with Clear or with a "Clear Reseller" - which can be *anyone.*
Saturday, October 10, 2009 3:37:44 AM UTC
This is faster than my hard-wired Comcast broadband has been over the past month (at a consistant 4Mdown/.3up).

Comcast tech said it was due to 'slow internet'. Funny nobody else is having these problems.
Saturday, October 10, 2009 6:40:21 PM UTC
They NW coverage is not as great as their initial maps shows. In fact they only have 4G coverage in Bellingham out of all WA... Who the heck decided people in Bellingham need 4G more than Seattle area?!
Monday, October 12, 2009 4:12:59 PM UTC
I've read that early Clear Wire adopters were stuck with a sort of hybrid of Wimax that wasn't that great. That was part of the old ClearWire. What happened, was that a new ClearWire company was formed that was a collaboration of Sprint, Intel, Google and one of the cable companies, and given the same name as the old company ClearWire. Sprint gives ClearWire access to its cell towers, and ClearWire lets Sprint sell WiMax, etc. So anyway, my point being, that early adopters were using a different technology (And may still be using it in some markets) and that other markets use true WiMax tech.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10:08:08 PM UTC
ClearWire seems to be HUGE here in Seattle. They are CONSTANTLY advertising on local stations and have billboards everywhere. I get a flyer from them at least once a month if not more. I wonder if they are based out of Seattle as they don't appear to be re-sellers that are pushing the service here.

P.S. I must not be smart enough to use the OpenID login. Every time I try it sends me off to login then I come back but none of my information is entered?
Thursday, October 29, 2009 10:44:18 PM UTC
FYI, everyone, Clear.com has Windows 7 drivers available now and they work great.
Friday, October 30, 2009 3:19:38 PM UTC
It's too bad they don't have service in Wisconsin.
Thursday, November 05, 2009 7:17:38 PM UTC
If you ask they'll send a tech to your place to check signal strength. I'm considering signing up, but that non-refundable activation fee kinda stinks, so I want to get a feel for the signal first.

$22.50 a month for 6Mb/s? Bye bye comcast and your ridiculous introductory/package/special offers. I feel like, with comcast, I have to call them once a year and talk them down from the ridiculous fee they want to charge me. Thanks for the info Scott. I don't care what anyone else says about you, you're alright.
Friday, November 06, 2009 1:05:11 AM UTC
Update: turns out my part of NE Portland is a grey area. Best signal I could get was 2.5Mbps down. Seems weird since the nearest tower is just over half a mile away.
Friday, November 06, 2009 7:25:41 PM UTC
Being in Network Operations for Clear (not tech support) I can tell you that the new service is real wimax not the hybrid expedience that was being sold. The new service, with good signal, has the capacity to supply a sustained 6Mbps with bursting speeds of up to 12Mbps. These speeds are typically seen on 28CINR (carrier interference to noise ratio) and above. Typically you must have a 12CINR or above to get consistant speeds. The home units (CPEi150 from Motorola) do not supply a way of knowing what the CINR is, only lights on the top, so look for three or more if you are a power user. The USB units however allow you to check real time statistics by going to the folder to the top left of the CCM (clear connection manager) and clicking on the folder then going to help, then diagnostics, and then to advanced and it will show the RT (real time) CINR. This is the easiest way to check for signal strength and any sort of interference you might be having. Also know that the USB units have a reduced signal gain than that of the WRSU (home unit), at approximately 2-3 CINR difference sitting in relatively the same location. If you are in coverage area service will be great, if not then it might be an issue. Also on the note of the tech support, just as with any company there can be people that do not exactly enjoy or value their jobs and might let the day to day get to them. Give tech another chance before making an assumption about the whole company's overall support. Have a great day and happy surfing!
Guest
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 8:53:49 PM UTC
Actually if you have a HOME device you can determine the CINR and RSSI by merely connecting to the device. Simply browse to 192.168.15.1 and use the password motorola, best not to make any changes to the configuration. From the page simply refresh on the status page or Reset (small button left of Refresh on the bottom of the page). You can easily see your RSSI and CINR.
juankt
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 8:57:16 PM UTC
One other note, if your RSSI is -65 or lower (-66 -67) and your CINR is < 12 don't expect to get more than bursts at 1.5 Mb down, moreover if you use VOIP (Packet8, Vonage, Skype, etc.) your service will totally stink, fuzzy audio, dropped calls etc.

I had to get mine to RSSI -54 and CINR 14 before I could get reliable VOIP and network.
juankt
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 6:38:39 AM UTC
So I've been demoing Clear in Dallas, TX for almost 2 months now. Unfortunately I'm in an area where I can pull signal from only one Tower. I'm a little confused at RSSI and CINR measurements. Clear support has been giving me the run around for over a month now and finally someone tells me that it's possible interference/noise that's giving me such a variable bandwidth rate. I test very inconsistently between 2.5 - 8.5 Mbps down and very consistently around 900-1000 kbps up. They've basically told me to move the modem away from double pane windows and electronics. There is only on location in my house that I can get a CINR above 20 (it sits at 21) and my RSSI sits at -72. It happens to be right behind my TV which is also pretty close to a window (about 3 feet away). I've moved the modem all over my house with little improvement to the RSSI. The RSSI goes up to -78 in most locations and there are a few spots where I get a CINR of about 16-17 (4 bars). Is a number closer to 0 better for the RSSI? I under the higher the CINR the better.

I've also replaced the modem as well and that didn't change things. I personally think the issue has to do with local bandwidth resources, but I don't know enough about this technology or wireless communication to assume that's the problem.

Any thoughts?

Mike
Thursday, April 15, 2010 11:19:55 PM UTC
I would never suggest that anyone switch to Clearwire. The ads sound great, but the service is in no way on par with the promises. I finally managed to get Clear to release my phone number and switched to another provider. Our biggest complaint was the phone service. After much haggling and many hours of cell phone time, Clear "graciously" agreed that they could not fix the problem and they would waive the voice early termination fee. At one point a customer service rep suggested that our phone system was at fault and that we needed to replace it. Preferably with a corded phone. I wasn't sure if this person was serious at first, but apparently they thought this would solve the problem. Mind you, we had internet phone service prior to switching to Clear and did not have any issues using our cordless phones and we now have internet phone service through another provider and have excellent phone service. Has anyone seen a corded phone system for sale anytime in the last ten years?
We bought our service as a package. If the phone wouldn't work we wanted to cancel the whole package. Clear was not cooperative and we ended up filing an Attorney Generals Consumer Complaint. All we want is for Clear to accept the return of the hardware that we purchased for a service that does not work. Today I received Clear's reply to our AG complaint and they decline to refund the purchase price of the hardware. I actually had a customer service rep at Clear suggest that I simply list the equipment on CraigsList.
Aside from the numerous blogs, articles, and news reports blasting Clear, a Class Action law suit has been filed against Clear in the state of Washington. No doubt other states will follow since Clear appears to have no intentions to remedy their service issues or to properly reimburse consumers when their service does not work.

Dana C
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 7:18:49 PM UTC
I will let anyone that asks me know how horrible not only the wireless service is with Clear Communications, as well as how their Customer Support won't own up to the fact that the service does not work in inclement weather (light rain, etc.).

To top it all off, they will not let you cancel service without a penalty unless they have documented proof of problems. Sorry, but I have better things to do than to wait on hold for over an hour for a tech. I have waited for over 2 hours once. Apparently they were trying to help all of the other people in my areas with issues.

As an IT independent consultant, I will tell everyone I know to not consider any type of service with Clear. Thanks for allowing me the pleasure of paying $100.00 as a cancellation for horrible service.

I'm sure there will be a class action lawsuit in their future.

Alex
AlexinCharlotte
Saturday, May 01, 2010 1:56:00 AM UTC
I was wondering if you are still using Clear? If so, how has the service been?

Sunday, May 02, 2010 8:43:53 PM UTC
Yep, still working great. I use it 3-4 times a week.
Friday, May 14, 2010 1:41:18 PM UTC
I also gave Clear a try, but couldn't get it working in my apartment (despite trying numerous anntenna locations/directions). The most I was getting was 100K/s, even though I'm less than a mile from a tower. Also, the return/cancellation was a hassle, as I couldn't simply return the equipment to the brick-and-mortar store. They also "forgot" to credit me for some of the equipment, and I had to call them multiple times for my refund.

Glad to hear your experience has been good. Maybe I can give it another go when I move to a new place.
Friday, May 21, 2010 4:20:24 PM UTC
Clear 4g promised the best possible, constant signal at my address per the sales person who was "looking at my address on the coverage map". Wonderful, I think. Then reality; I have trees and even on the coverage map displayed on the laptop from Clear 4g shown to me by the troubleshooting tech who came a week after the request to return everything for lack of any signal, there was no coverage what-so-ever within a block of my house! Fraud is the legal term for such a transaction.

Then the giggling children in the return warehouse every time I tried to get a return lable, "Mr. Williams.." or "Mr. Hypes..." anything save for the name or correct email address I clearly spelled in the online form requesting product and corrected these great CS reps on a more than once. (and no, apparently the tech in the clear 4g truck could not take back the equipment.) One minute to determine that I was lied to and then four weeks to get a confirmation for a return packing slip after three calls. Still no refund.

This service is not to be recommended to the worst enemy. Prepare yourself for nightmares if you say yes to it.
Will
Thursday, June 03, 2010 7:06:31 PM UTC
D'ont tellm me about this Clear Mobile! Is the worst service mobile. They promisse 6 mega and they don's give 1 (ONE megab/sec). Almost all my friends from Chicago are upset about this situation and has cancelled the contract! With manny efforts, they d;ont pay taxes for cancelled. Anyway, is hard to belieave, but that's it! A worst public relations service with chinese or indiens hwo d'ont speak english better than me or my cat... :))
lmsergiu
Thursday, June 03, 2010 7:08:57 PM UTC
D'ont tellm me about this Clear Mobile! Is the worst service mobile. They promisse 6 mega and they don's give 1 (ONE megab/sec). Almost all my friends from Chicago are upset about this situation and has cancelled the contract! With manny efforts, they d;ont pay taxes for cancelled. Anyway, is hard to belieave, but that's it! A worst public relations service with chinese or indiens hwo d'ont speak english better than me or my cat... :))
lmsergiu
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 8:42:05 AM UTC
I've been having TERRIBLE problems with Clear in the past 1-2 months in SE Portland. Not sure what changed, but suddenly the place I'd been placing my receiver (for more than a year) before that no longer pulls in more than 1 light/subpar connection most of the time, and it frequently cuts out for long periods. There've been no major construction projects, no new large trees, no big changes inside my house. Customer service continually suggests that the problem is due to my placement of the receiver, though I haven't changed it and the service dropped. I've had to call customer service 3-4 times due to connectivity problems. It's starting to remind me of the bad ol' days of early AOL. I'd like to switch but don't want to get stuck with capped bandwidth.

Also, be aware that if you use clear, wind, rain, and any nearby electronics seem to cause big problems. Knowing what I know now, I would not choose it again.

As far as customer service goes, I've had about 50/50 good/bad experiences so far.
Julie
Friday, July 02, 2010 5:48:07 AM UTC
Just got connected to Clear. The primary purpose is to get a hotspot and use the wi-fi for my wifi skype ipevo phone. I still haven't taken the hotspot around to test the wifi on the move with my skype phone. But @ home its working flawlessly. Relatively very easy to set up the USB as well as the hotspot. Download speeds are pretty good. Youtube videos stream really well in my area. Planning to stream the Soccer World cup quarterfinals tomorrow and Saturday. Hoping for the better.
Samir
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.