Review: Trying Clear from Clearwire - Mobile Broadband Service
As 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:
You can go an put your address in, of course. For the Portland/Metro area it's pretty good on paper:
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.
They 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.
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
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.
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.