Nathan Roach

Lawyer, Advisor, Investor, Entrepreneur.

An update on my service, and the LTE / WiMAX conundrum

<p>I <a href="">wrote about Clear</a> when it was first launched in San Antonio. &nbsp;The TLDR version of that article is that I had mixed feelings about the service from a business perspective, but felt that the technology was promising. &nbsp;I've been using Clear's service now for almost four months, and <a href="">that article</a> has gotten some decent traffic and <a href="" target="_blank">cross-links</a>, so another update is due. &nbsp;Here are the big changes since I last looked at them:</p>

The pricing "for life" pitch is gone.

This was probably just a promo deal, but when the service launched, you could get mobile for $30/mo and home+mobile for about 50-60/mo "for life". The home+mobile is really just two lines of service.  There's no reason you couldn't have both lines acting as mobile. The current two-line plan adds a teaser rate, but drops the guaranteed pricing: "Pay only $30/month for the 1st two months, then $55/month thereafter." The single-line plan is even cheaper up front but winds up being more expensive long-term: "Pay only $15/month for the 1st two months, then $40/month thereafter."

They may be capping speeds.

It also looks like there *might* be speed caps now.  The old plan offered unlimited download speeds, which I read as meaning that the actual download speed of your connection was limited only by the WiMAX protocol's limits and that bandwidth that's provisioned to the towers.

The new mobile plan advertises "unlimited internet usage" and "download speeds up to 6.0 Mbps".  In reality, I never saw more than 6 megs down on the unlimited plan, but there is a difference between unlimited usage with a "speed limit" of 6.0 Mbps and uncapped, unlimited usage.  I can't tell if this was actually implemented as a technological "hard cap" or whether it's just a more accurate re-wording of their legalese.  

You can get contract-free pricing if you're careful.

Once you get to the sign-up link, you can choose a 2-year Agreement or Month-to-Month.  DO NOT CHOOSE THE AGREEMENT. The only benefit to the agreement is that you can add the equipment as a monthly leased expense. WIth month-to-month you have to pay for the equipment up front.  Still, the cost of leasing equipment almost never works out in the customer's favor.  Ever since the Carterfone decision, operators have been prohibited from requiring only their own equipment on telephone networks, and while I don't know if Clear's internet-only offering would be covered, it's a safe bet that you should pick up your own gear if you can. After all, you don't want to wind up paying $4,900 for use of rotary phone, do you?  Besides, you can get 4G USB adapters on Ebay for $10-$15.  Why pay monthly for cheap hardware?

You can get Clear service from your Cable Co.

Clear has agreements with Sprint, Time Warner, and Comcast.  These guys are just re-branding the Clear service, and selling it at a markup.  Time Warner calls theirs "Road Runner Mobile". I know Sprint holds an interest in Clear, and it's possible that TW and Comcast do as well.  Unless you prefer the convenience of consolidated billing, or just love cable company customer service, you can probably save some money buying directly from Clear.

LTE is coming, 4G+ is here.

With technology, there's always the "next greatest thing" right around the corner.  Heck, WiMAX deployments are still relatively cutting edge.  AT&T is still pushing 3G on the iPhones and iPad. (article on this to follow).  But, LTE is another kind of 4G technology that could offer a 2x to 10x improvement over WiMAX, depending upon how the carriers deploy it.  Verizon is pre-announcing LTE gear already.

And, Clear has implemented plans they're calling 4G+ that can fall back to 3G (on Sprint's EVDO network), but with limitations on speed and total transfer.  There's probably enough for a separate post just on LTE and WiMAX, and Clear has made some public statements about possibly moving to LTE when it's more broadly available.  So, this could get interesting. 

Would I recommend it?

Clear's service isn't flawless.  But it's good enough that I've switched to it full-time at home and keep a mobile USB adapter in my laptop bag.  I just called Time Warner and scheduled a disconnect.  Between free over-the-air HDTV and Clear's wireless internet, I can cut the cord.  If you're a speed junkie, you'll still get faster speeds on a wired cable modem.  If you use VOIP extensively and aren't in a strong coverage area, calls on Clear's network can be choppy.

I'm happy enough with it to run Clear as my only ISP.  But I'm also tolerant of bleeding-edge technology glitches and can troubleshoot most problems myself.  I think Clear is mostly there in terms of being ready for mainstream adoption.  As long as they can keep enough bandwidth to the towers and they don't over-subscribe users, I think they'll be fine.