Nathan Roach


Lawyer, Advisor, Investor, Entrepreneur.


I'm trying Clear.com / Clearwire 4G WiMAX Internet

<p><span style="font-size: medium;"><span style="font-size: medium;">I decided to try Clear.com's 4G WiMax service.</span></span></p>

Managing Expectations

Current Alternatives: I live in an area with pretty basic Internet access.  Time Warner Cable supplies cable internet with a burst speed of 20mbps down and 2 up.  I usually get 10-15 sustained down and I'm lucky to see 1 up.  AT&T offers its U-Verse product in our city, but haven't built it out to our older neighborhood yet, so the only option from them is DSL.  Both AT&T and Time Warner have absolutely frightening 2-year contracts, although Time Warner calls theirs a "price lock guarantee" instead of a contract.  They should call it a "customer lock extortion" instead.  I've been with them on a month-to-month plan for some time and my bill fluctuates monthly with a general upward trend.  I've desperately wanted to decouple my TV and Internet because Time Warner has this clever policy where they give you a "discount" on your internet for having TV service.  Which means that if you just want to buy an internet line, it costs you just as much as buying internet and TV together.

Some Concerns on Clear's Terms of Service: When I heard about Clear.com building out WiMax in my area, I was ecstatic. I'm under no illusions that Clear (previously Clearwire) is some kind of savior or game-changer.  They're largely owned by Sprint, a company that has been found to enforce unconscionable contracts on its customers.  My own history with them validates that finding, although I haven't monitored the case to see if/how the appellate process turned out.  However, given the number of home visits I've required from Time Warner just to get basic things like cable-card support working I was ready to try out someone new.  

The User Experience

Give it a Go, Quickly: Clear doesn't give you a very broad window to decide if the service is to your liking.  I think you get five or seven days before you're bound (like the others) into a two-year contract.  They also do some sneaky things like requiring you agree to a TOS which states you agree to their ETF, but then you have to call them to actually find out the ETF (which also makes it hard to prove in court if they try to screw you later).  I did call customer service before signing up, and the rep was very friendly but lied to me directly claiming that I could "save big money" signing up through him rather than the web site.  He said it would take weeks to receive my equipment from the web site and that I'd have to pay for shipping.  Neither of which was true.

Fast Shipping, (mostly) Fast Internet: 
Despite the rep's (commissioned?) pleas to sign up by phone, I placed my order through the web site.   I signed up via their web site Monday afternoon and had the equipment at my door the very next day.  The equipment was well boxed and already provisioned so setup was literally a plug-and-go affair.  I chose the bundle of home, mobile, and voice. 

Image credit: Digital Trends
 The broadband modem for home use required two plugs, one for ethernet and one for power.  Within 2 minutes I had a signal and was connected to the internet via my router.  My average latency was 120ms, up from about 40ms on cable.  Download speed ranged widely from about 3mbs to 7mbs.  Upload was even less than cable, delivering 400kbps vs 800kbps previously.  In actual usage though, the speed differences weren't obtrusive.  Unlike 3G via my iPhone, the WiMax 4G felt like wired internet.  I was even able to get in a bit of MMORPG gaming and the lag was tolerable, delivering about 200ms in-game.  While this objectively this seems like a lot more than the 70ms I saw on cable, it didn't feel that way.  Not to mention I've seen lag-storms of 2500ms+ on roadrunner in the past (based on my neighbors' usage?).  

The mobile installation is almost as easy.  In the box is the USB receiver, an elbow adapter, and a USB drive with the connection manager software.  Well, the software for PC that is.  For my Macbook Pro, I needed to visit their site and download the connection manager.  Fortunately, it was an easy install and the software explicitly lists compatibility with Snow Leopard.  Installation didn't require a reboot and I was quickly in business.

Overall, the speeds aren't going to blow you away if compared to wired internet, but they are very reasonable.  And for the price, I'd say it's quite a deal.  $70 a month covers me for home, mobile, and VOIP.  That's less than I was paying for home service alone from the cable company.  I lose out on a little bit of speed, but that seems a reasonable trade-off for the flexibility and superior mobile speed.

Edit: I found a review from Digital Trends that goes into a bit more detail on the user experience, and my observations are consistent with their findings.