Posted at 8:38:00 AM in Vendors (40) | Read count: 2642

I have been attending the computer fair for several months and walked past the booth for Clearwire (also known as Clear) and ignored them because I thought it was just a gimick to sell cellular internet access, which I didn't need.  Little did I know that they were also selling a fantastic alternative to DSL and Cable internet services for the home.  Also over the cellular network.  4G has arrived!

I finally discovered their offereings while installing a brand new laptop for a client and during the install, I kept getting a pop up message about WiMAX, which I googled.  WiMAX is a built-in cellular device that allows you to connect to the 4G network and get phenominal download speeds.  The fact that it's built into the laptop means you don't have any USB device to lose or get broken off at the neck.  It means, whereever you have your laptop, you have internet access... in theory.  The wikipedia page for WiMAX explains a lot about the service deployment and possibilities.  They specifically talk about Clearwire which I then went to look up.

Sure enough, Clearwire is the same company that I have seen at the computer fair under the name Clear.  You can check out their web site at  They advertise download speeds of 6Mbps down and 1Mbps up which would be pretty good for home service and would be awesome for mobile service.  I didn't understand the home service at first.  I believed the service was associated with a mobile unit such as a USB or the new WiMAX devices installed in laptops, so why the home service?  They also advertise phone service, but the modem I received had a note that phone service would require an additional connector to allow the phone to be attached.  I get the impression from this that the phone service isn't quite ready yet.

I bought the bundled service with a home spot access service modem and a mobile USB device.  The equipment was free, but I was told it would normally have been available for purchase at 80 for the modem and 85 for the USB connector or I could get them on a lease option.  But free is better, I was told that no lease option would suddenly activate after a certain period of time that the equipment was mine to keep.  The service included one month free which was a $60 value and they broke that up over the first 2 months.  Total to activate the service and to get priority shipment was $32.00.  I got the hardware in 2 days delivered to my house.

The setup couldn't possiblity be easier.  The home-spot modem is a little larger than a standard router.  It has two ports, one for electricity and one for your ethernet connection.  On the front edge are 5 lights that when plugged in all light up with the center light flashing.  This continues for about 1 or 2 minutes then they all flash in sequence.  The service is ready when the lights become solid on with no flashing.  The 5 lights actually indicate the signal strength, 5 lights indicating full signal and fewer lights indicating less signal, just like your cell phone attenna signal strength indicator shows. 

The instructions suggest that you put the modem as close to a window or external wall as possible in order to improve signal strength.  I found it does make a difference.  Sitting next to the wall, I got 2 bars.  I got 3 bars when I moved it next to the window and the 4th bar would light quite frequently when I opened the window.  I don't know how true that actually is.

My first problem that I called tech support about was the password they supplied with the modem setup instructions wasn't working.  They provided CLEARWIRE123.  That didn't work and neither did the any other passwords that I would normally see with setting up a new modem.  I tried password, 12345, admin, blank and none of them worked.  I tried clear123, clearwire123, Clear123, Clearwire123 and several others before I got support on the phone.  The first thing they suggested was that I try password.  I thought that was funny, why would they help me guess at the password.  After they put me on hold they came back with the password motorola, which worked.  So much for documentation or even creating the interface like their instructions suggest that they did.

I was curious though about my call to tech support as there was a message that indicated there was a problem in my area and to hang up and call again later.  So, I asked what the problem in my area was.  The technician couldn't tell me.  However, since the password issue didn't keep me off the internet, I ran some speed tests and found the performance absolutely dismal.  I felt for sure the "problem with the service in my area" had something to do with it so, I explained why I was asking about that problem. 

I really doubted that any problem they would be working on would cause the problems I was seeing, but I wanted to hear what this issue was.  I used to test out my service and found my IP reported that I was in Florida.  Naturally, chosing any test location in Florida would make my test that much worse.  Sure enough, my latency was 311ms to 456ms.  When I picked a location closer in Califonia the latency dropped to 145ms which isn't good, but far better than the original test.  The download was 1.3Mbps and the upload was 70kbps.  That didn't change when I selected a site more local.  Web pages loaded very sluggishly, worse than any cellular data service I've ever used.

Which brings up the connection to tech support.  Our conversation was very scratchy also and often faded where she couldn't hear me.  That's an indication of VoIP and I wanted to ask the tech if they were using their own service to pass the voice communications over, if so, then that was probably a good idication of why I wasn't getting good service.

When I reported the horrid indications I was getting, the tech suggested I try, which I was already doing.  They finally told me that the problem was "on-going maintenance" and it should be repaired in 24 to 48 hours.  That of course tells me nothing, but I did note that the service was very poor and would I be able to return my equipment and cancel my plan.  The tech just laughed and told me that everything would be alright and not to worry.

Good tech support.  I'm willing to wait a few days to see if it will improve.  In my research and discussions with the sales and tech support people, it appears that the service runs over Sprint's network.  This is the only service I've ever used that showed that they covered the area I was in, but I didn't get coverage there.  There wasn't even a hint of service.  When I called they would tell me that they are planning deployment in that area but they couldn't give me a date.  After 6 months of that run around, I cancelled my account.  That was 15 years ago and it certainly seems that the same run around tactic is still being employeed today.

There is no way to tell if I'm even getting 4G service from within the modem's interface.  I asked the technician if there was a way to tell and they seemed totally confused as to what I was asking.  They looked up the address and told me I had 2 cell towers very close and that I am for sure using the 4G network. 

"Right, but these aren't 4G speeds, and not anywhere close to the advertized speeds.  What's the problem?" 

"Move  your modem closer to a window or open the window sir." 

"I've done that, I have 3 to 4 bars of signal strength." 

"Then you should be getting good service." 

"That's my point. I'm not. How can I tell what service I'm using?"

" I'm sure you're using the 4G network."

"Then why aren't I getting 4G speeds?" 

Long pause. 

"How long till this 'on-going maintenance' is completed?" 

"Within 24 to 48 hours sir."  "

And if it doesn't improve after that time, can I return my equipment and cancel my account?" 

<laughs> "Your service will be fine sir."

It's a good concept.  It just needs a little more help getting off the launch pad, like getting 4G service actually out where it can be used. 

Written by Leonard Rogers on Thursday, December 23, 2010 | Comments (0)

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