A few months back Clear, the WiMax 4G Joint-Venture between Sprint, Comcast and a host of other companies launched in the Philadelphia area claiming broadband speeds up to 4X faster than the cell phone companies. Given that neither Comcast High-speed, nor Verizon FiOS was available in my Center City condo, I decided to give it a try.
I signed up for the “Pick-2” promotion with both Mobile and Home Internet. Sign-up was easy and the order without a 2-year contract was completed in less than five minutes.
The next-business day I had two packages waiting for me. The packages arrived covered in “hazardous materials” stickers. This completely threw me off from the fact that this was the order I had placed the day before. I’m not sure if the goal here was to scare would be criminals from stealing my order, or if I am now in-fact slowly dying of radiation poisoning.
The “Home” package contained a shark-fin Motorola WiMax modem, Ethernet cable, power cable and installation manual. The “Mobile” package contained a Motorola WiMax USB modem, USB flash drive containing installation software and a USB adapter allowing you to rotate the modem perpendicularly.
Installation and use:
Installation was about as simple as could be. For the Home modem all I did was plug it into the wall and my WiFi router. In about 30 seconds it found a signal and obtained an IP-address. After loading up my computer I was redirected to the Clear registration page where I could sign up for Clear email and set up the remainder of my billing information. The hardest part of the whole set-up was trying to find the best signal in my home. The top of the modem has five bars, much like a cell phone. You obviously want as many bars as possible to light up. Unfortunately I could only achieve three bars. This means speeds in the home were anything but “super-fast.” In my informal tests during peak hours (9pm) I was able to achieve between 1 – 1.5mbps downstream.
Mobile installation required me to install the software contained on the USB flash drive first. After that was installed a little green and white icon was placed on my desktop. Once you load the Clear software and plug in the USB modem, Clear attempts to find a signal and offers to connect to the network for you. Instead of five bars, the Clear Connection Manager has ten which show you your current signal strength. Once connected and stationary I was able to achieve roughly 3.2mbps down with bursts to 4mbps and 82kbps up. (These speeds were obtained just outside of Center City, near Overbrook Station.) Consistently, within my home, the speeds obtained by my mobile USB device were faster than the speeds obtained by the larger device. Even moving the position of my in-home device did not help.
I mainly signed up for the mobile package so that I could use my computer on my commute to and from work. I ride the R5-Throndale train which is well-within Clear’s mobile coverage area. Unfortunately the signal on that line is not exactly consistent. Frequently as the train gets up to speed my connection is dropped. Once you get to stations further down the mainline, Villanova, Radnor, etc, it becomes impossible to connect. Perhaps they should take down their ads in the train cars which only serve to frustrate and taunt me as I wait for a reconnection.
– The IP Address assigned by clear is in the 192.168.x.x range which is not publicly addressable. If you run dyndns or some other dynamic DNS service for reaching your home network, you will be out of luck with Clear.
– This thing does not work on fast(er) moving vehicles (defying the laws of physics.) Be sure to take Clear for a test drive on your normal route if you plan to rely on it for a connection while moving. (Clear does have another option for 3G/4G connections. This option has a high $250 up-front cost, but can serve to smooth out dead-spots within the 4G coverage area.)
Clear isn’t exactly the “super-fast” mobile Internet they claim to be. Especially in areas outside of Center City and along the main-line. If Clear or DSL are your only options in the home, Clear is definitely better than DSL or dial-up. If you can get FiOS or Cable, stick with those. For the mobile option, the speeds are definitely faster than 4G, but only if you are in a fixed location. Travel around the coverage area and you are likely to get spotty speeds.