November 29, 2011
Review of Clear (or Clearwire) Internet Service
I have been using Clear for about a year in and around Portland, and my experience has been very up and down. There was a time when the service was terrible for a couple of months. Apparently they were experiencing capacity problems, but eventually they worked through it. Like any wireless service, it depends on where you are in relationship to the antenna(s).
I don’t have a phone with WiMax (which is what Clear is). Instead, my original intention was to use their WiFi hotspot puck to give me a signal for either my phone, my iPad or my laptop when I was away from my office. That experience was very disappointing. I almost never got a “green” signal on the puck, usually only “yellow” and most of the time “red.” Apparently the WiMax signal doesn’t penetrate indoors very well. I still carry the puck around in my bag, but almost never use it.
After a month or two of mostly bad experiences with the puck, I decided to try Clear as a replacement for my home internet service. I had been using DSL but wanted to move to something better. The Clear rep claimed that they could deliver home broadband speeds, so I bought their home router, which is made by Motorola. I’ve got it sitting up on a high shelf next to a window with line-of-site to the closest antenna about a quarter-mile away. I usually get a 4-bar signal (out of 5), which gives me about 2-2.5 MB/sec down and about 1 MB/sec up. That is slightly better than the DSL service that I had been using, but still just barely adequate to qualify as “broadband” in my book. I can do 1 high-speed thing at a time—watch a movie on Netflix, a baseball game on MLB.TV, a game of Starcraft on battle.net—but more than 1 at the same time is out of the question. And even that 1 thing is subject to frequent interrupts for buffering or dropouts.
For the last 6 months of so, the signal has been pretty dependable, but from time to time it will drop to 1-bar for no apparent reason. I suspect that it loses it’s lock on the nearby antenna, and falls back to a more distant antenna. When it does that, I have to reboot the router to get it back up to normal speeds. It will do it itself eventually, but it almost always happens when I’m in the middle of watching something so I don’t want to wait for it.
Overall, I would rate the service as no more than “adequate” most of the time, with it dropping down to “unsatisfactory” from time to time. Its good enough so that I don’t feel compelled to drop it and switch to another provider, but I expect that I will do that eventually. Every time my kids come over to visit, they complain about my internet speed. As a phone/4G service, its probably in the same ballpark as LTE, but I’d say that LTE has a brighter future than WiMax. As a home service, its “okay” especially if your choices are limited, but if you can get cable or fiber, you’ll be much happier.
I pay $57/month for two-device service on a month-to-month basis. I could save $5 by dropping the puck, but I do use it about once a month. I bought both the puck and the home router for $100 a piece in order to avoid the long-term contract, and with the expectation that I would sell them if I dropped the service.