Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for December 29th, 2009

Clear: Why Try 4G Hi Fi Wi Fi?

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I’m very blessed in that working for IBM, I’m able to work most anywhere that there’s a working phone connection and Internet access (and often do!).

Considering that we sell technology that powers remote work, to do anything less would be downright hypocritical, don’t you think?  : )

Of course, working remotely requires a certain amount of self-discipline which, being a writer, among other things, I mostly have.

During this holiday season, I’ve worked a few days from the Watson Starship Enterprise motor home (my newfangled nickname for the Monaco Dynasty 42 foot motor home where my retired parents now live full time), situated here at the Destiny RV Park just outside Denton, Texas (our hometown).

I was able to pull this off this year thanks to the generous testing opportunity of a new 4G WiMAX technology called Clear.

A buddy of mine works for Clear in Austin, and he asked me if I wanted to give Clear’s new 4G technology a test drive sometime, free of charge.  The Christmas holidays presented a perfect opportunity to do so.

The first wide area wireless Internet technology I ever saw was actually while visiting Prague back in 1998, where a friend of mine was living at the time.  I think it involved big microwave towers.

I’ve wondered why wide area wireless Internet access hadn’t made a resurgence since then, and I suspect the landline competition from the telcos and the cable companies is certainly a key reason.

But leave it up to Craig McCaw, a godfather of the American cellular phone business and founder of Clear’s parent company, Clearwire, to come up with a new solution.

Clearwire currently offers wireless broadband services in 46 U.S. markets, along with Belgium, Spain, Ireland, and others, and has a list of very interesting partners and investors which are clearly hedging their Internet bets: Sprint, Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, and Google.

In November 2008, Clearwire partnered with Sprint to combine their next-generation wireless broadband businesses into a new wireless communications company, which continues to be named Clearwire.

As part of that deal, Sprint gave all of its 2.5 GHz spectrum and WiMAX-related assets to Clearwire, which is the entity currently offering the 4G wide area broadband service, and which is expected to be available in up to 80 U.S. markets by the end of next year, and cover up to 120 million Americans.

So, that’s the backstory.

Now, here’s my experience:

Before the holidays, my buddy Brandon set me up with a Motorola WiMAX USB Adaptor, put me in the Clear system, and we downloaded drivers for both my Macbook Pro and my Dell (so I could try it out on both machines).

Back in Austin, up on the hill (I live just south of Town Lake off South Lamar) I was constantly receiving a good 8-10 bars, and my speed tests were revealing a solid 4 Mbps.  There was no problem whatsoever with video/audio streams, and I could safely listen to Pandora while replicating my email.

Billed as being 4X faster than regular 3G access, Clear was living up to its brand promise.

Here at the Destiny RV Park, things have been a bit more interesting.  Admittedly, I’m on the margin of the small metropolis of Denton, so I didn’t expect the coverage to be very good.  And I’ve been mostly correct.

On average, I’ve gotten between 2 and 4 bars (out of 10), but even that has mostly been enough to allow me to do a variety of core Internet tasks: streaming video/audio (again, with very little buffering impact); replicating email (including with large attachments); visiting numerous websites with a great diversity of page load requirements; instant messaging (both work and personal); posting pictures to Facebook…and, well, I’m impressed.

First, I’m impressed that it works so consistently (I’ve really been hammering it the last two days working here).  The connection is very consistent, even at the slower speeds.

Second, I’m impressed that I don’t need as much bandwidth as I would have thought I might for some of those regular tasks.  However, recognize I was NOT entering into any emeetings and the like, which I think may have challenged my access speed here at the RV park.

It hasn’t been without fail, though.  Several times, particularly in the evenings, I’ve tried to hit a Web page, and the “no connection” message came up in Safari, only to have it work again ten minutes later.

So, clearly (pun intended), the strength of the signal makes a big difference (as with any wireless connection).

Would I replace my current landline Internet access with Clear?  Not yet.

My Time Warner Roadrunner connectivity is too reliable and too high speed (speed tested at 16 Mbps download right before I left Austin for the holidays).

That said, I’m awfully enticed by the promise and ability of Clear to deliver even before their infrastructure buildout is complete.

This is clearly (there I go again) an idea whose time to come, particularly as the buildout expands and we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by more ubiquitous WiMAX towers — at least in major cities…you’ll have to find another solution out in the boonies.

You can imagine no end of use cases where higher speed wireless makes all kind of sense for somebody moving about in a metropolitan area: real estate agents, local trucking, pizza delivery guys, city workers needing dispatch services and access to online resources…the list goes on and on.

And, considering that Clear is able to offer 4 Mbps reliably in a city like Austin, as demand increases the opportunity for more aggressive pricing kicks in, and suddenly WiMAX becomes a very viable alternative to landline Internet (and hence the investments in Clearwire from Comcast and Time Warner).

Never mind the fact that there’s no need for rolling up a truck into somebody’s house to install all that equipment.

Clear is easy enough to install that even a techno-idiot like myself can plug in the router and install the modem/load the software, and for an additional $25/month you can bundle an IP phone (which I didn’t get to try).

That means, for the cost of about $75/month, a user or small business could have a high-speed Internet bundle with a VOIP phone with nothing required but a power outlet and a computer to hook it into (again, assuming you’re inside a coverage area).

Not bad.

And, considering the problems AT&T has been having with its data servicing for the iPhone in major metro areas like San Francisco and New York City, and recognizing that AT&T’s 4G answer, “Long Term Evolution,” won’t be commercially available until at least 2011, I have to wonder if 4G doesn’t become a viable bridge technology that starts to supplant regular telco mobile data service.

No matter its fate, it’s clear to me that, assuming Clear can find its way to conveying a clear and compelling value proposition as to why one would subscribe to it versus existing landline Internet access (see earlier scenarios), then Clear has a clear future indeed.

Written by turbotodd

December 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm

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