Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

Summary: Clearwire's 4G WiMAX service is fast, but is it good enough to replace Cable or DSL Broadband?

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TOPICS: Browser
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Clearwire's 4G WiMAX service is fast, but is it good enough to replace Cable or DSL Broadband?

Recently, I had a chance to evaluate Clear Wireless's 4G WiMax service, which recently began a national rollout in the last few weeks. I was really interested in seeing how well the service performed, given that I've been plagued with horrendous hotel Wi-Fi in my business travel in the last year or so.

Clearwire is a company that is owned largely by Sprint Nextel, and shares the same 4G technology platform, WiMAX, which is an internationally recognized wide area communications protocol for wireless services.

As currently defined, WiMAX has a theoretical burst mode capability of 40Mbps, with a proposed revision to the standard offering up to 1Gbps speeds. But as deployed today on Clear, the company advertises download speeds of anywhere between 2Mbps and 6Mbps (Megabits per second) depending on your location, how much the signal penetrates the building your are in, the congestion of the network at the time, et cetera.

This is not to say 2 to 6 Mbps is slow by mobile wireless standards. Compared to most 3G systems in place today, it's blazing fast. And if you compare it to the throttling and rate capping that you're likely to encounter in most hotels or in public Wi-Fi hotspots, even the 2Gbps expected performance in a worst-case scenario is still eight times faster than the 256Kbps Wi-Fi that I've encountered in many business hotels.

Clearwire provided me with a USB 4G Sierra Wireless modem for using for my tests. The device is a plug-and play affair, you simply stick it into your USB port and Windows will detect it auto-magically and install the required software. For our tests, we used a Windows 7 desktop PC, with all current patches at the time. In post-installation, the Clear client connectivity software also updated itself to the latest version.

As the service is currently sold, there are a number of data plan and service combos. You can purchase plans that are exclusively 4G, or ones with 4G and 3G roaming capability. In addition to the Sierra Wireless USB modem for laptops, they also have mobile hotspots for sale as well, which allow you to connect to the service using the Wi-Fi interface on your notebook, your iPad, or even your smartphone. If you bring several devices with you when you travel, I'd encourage you to look at the mobile hotspot option.

Our primary test site was a residential second floor apartment in Garfield, New Jersey, using a Dual-core Athlon X2 64-bit Windows 7 desktop PC. In order to test throughput, we used the OOKLA Speedtest.net service as well as the Video Speed Test on YouTube. We also tested downloads and playback using Apple's QuickTime 7 plugin for Windows and the Apple Movie Trailers site.

To maximize reception, we positioned the PC in a room with a large window. We also alternated between having the USB modem connected directly to the port as well as having it sit on the windowsill itself using a long USB extension cable connected to the PC. Overall, we found that the closer that the device was to the window, the better reception and faster throughput we got.

Also Read: Clearwire's 4G takes on Northeast Corridor train like, loses

In the OOKLA tests, we were able to achieve the burst mode and sustained transfer rates advertised by Clearwire. It should be noted that using this test suite, our Garfield, New Jersey location was identified as Weatherford, TX, a Dallas/Fort Worth suburb which is probably the location of the main Clear network operations center (NOC). Our IP was identified as 96.25.219.13

Results using different OOKLA Speedtest.net servers (best times after ten tries each):

Weatherford, TX: Ping 277ms, Download 7.03Mbps, Upload 0.84Mbps

Garfield, New Jersey: Ping 100ms, Download 6.81Mbps, Upload 0.94Mbps

Clifton, New Jersey: Ping 75ms, Download 7.00Mbps, Upload 0.87Mbps

New York City: Ping 93ms, Download 6.87Mbps, Upload 0.93Mbps

In using the YouTube video test page, we were able to sustain playback of 720p video for approximately one hour and a half, at 24-30fps frame rates. We were also able to play back various movies using NetFlix and HD video content from the Apple trailer site without interruption.

It should also be noted that the USB modem felt VERY hot to the touch after pumping so much data through the device, but that's probably to be expected.

So is Clearwire fast? Absolutely. Should you replace your home DSL or Cable connection with it? Probably not.

Where I see the most amount of benefit being derived from this service is the business traveler like myself who needs no-compromise speed and wants to take advantage of streaming services when they are away from home. In a scenario such as this, paying $45 per month for an unlimited 4G plan or $55 a month for a hybrid 4G/3G plan for comprehensive national wireless coverage is probably a no-brainer, especially if they are using a portable access point to use the service.

But home broadband users need reliable connectivity. I also tested the service in my own home, in my wife's downstairs office using a similar Windows 7 PC, with the USB modem connected directly to the port. While the downstairs office has a window on each wall, they are at street level, and I wasn't able to get any 4G service at all. I was able to connect to 3G, but I only got two bars.

Considering that Cable and DSL plans are in the same pricing ballpark as Clearwire, and a typical cable setup will give you anywhere between 15-20Mbps downstream, Clear is probably only good for those folks who can't get Cable or DSL on their premises at all. But I'd wager if they can't get those, Clearwire probably isn't going to get good reception in those areas either.

Another consideration is that in the next few months, Verizon and other carriers will be rolling out their 4G implementations, and haven't announced pricing and availability yet. Clearwire is definitely the first out of the gate and there's no question in my mind that the service is great for business travelers, but will Verizon's LTE implementation turn out to have superior coverage and/or throughput? That remains to be seen.

Have you purchased Clearwire's 4G service? Or are you waiting for another 4G mobile wireless solution, such as Verizon LTE? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topic: Browser

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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24 comments
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  • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

    Your article mentions multiple times that it is running at Gbps in the second and third paragraph. Did you mean Mbps?
    Admin71
    • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

      @Bookmark71 Yes, mistake.
      jperlow
      • This is true jperlow..

        @jperlow but if it doesn't rain.<br><br>I have Clearwire and know how bad rain or snow actually messes it up.

        You failed to state how much easier it is to setup than a DSL line. Its a breeze!
        Uralbas
  • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

    For home, yes, do not replace.<br><br>But does it work on the road (literally while driving)? Can I use it to replace the data-volume-capped $60/month service from Verizon?

    Edit: What I have in mind is streaming music while on a freeway.
    nightbirdsf
    • You are better off with Sprint / TMobile or Verizon

      @nightbirdsf for service on the road.

      If you are restricted to Metro Areas, choose T Mob. If you are looking at the east coast Sprint, otherwise pay the surcharge to Verizon for any other service.
      Uralbas
      • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

        @Uralbas Clearwire IS Sprint.
        jperlow
  • Weatherford a Dallas suburb?????

    Please check your map. It's closer to Fort Worth but not even a suburb of that!
    mmarquis
  • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

    Don't even get me started. They are now throttling 'high use' accounts. In my case I don't use ANY streaming ANYTHING, yet I've managed to get tagged as a high-bandwidth user. This means that service that used to fly can't even crawl. I have to re-load screens repeatedly as they continually time out. A quick visit to the User Forums revealed the nasty truth. I've had the so-called "Unlimited" two-fer bundle (Home and Travel) since February and I'm taking the hit and canceling my services. I refuse to pay over $60/mo for nothing!
    dhawktx@...
  • WiMAX is not suitable for business use

    The world is going to the LTE (4G standard), not WiMAX.

    LTE is like the 4th generation version of GSM. LTE is the world standard. Anyone who needs to travel (ie business users) should use the system that they can travel with... LTE.

    WiMAX is failing on the world stage (apart from a few third world networks using it). WiMAX will become isolated, and won't have the best handsets. Handset OEMs will manufacture for the platform that has the most users: LTE.
    Vbitrate
  • Love it!!!!

    From Boston...
    I am only 2 blocks from the tower, and my performance is far better than expected. I have replaced my cable service and have combo package.

    I can play xbox live and ip phone for work with no issue at all. My download is at least 4 mbps (had 9+ at times) and my ping is less than 100. If you are well within their coverage map, it is worth 60/mo.
    pcal07
  • Hey Jason

    where's your Wi-Fi access point that you used to carry when staying at hotels? Didn't you say that Wi-Fi was ubiquitous and better than WhisperNet from Sprint/Amazon? Now, you changed your mind (I'm glad you did) and despise Wi-Fi.<br><br>Wait, ..., I guess you are going to spin it somehow
    nomorebs
    • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

      @nomorebs I do carry one, for the occasions that my hotel has a wired connection and I can share it.<br><br>Hotel Wi-Fi is still a better solution for e-Readers and portable devices. It's more than adequate for email and regular web browsing. For streaming media, not so much, unless you're being guaranteed enough bandwidth. The payload for downloading an eBook is minimal, so you're really not concerned with sustained connectivity needed for large data transfers, such as for streaming.<br><br>I'd much rather have a service like Clearwire with a mobile access point that ALL my devices can use, then to pay a premium for each device with its own 3G/4G connection and data plan. That just makes no sense at all.
      jperlow
      • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

        @jperlow
        > then to pay a premium
        Let me guess, you're from the South.
        kenift
      • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

        @jperlow :

        <i>Hotel Wi-Fi is still a better solution for e-Readers</i>.

        No it's not. Wi-Fi for portable devices like e-readers is becoming a thing of the past. That's something you don't want to accept. Yeah, Wi-Fi is still good for very cheap devices but it's slowly becoming extinct in areas of computing where mobility is absolutely key

        <i>I'd much rather have a service like Clearwire with a mobile access point that ALL my devices can use, then to pay a premium for each device with its own 3G/4G connection and data plan.</i>

        Nobody is telling you to do that. That's the future. New devices will be able to tap into these 4G services and there will be no need to pay "premiums" (a fancy term for an almost negligible extra amount you pay for Whispernet). In the meantime, real readers will celebrate the freedom of not subjected to the tyranny of WiFi like you with your WAP, or to pay a REAL premium like Clearwire's service when the only thing you want is to download and access your books. You are an extremist and a dinosaur.
        nomorebs
      • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

        @nomorebs [i]"You are an extremist and a dinosaur."[/i]

        No, just extremely practical, and thrifty. Also, your statement " Wi-Fi is still good for very cheap devices" is going to apply to EVERYTHING in the future, because nobody is going to buy devices unless they are "very cheap" to begin with.
        jperlow
      • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

        @jperlow : <i>No, just extremely practical, and thrifty</i> No, just clueless.

        <i>. Also, your statement " Wi-Fi is still good for very cheap devices" is going to apply to EVERYTHING in the future, because nobody is going to buy devices unless they are "very cheap" to begin with.</i>

        You keep saying the same nonsense over and over. Wake up. The iPad (wildly popular now) and the Samsung Galaxy tab are _not_ cheap. Even an iPhone for $99 is NOT cheap. It comes with a contract. Did you think about that part? The devices of the future will tap into 4G networks and that will cost even if you get the device for free. The "cheapest" ones will be simply experiments that you can buy "cheap" and use with WiFi. It's over. Move on. You are a disaster as a predictor of mobile technology.

        Sooo sorry, but you keep being the only clueless blogger carrying a WAP around. How foolish.
        nomorebs
  • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

    In answer to can you use it while driving. You sure can, Back when they where first coming out with Clearwire, I had my own consulting business and had a Clearwire modem and a Belkin router connected to my Toshiba Tablet PC that also had a GPS Running MS Trips and Streets 2005.<br><br>I was mapping out their coverage area and noting the signal strength. I would then note them on the map as a data-point. I used to send it to the regional rep for Clearwire to aid them in selling.
    iamanerd
  • I quit

    Seriously, I quit chasing puffs of smoke in search of fast reliable connections, both at home and on the road. When I look back at the money I have thrown away over the years in this quest it almost makes me ill. I went back to a plain old cell phone at a very cheap monthly rate, a low cost DSL line to the home and a lappy with lots of disk storage.

    Know what I have found? I do NOT need to be connected all the time, business and life continued on just fine and when I tell business associates about it they tell me they wished their employer would allow them to do the same.

    Oh yeah, I also "found" lots of cash in my pocket after making this change...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Using HSPA (3G) here, Israel

    Two days ago I got 217 ms ping, 4.86 Mb/s download and 1.27 Mb/s upload using my Nokia E72 tethered via USB to my laptop while sitting on a bus on a highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. New record - slow ping, but the speeds are the fastest I've had so far. Don't believe it? See http://www.speedtest.net/result/1039439076.png .

    Another one, from yesterday morning, had 72 ms ping, 2.04 Mb/s download and 1.14 Mb/s upload using the same Nokia E72 as a WiFi hotspot via JoikuSpot Premium, again on a moving bus. See http://www.speedtest.net/result/1040200711.png .

    Costs me $38 (NIS 140) per month, unlimited. I also have an older USB modem that only supports HSPA for downloads, max speeds 3.8 Mb/s down and 384 kbps up. Costs me $35 per month - thinking of cancelling this one, but I still use it now and then though it really is a waste of money.

    Of course I also have 10 Mb/s ADSL (though upload is only 700 kbps - upload speeds are horribly slow for regular internet in Israel) at home.
    Daniel Breslauer
  • RE: Clear 4G WiMAX: Beats Crappy Hotel Internet

    WiMax will surely fail.

    A 50-mile cell vs a 1-mile cell means vastly different radios, and power requirements.

    Plus you are locked into one of a kind system. No economy of effort, no true multiple providers of service and equipment. Your big clunky radio becomes an ugly paperweight the moment you leave town.

    UMTS LTE is the way to go. The technology doesn't have to be the best nor the speed the fastest. We need the network effect of more begets more to be a successful system.
    kingkong88@...