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Present Not Clear for Clearwire in Portland

It would be hard to live in the Portland area and be completely unaware that Clear Wire exists.  They ran an ad plugging their WiMax wireless Internet service after the Super Bowl, are advertising on billboards on the sides of freeways, at Blazer games, with booths in the Park Blocks, and have brick and mortar stores popping up all over town.

We’ve had Comcast cable Internet service for years.  We also have a Verizon AirCard that we use fairly often with clients and when out and about.  Clear has a solution to both.  The hard-wired modem will provide Internet anywhere there is AC power within the coverage area.  Plug it into a router and you have an identical wireless situation to what we were running with Comcast.  The USB adapter comes with a cool swivil which protects it from getting knocked around (I killed an AirCard that way).  Neither product requires any professional install: plug and play.  The wired modem is rated at higher speeds than the USB device.  Moving gave us a good reason to try the new technology out.

Clear’s cost is slightly lower than Comcast’s and Verizon’s comparable services so I’m not going to consider that here.  The question is whether it works.  It’s cutting edge technolgy and I really want it to be viable.  I’ve had both the modem and USB device for a week now.  I’ve taken both to various locations and tested the speed using Speakeasy.net’s speed test on the Seattle server.  The test are far from scientific.  I ran many more tests with the Clear products than I did with Verizon (only 2) and Comcast (six)

Clear USB versus Verizon Aircard: Clear blows the doors of Verizon in terms of speed.  The Clear card averaged 360 KB/sec over all tests and ranged between 129 KB/sec and 835KB/sec.  There were two instances where there was no service: a listing in Forest Heights and Stayon.  It is not billed as working in Stayton but the AirCard does.  The two tests for the Verizon card came in at 65KB/sec and 78.4KB/sec.  The tradeoff is speed versus coverage.  The AirCard works nationally and has very good coverage between here and Eugene on I-5.  I’ve even used it sailing offshore between California and British Columbia.  Slow and steady.  Clear is said to work south to Willsonvile in the Portland area and in Balitmore.  They are working to saturate everything in between.  Apparently they have a partnership which will add many more towers to the system in the near-term as well as the towers they are building themselves.  The early adopters will get to enjoy a new found wireless speed and an ever-improving coverage area.  We’re going to keep the Clear USB but hold off canceling Verizon right away.

It’s only fair to note that a large number of our test were conducted in our new apartment where we are also having some cell phone reception issues.  According to the Clear rep, the signal is stronger lower in the building. I never get more than three bars (of five) on the Clear modem.  My iPhone has a strong signal but just drops calls.  That said, the Clear modem never approached the speeds that is billed as being capable in any of the locations that I tested.  We have an unobstructed view from the Montgomery Park to Mt. Adams.  We got concurrent Comcast and Clear service.

Comcast cable versus Clear modem: In our situation, Comcast is the undisputable winner.  Hardwired, Comcast tests run at an average of 3327KB/sec.  Through a wireless router: 2704.7KB/sec.
The Clear modem averaged 492.2KB/sec ranging from 138.1 (Forest Heights) to 906.4 (at our NW Lovejoy house).  What’s so frustrating is that the Clear service is rated much much higher than it actually runs for us.  It may work brilliantly for others but it doesn’t for us so I’ve packed it up to return. It’s sad because I really wanted it to work.

If it was just me living here with my laptop I’d probably run the USB device exclusively and be content.  No wires, less money and portability.  If I didn’t have the AirCard as a basis, I’d be extactic with the USB device and new found freedom.  I wouldn’t hesitate about having the service.  With three computers that’s not viable.  The modem has great potential in siutations where plugging into cable or DSL is not viable.  I could walk into a room, plug in the modem and router, and provide (secured) access to everyone in the room and take my service with me when I was done.  I hope this technololgy matures quickly.  I’d be willing to try the modem out again in six months when we move again but for now we’re sticking with cable.

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