After checking out the CLEAR launch event in Philly last week I decided to give the WiMAX service a try and I signed up for a $50 for life plan that gives you both a USB modem for mobile use and and a home modem that you can hook up to a WiFi router to run a home network. That’s just a few bucks a month more than I’m paying right now for Verizon DSL, and it gives me the freedom of roaming around the city of Philadelphia with my WiMAX modem and a netbook. The service is also available in about two dozen other cities around the country, including Las Vegas where I’ll be spending about a week for the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

My CLEAR hardware arrived today, and it’s pretty no-frills stuff. The USB modem is fairly small, but if you don’t like the way it sticks out from your computer, you can use an included adapter to angle the modem so it shoots upward or runs along the side of your laptop.

CLEAR also ships a 32MB USB flash drive with the software you’ll need to connect to the internet using the USB modem. Unfortunately, the version of the software that’s included on the flash drive doesn’t support Windows 7, so you’ll need to download the latest version of the connection software from the web if you have a Windows 7 system.

The home modem is much easier to use. You just plug it in, insert an Ethernet cable and run the cable to your PC or a WiFi router. That’s it. You should be online in a few seconds.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the CLEAR modems are pretty sensitive to location. I’ve been both the USB modem and the home modem in my office for the past 45 minutes or so, and my internet connection has already dropped out once. My upload and download speeds have been averaging somewhere in the 3-4MB/s down and 0.2-0.4MB/s up ranges. That’s significantly short of the 6MB/s down and 1MB/s upload speeds CLEAR promises.

But after wandering around the house a bit, I discovered that it’s a completely different story on the other side of the house where I get close to the advertised speed. What’s the difference? From my office window I have a nice view of the three-story building across the street. On the other end of the house, there are no tall buildings blocking our view. I’ll probably wind up sticking the home modem in the third floor window on that side of the house and plugging in a WiFi router.

If things don’t work out, I have two options.

  1. CLEAR offers a 7-day money back guarantee, so if I decide to return the equipment this week I won’t have to pay anything.
  2. I’m on a month to month plan, which means that I could keep the service for a few months, cancel, and then sign up again in a year if I want to. The only extra charges I would have to pay for would be the activation fees.

CLEAR is also available in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Las Vegas, Portland, and a few other cities.

You can check out some photos I took while I was ripping open the boxes this afternoon in the gallery below.

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21 replies on “First impressions: CLEAR WiMAX”

  1. I signed up in Boston area. I got the faster internet plan plus voice, because they said there were towers on the water near me and it would be super fast. Speeds were between 3.3 and 5 Mbps download, 0.9 Mbps upload. Plugged my computer back into the Comcast Xfinity internet connection and get 40 to 61 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload. No contest.

  2. In National Capital area. Received the modem and voip. One light in every area of the house, N, S, E, W. Took modem outside…still one light. Nothing in the way, very flat area. Tower reported as 2.5 miles away. One light does not provide a connection. Sent equipment back same day. Tech could not help. Because deployment is new, tech to house could not be guaranteed, and could have happened after the 7 day trial. While there was discussion of trial extension, without a written commitment I did not bite.

  3. I just traded in my Cricket modem for the Clear. For about the same price as my Cricket bill I got started with Clear 2 year home plan at $40.00 an month and $4.00 modem lease. Finally rid of the 5gb cap Cricket hid from me on sign up. For the same money as the Cricket bill I got hooked up in 5 minutes at the store with a big home modem and a really unlimited service. No caps but they will throttle service if you get nuts. Nuts was defined as 5gb per hour and the throttle was defined as hourly just to cool you off and bring you back for a reality check. Speeds are good at 2-4mbs with burst in the 5mbs area and drops to the 1mbs area. Signal is weak to moderate but speed is good at even one bar. Looking at stats can be disappointing but in using the service I am very pleased. Videos load fast and play smooth. Downloads are fast and uploads are slow, but good for most smaller uses. If your uploading large files this is not for you at 400kbs up. I upload websites and all the files that go with them and for the most part it does well enough. It can be a wait for larger files to go up but I simply work as it loads. I am most happy to upgrade to a true wireless home solution that gives average 3mbs down. Its more than enough for most uses. Splitting the signal in a router will cut it in half or more, as all routers do, but it still does well a 1+mbs down routed. Getting this with the mobile modem and the phone is $55.00 for all three. Comcast and Cricket have a big problem in the areas where this is up. The price is great and the product is robust and stable enough to depend on. Now if your one who has to have all the signal bars and the advertised speeds you will not be happy. If you just hook it up and use it you will be happy.

  4. “somewhere in the 3-4MB/s down and 0.2-0.4MB/s up ranges. That’s significantly short of the 6MB/s down and 1MB/s upload speeds CLEAR promises.”

    Do you talk about Mega bajts? or Mega bits? way diffrent deal they offer 6 Mega bits equals to 600kb/s and 1Mbit equals to 100kb/s

  5. I can’t get more then 1-2 bars with my WiMAX modem in my apartment no matter where I move it around me. I’m on my first day and already thinking of canceling.

    1. Hi, I was just wanting to clear a few things up (pun not intended).

      1. 6mbps dl/1 mbps ul are estimated averages, not promises. Anyone who tells you otherwise are lying.

      2. Yes, the modems are sensitive to both location and direction relative to the nearest tower. Turn the modem (even the home one) a few degrees at a time until you find the optimal signal.

      3. CLEAR has many towers that are up but not yet online. This is because it is better to roll out just enough towers to provide decent coverage, work out the bugs, then gradually bring the new ones online.

      4. Unlimited means just that. No limits on the amount of data you can download, and if you have an unlimited speed plan, as the technology improves, so will your speed.

      5. Yes, CLEAR is working on major cities first and working out. I do not yet have a projection on when rural areas will start to see rollouts but I am sure it is being worked on.

      6. You will notice that Sprint and CLEAR will roll out around the same time. This is not a coincidence. CLEAR and Sprint have a cooperative agreement that involves sharing towers, technology and equipment. Essentially, if you really want Sprint’s flavor of WiMAX you’ll be getting CLEAR, and paying about $20/mo more for it 😉

  6. I tried signing up for the $50 plan Unlimited 2, home internet and voice, through the Clear.com website. I call customer service three times to confirm the $50 plan but each time they didn’t know what I was talking about. It took a day for the account to be activated on their Clear 360 system when I logged in I found I was being charged $57.50 not $50. So I call Clear and canceled the service and returned the modem and Voip device. Clear is new to my area in Philadelphia, and I just don’t trust them. So I’m doing a wait and see.

    Also I don’t understand the 7 days why don’t they offer 30 days.

    1. i’m on the phone with customer service now trying to clear up my second month of being overcharged. the service is great, but continually being overcharged is bothersome.

  7. This sounds very promising and enviable. I was pining for WiMAX a few years ago, but finally gave up after realizing it might be decades before it gets to Alabama, which is sub-flyover-land, unless flying from Atlanta to New Orleans or Dallas-Fort Worth counts (not to say that we don’t produce a lot of technological firsts here).

    Compared to my Comcast cable broadband, your laptop 4G is more or less free. The cable is much faster, but the I think the WiMAX will undoubedly speed up.

    1. Yeah, technically it’s not any faster than my Verizon DSL at the moment. But
      the fact that I can get mobile and home broadband for just a few bucks more
      than I’m already paying made it too good a deal to pass up. The promotion
      will probably end soon and the price will jump up to $65 for the deal I
      have… until another promotion comes along. But I signed up partly because
      I’m locked in at this rate “for life,” whatever that means. 🙂

      1. Too bad dongles are one of the few things where men think a smaller one is better 😉

  8. I recently ordered an Intel Wimax 5350 mini-pcie card for my little Aspire One, to replace that horrendous Atheros one. Aside from Draft N speeds, I can’t wait to test Sprint’s Wimax coverage here in Boston whenever it officially rolls out next year.

    1. It is in Philly, but I’m not sure if it’s available on my block. More importantly, it’s pretty expensive if you don’t sign up for TV and/or phone service too and we do over the air TV and don’t have a landline. So we’re on DSL for now which is the cheapest broadband option, but pretty reliable overall.

      If CLEAR performs well over the next few months I might cancel the Verizon line though, as $50 for home *and* mobile broadband is an even better deal.

  9. So how do they define ‘Unlimited’ Internet? Is it 10’s of GB like AT&T’s DSL service or 1 or 2GB like most cell carriers?

      1. I guess if they list caps on the other plans that would really make it extra hard for them to weasel out later. Excellent. Of course the odds of them making it far enough out into flyover country where I’m at before they wise up and stop offering unlimited contracts is pretty much zero. 🙁

        Of course there are the other questions you have to ask these days about Internet service. Do they offer static IP? How many ports do they block?

  10. The Clear WiMax service is fast in areas where the signal is strong. WiMax will be a viable alternative when/if Clear can afford to install more transmission equipment. For the moment, the cell phone companies have a big advantage in installed base. This makes their service close to ubiquitous, while WiMax is spotty. This is particularly true inside large buildings.

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