A Clear choice?

The new 4G WiMax modem I ordered from Clear arrived today. It only took a few minutes to set up and connect to my primary home router. Now the real fun begins. [See Update]

Those of us living on here in North Carolina the border of Research Triangle Park are fortunate to have a choice of two major wired broadband providers: Time Warner Cable and AT & T (really Cingular by another name). My home has been hooked up through TWC since we arrived over 5 years ago.

TWC’s performance has been uniformly excellent from my perspective. An upgrade to DOCIS 3.0 last year doubled my throughput to up to 20 mb/s in the wee hours, and a steady 9 – 10 mb/s at peak load times. But when bundled with their phone service, it isn’t cheap. AT & T actually doesn’t seem interested in competing seriously for low end (i.e. non-TV subscriber) customers like me, so my search for an alternative inevitably led to looking into wireless. In that segment the only real player nearby is Clear, who just happens to have 2 towers within 1/2 mile of my house.

In addition to seeing if this was a real alternative to cable, the experience of working with WiMax was interesting to me because it is the technology of choice for pushing broadband to rural areas still unserviced by cable or telephone companies (everyone by now knows about the technical limitations of DSL, and the capital costs to overcome those with fibre or additional copper based systems appear to be more than these traditional private carriers are willing to bear). In fact the U.S. military is now moving into WiMax as a solution to its need for quickly deployable broadband networks.

Ordering service on the Clear web site was easy and quick. I picked the $49/month 3-6 mb/s download and 1 mb/s upload plan. The basic modem I ordered was a refurb, bringing its cost down to a couple of lunches. Hookup was simple: plug the modem’s power adapter into the wall, make the RJ-45 connection to the home router, and then power cycle the router. For my particular environment additional steps included changing the forwarder IP addresses for my home DNS servers to those run by Clear, and updating the backup DNS server addresses on all my workstations.

Results from speedtest.net at various times come in at between 4 to 9 mb/s download and 1 mb/s upload. Upload speed is about double what I got with cable, something that may actually make my VPN to work experience somewhat more pleasant. Not bad. Signal without any special positioning of the modem seems good, RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) -65 dBm (lower is better) and CINR (Carrier to Inteference + Noise Ratio) 23 dB (higher is better). On the weekend I’ll try improving that by walking the device around the upstairs to see if we can get a better shot at one of those towers.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be keeping careful track of my quality (and quantity) of signal and noting any degradation of service. If Clear passes the test (which only requires that they do as good a job as TWC), then I’ll be looking into VOIP solutions that could replace my TWC phone service before finally “cutting the cable”.