Overall we'd admit our internet cable service is solid (shocking, right?), offering reliable uptime and spitting out solid download speeds (especially after we tweaked our settings, via How To Speed Up Your Internet Connection by 50%). But that doesn't mean we're not always on the lookout for fast(er) and (more) affordable alternatives. Last night a friend of ours remarked she had ditched the usual suspects of local ISPs, cutting the cable provider/telco umbilical cord, and went with a fast, wireless internet provider that offers a viable alternative for internet access at home and on the go...the first of our friends to try CLEAR.
Clearwire's CLEAR 4G Coverage is a WiMax 4G network broadband service provider. If you're like our friend who finds herself mostly oblivious and uninterested to tech terms and news ("It just works!" is your requirement), simply put*, CLEAR utilizes an upgraded relative to 3G, but faster, stronger, and quicker. Theoretically, WiMax 4G is like having a DSL connection anywhere there's a wireless signal.
CLEAR is backed by the likes of Sprint, Intel and Comcast, so there's definitely some heavy hitter money behind the venture. But unlike traditional DSL and Cable broadband services, the intriguing killer feature here is uncapped-unlimited mobile 4G access wherever you go (our friend has the home-only modem connection, working just like a DSL or cable modem connection). Although our cable connection is quite fast, we can't take it everywhere. Conversely, our hotspot 3G device is portable and convenient, but definitely ties us down when it comes to work-related browsing where time is of the essence. CLEAR 4G is supposedly the answer that takes the best of both two worlds and combines it into one attractive service, all at a competitive price.
Right off the bat your decision to sign up is going to be made for you, dependent upon whether you fall under CLEAR's 4G coverage map. The coverage zones zone in heavily on the East Coast, with Texas, California, Florida and Washington residents having a fair shake of being included.
Looking over the service plans, it seems the 4G Home and Mobile plan would be the best bet at $60/month for home use (hardware extra). No preset speed caps for either the home or mobile connection makes it an ideal service for moderate to heavy content consumers and subscribers are notably not tied down to contracts. Expect connection speeds around and above DSL connections; various users have posted their speeds on YouTube for reference (alongside a healthy amount of complaints, as is par for the course with any service provider). Wired's John C. Abell reported he was able to even watch Slingbox TV across the 4G network. Impressive, but also came with the caveat this type of performance is only attainable if and when you're under their 4G coverage, a big hurdle. Also, those without clear access to skies might not be ideal candidates for this service.
Speeds will highly depend upon your location, both geographically and also depending upon what type of building you're using the 4G devices from if indoors.
Similar to the overwhelming plethora of service plans (perhaps offering too many options), CLEAR sells/rents four USB modems, four 4G hotspots for sharing connection on the go, and two different home modems. The process of picking out the best plan and hardware is proving to be a task of referencing/cross referencing, but it appears the $71 4G Home and Mobile + Wi-Fi Modem and USB might be our best bet in a two person, multi-device household where both of us occasionally travel and always need online access.
It's not yet...umm...clear whether is WiMAX internet service is the best option in regards for reliability and speed personally (our wi-fi cable connection speed measures between 10-18Mbps for downloads), but we'd definitely consider CLEAR before ever downgrading to DSL knowing wireless ISPs are the future while telcos are quickly fading into yesterday. The flexibility offered by 4G connections anywhere supplemented with 3G as backup makes services like CLEAR a good deal compared to juggling 3G wireless fees and at-home ISP costs. The question is whether now is the time to step forward and buy into a future where internet access isn't about plugging in, but simply connecting to an always "on" service wherever a signal is available...
* Geekier types can get a definitive 6 page explanation of the service over at Mobile Broadband Reviews.