Clearwire has started marketing WiMax in Atlanta, GA under the Clear brand. From what I gather, WiMax was tested in Portland, OR with great success, quietly launched in Las Vegas, NV and has now been deployed in Atlanta, GA.
The big offer at the moment is ‘Pick 2’; You can get a home WiMax and a mobile WiMax connection for $45/month (or two mobile WiMax connections). The home WiMax connection is rated at 6Mbps down/512K up and the mobile WiMax connection is rated at 4Mbps down/512K up.
The home and mobile modems can either be purchased outright or leased for $4.99 per month for each device.
I will go over each of the connection options in better detail:
Clear WiMax Home Modem
The home modem is a Motorola CPEi 25150 (also called the CPEi 150). Clear sells this device online for $79.99, or leases for $4.99/month.
There aren’t a lot of instructions in the box, but I managed to figure out the five lights on top of the modem indicate the signal strength. From what I have found, you will not be able to get a decent connection unless you can find a spot in your house that can maintain at least 4/5 lights (and I have been unable to find a 5 bar spot in my house- but I have no doubt that I will spend the next few weeks looking for that perfect spot ).
I was only getting 3-4Mbps so I returned to the clear Kiosk to ask a few questions. A few things the sales person told me:
- The device is directional; the side with the Motorola logo is the antenna and I should direct it to my closest WiMax Tower
- The higher in elevation the modem is, the better
The Clear rep pulled up a Google Earth map with a map of all the WiMax towers in Atlanta. We entered in my address and she was in the signal range of two towers (#555 and #174). The towers are north and north west of my house, so I needed to point the antenna side in that direction.
Finding a good spot is most aggravating part of this entire process
Setting the modem on a table, I usually get 2 bars. If I rotate the modem 15 degrees in either direction, I may gain or lose a bar. If I change the elevation of the modem by 2-3 inches the same results can happen. If I move the modem left/right or forward/back about an inch, the same change in signal happen again!
From what I gather on Motorola's site, the device utilizes MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) antennas to improve signal reception.
To further complicate matters, the presence of a human body seems to assist in the signal reception (perhaps the signals are bouncing off me and reflecting back into the modem?)- so I may get a solid 4 bars and when I walk away it drops back down to 3 bars…
I eventually found a solid 4 bar connection in a most unexpected place; atop an external my server case in the data closet- in an area with the highest amount of random EM signals (two servers, wireless router, multiple external devices, security camera power, etc.) in my house (which they tell you to avoid).
One additional factor is that the speed is not generally instantaneous when you move the router or connect to the Internet; it will start slow (300-400KBps) and go up to full speed in about a minute- so with each movement of the router you will need to wait to check your new speed.
That said, once you find the sweet spot in your house, you can get some pretty decent throughput:
Bandwith gauge from NewsLeecher:
Note: the ‘max’ is just the speed I adjusted the graph to represent.
At an average of 1.04MB/sec it is about 8.3Mbps (if I did my math right)- which is about 28% faster than my BellSouth 6Mbpx DSL connection. It may not be quite the 12Mbps burst speed that Comcast offers (which is not actually stated on their page), but it also does not have a bandwidth limit (like the 250GB/month cap for Comcast).
Note: to get into the management of the Motorola CPEi 25150, you will need to open a web browser and point it at the device. If you are plugged directly into the modem with your PC, this will be your default gateway (my default was 192.168.15.1).
The default password for the device is ‘motorola’.
The modem interface is fairly basic, but you can setup port forwarding, DMZ host address, enable/disable firewall and setup a dynamic DNS client (choices are from dyndns.org, dyns.cx and zoneedit.com).
The status screen will give you some useful information on the router:
The modem has a basic firewall (i.e. you can turn it ‘on’ or ‘off’) and the device does have a DHCP server so you could plug it into a switch and serve up multiple LAN PCs with Internet access. However, if you require wireless 802.11a/b/g/n access, you will need to put a router in the mix.
Clear WiMax USB Mobile Modem
The wireless mobile device is a Motorola USBw 25100. Clear sells this device online for $59.99, or leases for $4.99/month.
The device is rated by Clear to get up to 4Mbps- but I have already hit 10Mbps (while stationary) with this guy in my Windows 7 laptop.
The adaptor comes with an interesting adaptor that goes in-line with the modem and the USB port and allows the modem to pivot up to 90 degrees on two axis. The purpose of this is to allow the modem to be perpendicular to the laptop keyboard- I assume this is both for better reception and to help prevent it from being broken off in a USB port when someone forgets it is plugged in.
The included CD is for Windows XP and Vista x86, but doing a driver search on the CD in Windows 7 turned up the correct drivers. The software consists of of a connection manager (that must be used as it does not create a dial-up network adaptor as the Verizon/Sprint EVDO modules do) that runs as a tray icon. While the icon is up, it also indicates signal strength with 10 green blocks that illuminate as the signal get stronger.
Coverage is good in Atlanta and Alpharetta- but this is also a line-of-sight connection. If there is a large concrete building between you and the only WiMax tower in range, odds are that you will not get a very good signal.
I did not do extensive bandwidth tests, but it appears that the USB modem can obtain similar connection speeds while stationary. In motion, these speeds will vary as you will be moving between WiMax towers.
Clear Spot Mobile WiFi Access Point
I also purchased a ‘Clear Spot’ access point. Clear sells this device online for $139.99.
This device is a Cradlepoint Wipipe PHS300 with a ‘CW’ addition at the end of the model number to indicate it has the Clear firmware on it.
The Clear Spot is a battery powered (AC adaptor is included) WiFi router with a USB connector. The USB slot is designated to be used with the Clear WiMax USB Modem. Using these devices together will give you a portable WiFi access point that can be used by up to 8 devices.
The management web pages of the Clear Spot are very reminiscent of a D-Link router interface, including the use of ‘Gaming’ as the port forwarding selection:
There are three dual color (red/green) LEDs on the Clear Spot:
- power on/charging status
- WiMax signal
- WiFi Signal
The WiMax signal is either on or off- there is no indication of signal strength; if it is red you do not have a signal. The web interface does offer signal indication on the ‘Status’ page:
There is a very good review of the Clear Spot on Gizmodo, so I will not go into detail on how it performs.
Overall, I am very impressed with the speeds and price that WiMax can offer. The setup can be a little picky and I will be researching the options for other WiMax routers with external antennas for my residence to try to get a solid lock of the fabled 5 bar connection.
The nationwide coverage is not very good at the moment (only Atlanta, Las Vegas and Portland) and the device cannot be used on the long Interstate stretches in-between cities. There are several additional cities going live by the end of 2009 and more promised for 2010 and later. (Hopefully New Orleans will soon be on this list).
There is a 7 day trial for the service and I have two days remaining to decide to migrate from DSL to WiMax or return everything. So far I am leaning towards keeping everything. Today I will test my remote connectivity (without the benefit of a static IP- which costs $10/month from Clear!) and see if there are any issues with remote desktop/camera viewing/etc. over WiMax. I will try to post my final decisions in a few days…