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Clearwire Wireless Broadband Review

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR) is a broadband Internet Service Provider with a twist: it’s wireless. The sleek Clearwire modems use a licensed 2.5 GHz technology (not line-of-sight) instead of the standard, unlicensed 2.4 GHz frequency of 802.11 WiFi devices, and in my testing, seemed to perform quite well. (Please note: I tested out their service as a customer. I own no stock and received no renumeration for this review.)

They brag about the service’s simplicity: just plug it in and it works. In fact, that’s exactly how it worked for me. (Actually, I cheated, and signed up at a mall kiosk. The only extra work they did, though, was to log in once the device was connected to a computer to activate it. No calling remote technicians, no wiring, no fiddling with MAC addresses. You can watch their installation video to see for yourself.)

I signed up for the “Premium” service, which promises “up to 1.5 Mbs” down, and “up to 256 kbps up.” I could have opted for the “Value” service, which offers slower downloads for about $10/month less.

Here in Honolulu, on the 27th floor, the Cleawire modem claims full signal strength (note that I couldn’t reliably get any WiFi signals to work due to high packet loss, even with a dd-wrt powered router with an after-market antenna), and I see no packet loss. A “ping” to Google looks like this:

PING www.l.google.com (72.14.253.103): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 72.14.253.103: icmp_seq=0 ttl=243 time=171.751 ms
64 bytes from 72.14.253.103: icmp_seq=1 ttl=243 time=158.453 ms
64 bytes from 72.14.253.103: icmp_seq=2 ttl=243 time=171.066 ms
64 bytes from 72.14.253.103: icmp_seq=3 ttl=243 time=143.770 ms

4 packets transmitted, 4 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 143.770/161.260/171.751/11.402 ms

Decent, although 161 ms average round-trip time isn’t great. It might make some games, for example, lag a bit (but I don’t play online games). In contrast, my Comcast service averages around 55 ms. (And note that the fact that I was using Clearwire in Hawaii might have an impact on this, of course! So YMMV.)

Speedtest.net gives this using a server in San Francisco:

Downloads do seem to be quite snappy, but I do notice a slight delay while browsing sometimes—not terrible, but noticeable.

Although line-of-sight is not required, Clearwire does recommend putting the wireless modem in your window, and, if necessary, using an 802.11 WiFi router to share the connection. (This is what I’m doing right now.)

Mobile Use

One intriguing idea suggested by Clearwire is to take the wireless modem with you. Provided Clearwire serves the location you’re visiting, this gives you mobile access while away from home. Of course, I would call this more of a “luggable” solution than truly a mobile one, since the modem, while lights, isn’t tiny, and does require a power outlet to function.

To test this, I took my laptop and the Cleawire modem up to the roof of my building (the 31st floor). Everything worked normally, with full signal strength. Next, I tried an outdoor hotel bar by the beach. Other than the fact that (1) beach bars in hotels are expensive and (2) functioning power outlets can be hard to come by, it worked great!

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