Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Signing up for Clear WiMAX in Atlanta

During our 9 years in Atlanta we've tried both DSL and cable broadband. We started with AT&T Broadband cable, and that was pretty horrible. We then tried DirectTV and SpeedFactory DSL. These were great companies, but DirectTV stopped providing DSL service, and SpeedFactory was killed off by BellSouth. We returned to cable with Comcast and they've been so-so: intermittent outages, poor customer support, and expensive--but usually available and fast.

Needless to say, I've been eager to find an alternative provider for quite some time. When I discovered several days ago that Clearwire had just rolled out WiMAX service in Atlanta--for very competitive prices--I was ready to try it out.

I tried to place an order that night but ran into some issues with Clearwire's Web site. I finally ordered the service yesterday and received my equipment today. It has definitely been a mixed experience so I thought I'd take a few minutes to highlight the good and bad here. Local blogger Bruce Bracey has catalogued his experiences in some detail here and here if you want another opinion.

The Clearwire web site is pretty, but has some serious usability issues. For one thing, the site really overuses AJAX. This is a problem during the signup process, but the best example I can show you is the FAQ page:

clearwire-faq

Notice the tiny little scrolling area in the modal pop-up window. Nice. I have a 20 inch monitor, but I'm forced to view their FAQ through a 200 pixel-high portlet--and scroll down 18 times to read the whole thing!

Other issues I ran into:

  • You can only lease a WiMAX modem if you sign a 2-year contract. Month-to-month plans require a $35 activation fee and a $79 modem purchase. I can understand the activation fee, but the modem purchase/lease options don't make sense, and it wasn't initially obvious why the modem lease option kept appearing and disappearing during the signup process as I switched between plans.
  • The 2-year contract requires your SSN and birthdate for a credit check plus your credit card number, expiration date, and security code. The site rejected my choice for a username at least 5 times (once for including an underscore character and multiple times because the usernames I selected were already in use). Each time my SSN, birthdate, and credit card information were discarded so I had to repopulate these 5 fields 5 times each. (Perhaps this was for security reasons, but the site also neglects to set autocomplete="off" on these form fields so they were conveniently remembered for me by Firefox--negating any security benefits.)

After all this I was rejected for not passing the credit check. Huh? I've always had excellent credit so I was concerned enough to surf over to AnnualCreditReport.com and check my credit files for the first time this year.There were no problems with my credit history so I have no explanation for the rejection. I returned to Clearwire's site and this time succeeded in signing us up under my wife's name--apparently she's more likely to pay due to the enormous salary she earns managing our household and homeschooling our kids!

Once I ordered service the Motorola CPEi 25150 modem arrived in just over 24 hours--a pleasant surprise. The packaging and instructions were very simple and indicated that I only needed to attach the modem to my computer via an Ethernet cable to get connected. Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple.

I tried swapping out my cable modem and replacing it with the WiMAX modem, but that didn't work. I next hooked the Clearwire modem directly to my computer and could then connect to the Internet. It took several more steps on the Clearwire site to finish configuring my account and the site timed out several times during this process.

Because the modem didn't work when I first attached it to my network I was suspicious it was more than just a modem. Sure enough, after a little investigation I discovered the "modem" was actually a full-fledged router with firewall, NAT, DHCP, etc. support and a Web administration interface (default IP is 192.168.15.1, default password is "motorola"). The router capabilities are not mentioned anywhere on the Clearwire site, packaging, or setup instructions. This was quite a nasty surprise since it took several more hours of wrestling with my network configuration to make the new modem co-exist with the (much nicer) Linksys router required for my Vonage phone service.

On the positive side, signal strength and network speed were very good. Our house is located near the top and on the east side of the ridge that carries Jones Bridge Road between Highway 120 and McGinnis Ferry Road in John's Creek. When placed by the east wall on our first floor (not in front of a window) the modem shows a steady 5 signal bars (strongest possible).

I selected the 786/384 kbps plan ($20 per month) to try out the service, but I achieved significantly higher speeds on my initial Speakeasy test at 4PM EST:

  • Atlanta - 5862/458 kbps
  • Seattle - 5581/423 kbps
  • LA - 4257/503 kbps

Later in the day Clearwire must have throttled me back to my contract speeds because the results were not quite so spectacular at 12 PM:

  • Atlanta - 1100/360 kbps
  • Seattle - 1095/336 kbps
  • LA - 1092/345 kbps

Atlanta is just Clearwire's third market nationwide so hopefully they'll improve the signup process quickly while keeping the network fast!

P.S. If you found any of the above information useful and decide to sign up for Clear WiMAX feel free to show your appreciation by entering my referral code: "b25rd7". Thanks!

UPDATE: Three things I hate about my Clear gateway.

3 comments:

Aaron said...

"Once I ordered service the Motorola CPEi 25150 modem arrived in just over 24 hours--a pleasant surprise. The packaging and instructions were very simple and indicated that I only needed to attach the modem to my computer via an Ethernet cable to get connected. Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple.

I tried swapping out my cable modem and replacing it with the WiMAX modem, but that didn't work. I next hooked the Clearwire modem directly to my computer and could then connect to the Internet. It took several more steps on the Clearwire site to finish configuring my account and the site timed out several times during this process."

Maybe I read this wrong but it looks like the instructions were exactly what happened. You hooked the CW modem directly to your PC and was able to connect, correct? that is what the instructions indicated. While you are correct that the device is more than just a "modem" I don't think the issue was within the modem but within the config of the peripheral devices because you can't change the settings on the CW modem.

in any case glad to see you got it worked out and up and running. keep us posted on how things progress please.

Ashley Tate said...

[While you are correct that the device is more than just a "modem" I don't think the issue was within the modem but within the config of the peripheral devices because you can't change the settings on the CW modem.]

No, the issue is calling a device one thing when it is in fact something else that will behave very differently when attached to a network. And I could and did change the settings on the Clearwire gateway--no thanks to Clearwire.

Aaron said...

Correct, You changed the router aspects on the CW device not the mod/demod aspects of its RF variables, - I should have been more specific.

 
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