Clearwire in Portland

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Consumer WiMAX service is now available in Portland, Oregon. I am posting this article using my residential Clearwire service. Apparently I was the first person to order broadband wireless at Clearwire’s new office near the Spaghetti Factory on South Waterfront (Ph:503.333.5887).

This is a commercial product and now available to anyone in Portland today. I have not been a beta tester and nobody made any special deals for me.

I walked in off the street, signed up, and brought a Motorola residential modem home. I plugged in the AC cord and connected the Ethernet cable to my computer. It worked. There was nothing else to do.

I was especially impressed by the easy setup. If truth be told, I’m not a very good technician — the fiddly bits always seem to get me in the end. But not this time. Clear is dead simple. There is NO software to install. You just plug it in. With a pre-provisioned device, as Motorola explains (pdf), it’s true “plug and play”. The sales rep wrote down my modem’s MAC address and other information they needed. I didn’t have to do anything at home except type in a password. Bingo.

Clearwire’s residential WiMAX modem (a Motorola CPEi 150), sits by my window and gets 3 out of 5 bars. It’s about as fast as my cable modem. I signed up for their mid-level service that delivers unlimited (3M down/384K up) internet access. It costs $30/month.

Clearwire (now just “Clear”), is cheaper than 3Mbps DSL or Cable Modem service. I’m a value shopper so that’s important to me. Plus I like the fact that I don’t need to be tied to other cable or phone line packages.

I could have ordered the Motorola USB premises device ($49), but I wanted the maximum gain. Besides, I rashly ordered an Express Card from Xohm in Baltimore, hoping I could use it here in Portland. Unfortunately, seamless handover between Sprint’s Xohm and Clearwire is not yet available. Sprint’s Baltimore service uses different frequencies in the same 2.6 GHz band.

Other mobile WiMAX devices, such as the Nokia WiMAX tablet, even WiMAX-equipped laptops, may not be recognized by Clearwire’s system in Portland until they integrate XOHM’s billing system. Apparently, Clearwire’s billing system only supports two devices right now; Motorola’s USB dongle and the AC residential modem.

Portland is Clearwire’s first Mobile WiMAX city. The company, with the help of Intel and Motorola, has wired up some 300 cell sites around the region. Service is said to extend from Wilsonville to the south, Battleground to the North, Forest Grove to the West and Gresham to the East. It’s been estimated to cover some 1.2 million people in the Portland region.

I tried two speed tests, one from my new Clearwire wireless modem and one from my current Comcast Cable Modem.

Clearwire Speed Test (below)
Comcast Cable Modem Speed Test (below)

So far, so good. It’s impossible to judge how reliable the service will be. But it delivers the speed as advertised. No hickups (yet) and the no hastle setup was a joy. It was easier than a WiFi hotspot — plug it in and turn it on. Done.

Clearwire plans to launch officially in January, 2009, when their storefronts open in 6 area malls and downtown.

Which is the best deal; DSL, Cable Modem, Cellular Data or Clearwire? It depends. Different people have different needs.

Let’s compare four different broadband providers in the Portland region:

  • Comcast Cable Modem (no cable tv service): $19.95 for 3 months, then $54.95/mo for 3 Mbps.
    Comcast sent me a flyer last month that promoted $12.95 Cable Modem service for 3 months (then $52.95/month). I took them up on it. But since I don’t subscribe to their cable television service, Comcast’s Cable Modem service cost me more, $22.99/month ($19.95/mo for service plus $3/mo for the modem). After 3 months I would have to pay $52.95 for the same 3 Mbps service.
  • Qwest DSL: $29.99 with a two-year commitment for 1.5M down, 896 Kbps upload.
    Qwest’s $14.99 promotional pricing is available for 12 months to new Qwest High-Speed Internet customers. But it requires a qualifying home phone package. Standard rates will apply after 12 months: $29.99 with a two-year commitment. The self–installation kits costs $9.99. But you also must have an MSN/Windows Live or Choice Online ISP, which will run another $15/month or so. I don’t have a qualifying home phone package so I’d probably have to pay $29/month plus $15/month for ISP service and a few bucks for modem rental. Total is close to $50/month.
  • Cellular Data Plans: (with cellular phone service) $60/month.

    Verizon Wireless (EV-DO), Sprint Wireless (EV-DO), AT&T Wireless (HSPA) and T-Mobile (HSPA) all offer mobile data plans with 500-750Kbps cellular data service. But the $50-60/month data plans limit download to 5 GBytes and generally require a two year commitment. Total is $60/month plus the data card (cheap or free with a 2 yr contract). T-Mobile’s G1 data plan with a cap of 10GB, is $35/month. Which wouldn’t be bad — if you could tether it. Same for the other cellular carriers — only more so.

  • Wireless Broadband from Clear: $30/month for unlimited 3M down/384K up.
    Clearwire offers three choices for residential service ($20, $30 and $40/month) and three choices for mobile service ($30, $40 and $50/month). Mobile costs about $10/month more. If reception is good at your residence, mobile service might do double duty (if you’re single). Business services and phone services are coming, says Clearwire. The company also has deals for 2 yr contract and for combining multiple mobile/residential services. Their 786 Kbps broadband runs a total of $25/mo, without any pricing surprises. It’s cheaper than DSL or Cable. My 3 Mbps residential service costs me $30/mo (plus $5 for modem) or a total of $35/month. Unlimited. No contract.

Clearwire’s broadband wireless looks like a good deal. Two to four times the speed of cellular for half the cost. Of course the service is just launching in the area and there’s no handover to cellular once you get out of town. But I think it will be a good match for me.

Above is a conversation with Scott Richardson, Clearwire’s Chief Strategic Officer, that I recorded on December 8th in Clearwire’s Portland office.

Related Clearwire and WiMax stories on Dailywireless include; Clearwire: Let’s be “Clear”, Green Light for New Clearwire, iPCS Withdraws Injunction Against Sprint WiMAX, Clearwire: Show Us the Money, Xohm Marks the Spot, Chicago Xohmed Next?, WiMAX Doomed? Not., Mobile WiMAX: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control?, Mobile WiMAX Cooking- But Still in the Kitchen, WiMAX Roundup, Australia Unwired, Australian Blowup, BT’s European WiMAX Plan, Backhaul Delays Xohm Rollout, Hesse on WiMAX, Sprint’s WiMAX Rollout?, Sprint-Clearwire Deal Dead, Sprint Considering WiMAX Spinoff?, Sprint Forces Forsee Out, WiMAX Demoed on Chicago River, The Launch, ICO Wants Its Mobile TV – via DVB-SH, Google Apps for Clearwire, Sprint WiMAX: It’s Called “Xohm”, Xohm “Partners”?, Death to WiMAX?, Verizon: It’s LTE, and Sprint: It’s WiMAX!

Posted by Sam Churchill on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 at 1:08 am .