Monday, May 31, 2010

4G: Not Ready for Prime Time

We recently tried Clear 4G (Wimax) internet service at home. Cost-wise, it's much cheaper than Comcast. We paid Clear about $70/mo for a home modem and a pocket USB modem (that supported both 3G and 4G). That's about what we were paying Comcast just for home internet. On top of that, I have a Sprint 3G/4G modem that I pay $60/mo for. My hope was that Clear could replace service from both Comcast and Sprint.

We really wanted to be out from under the Comcast near-monopoly. OK, Clear is partly-owned by Comcast (and is 51% owned by Sprint), so we're not exactly dealing with an independent, but we still wanted to try it. Truth be told, though, Clear was one of the worst internet providers I've ever had.

I had been thinking about it for a while. I already had the Sprint 3G/4G modem -- "Sprint 4G" is really Clear Wimax. So I figured that I was already experienced with the service. I mentioned on Twitter that we were considering making the leap, and a very helpful Clear sales rep responded to me via Twitter, offering to bring over a modem and set it up for us. We took him up on his offer, and he came over the next day.

The setup process was pretty painless. The Clear rep had a bit of trouble with his laptop, but it got sorted out, in the end. We tested our Roku box while he was there, and it was able to stream Netflix or Amazon videos just fine. So, we went for it, switched the home network over to Clear, and turned off Comcast.

Clear worked well....for about two days. Then we started having problems.
  • You get knocked off line at about 4:00 pm just about every day. My wife always works from home, and I often do, so this is problematic. Losing connection to the client's Webex webcast mid-call is not a fun situation to be in.
  • Speeds seem "OK" most of the time but seem to take a dramatic drop about 7:00 pm. From megabits to modem speeds. Or dead stop.
  • Video streaming services like Netflix usually worked OK after forcing the Roku box to use a low bit rate. But, Clear just sort of "poops out" periodically. It couldn't keep up any sort of sustained bit rate. It's hard to watch a TV show when it stops every three minutes to re-buffer for another sixty seconds.
Keep in mind, a big part of Clear's advertising talks up streaming video and audio "anywhere you go." It wasn't exactly like we were trying to use the service for something other than what it was designed for.

I did a lot of research online, and called in once or twice. Theories for poor performance ranges from weather conditions, other users on the same Wimax cell splitting bandwidth, etc., but I was never able to conclusively figure out why performance was so slow.

We weren't expecting blazing speeds. I know it's wireless, and it's not going to be as fast as Comcast. But, we couldn't go a day without some huge irritating lag in the connection, web browsing slowing to a crawl, or continual re-buffering of streaming video.

So, we gave up, and called Comcast back to turn cable internet back on. Turns out, they "have to" send a rep out to re-enable internet service that had been off for no more than two weeks. Probably a bit less than that. But, whatever. They came out, they checked the wiring, they turned everything back on, and suddenly we're back to getting reliable 20 megabit connections over coax.

There's another thing to consider. When everything is working GREAT with Wimax, you're going to get about 1.5 megabits. When it's not working great, we were getting about .3 megabit (or nothing at all). Comcast, from its worst to best, was ranging anywhere from 3.5-20 megabit.

The latency is a lot higher with Wimax, obviously, but I didn't write down any of my ping test numbers, so there's not much useful I can share in that regard, beyond telling you that a wired connection is usually going to be better than a wireless connection.

Since then, I've picked up an Apple iPad with AT&T 3G built in. I'm not a huge fan of AT&T, but I figured it would be good for light use while traveling. In my random tests, I found that AT&T 3G is often faster than Clear Wimax (Sprint 4G).

In fact, it's about time for me to dump the Sprint modem. I use it mostly for reading the web while traveling, and now I can do that with the iPad.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Busy Bee/Late Spring Cleaning

It's been a busy past few days here in Rogers Park.

My wife is in NYC, leaving me behind to fulfill my dreams of....cleaning, I guess. We have too much stuff. A lot of it is old computer parts and old printing/design materials from my designer days, so I've been thinning the herd. The goal is to turn my home office into a den, dump/donate everything we don't need/want, and fill up our storage area in the basement with any of that inbetween stuff, the things we're just not sure we can part with, even though we haven't done anything with any of it in five years. I hit up the local Target to get some plastic boxes and have slowly been filling them up.

On Sunday I planned to take my first box down to the basement. I scoped out where our storage locker was supposed to be, and lo-and-behold, it was entirely packed with somebody else's crap. Not sure who, couldn't tell by locking at it. The locker wasn't labeled, either. I contacted the landlord, who confirmed that the space is ours, and got her permission to displace all the stuff that's currently in there. I did that yesterday, moving stuff to a common area in the basement. Some of the beat up plywood furniture they were hiding down there was hella heavy, so now I'm sore. Ow.

And now I'm realizing that some of the stuff I want to move to the basement is too heavy for me to do it by myself. So, do I hire movers to help me move stuff down flights of stairs? Feels lame, but I'm probably going to have to do it.

I'm still hoping to make our second bedroom, what was my cluttered home office, into a much more appealing den, by the end of the week. Wish me luck.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Back in the Hood

I've been traveling a lot lately, so this blog has suffered. But now, hey, I'm back. So I'll do my best to come up with something more interesting soon.

Lesson learned this past weekend: The dog is a hindrance on a road trip. He just isn't happy. I wasn't happy either -- I'm not sure anybody lives in Cleveland on purpose -- but you don't hear me complaining.