Let me be perfectly Clear - starting now!

By Tim Raetzloff | May 20, 2010
Several people have asked how I like my Clear Internet connection. The answer is not so much, but let me start at the beginning.

I don't recall the exact date that Clearwire became available in the Seattle area, but I do know I signed the store up for it on the first day it was available and I cancelled Comcast.

The Clearwire modem was in place and on the Internet in less than a minute; compare that to the competitors.
The drawback was that Clearwire uses cell phone towers and didn't work everywhere; especially true in Edmonds where we have a distinct aversion to cell towers.

The folks at Clearwire asked me several times over the years to become a Clearwire dealer and I declined, although I liked the product for the store use. The situation remained that way until last fall when Clearwire (now renaming itself Clear and moving to a 4G WiMax network - don't you just love those buzzwords that really don't mean anything?) called in the heavy artillery.

Clear sent a 20-something to talk to me about becoming a Clear dealer. By the time she left, I had signed an agreement.
The first obligation as a new Clear dealer was to attend training. A reasonable requirement, but it was also the end of the honeymoon.

The "training" turned out to be a sales pitch by a young man who really didn't know much about the product. He definitely knew "sell, sell, sell and get more commissions" but not much else.

We were required to upgrade our Clear connection at the store to the new WiMax standard. The old Clearwire had been just about bulletproof. Remember, the old Clearwire modem had us on the Internet in less than a minute at the first install; the new Clear modem didn't work at all.

In a few days we got a replacement modem, and after about an hour of fussing with it - and 45 minutes of tech support - it finally worked.

As a Clear dealer, we were required to install a Voice over IP (VOIP) phone and install a Clear wireless card in my laptop. The VOIP installed quickly, easily, and just like the instructions directed. Wonderful! This is what I had liked about Clearwire.

But I am a numbers person. After a week or so I had the uncomfortable feeling that something wasn't right.
In my spare time, I tested the VOIP and the network. My suspicions were confirmed. When the VOIP was installed, the network speed slowed by two-thirds.

I had gained a phone line, but had lost two-thirds of my Internet connection speed.
More time wasted with tech support. We ultimately discovered that if the VOIP was used with one computer, there was no degradation of performance. But a network would run much slower.

The only real solution was to uninstall the VOIP, and it remains uninstalled.
The laptop connection to Clear worked as advertised, except that the locations where it can be used are strictly urban. In Seattle, Everett, Bellevue, it is great. It even works in much of Edmonds and Mukilteo.

The problem is I use my laptop in places like Skykomish and Whidbey Island. No "Clear" there. I can usually find a wi-fi hotspot in those locales, but no Clear.

In the city I have Clear, but there is also a plethora of wi-fi hotspots. Why switch back and forth? I just use the old-fashioned wi-fi.

The Clear connect card has proved to be useful in another way.
The Clear modem in the store isn't bulletproof like the old Clearwire modem. It takes timeout every so often for no good reason. I just plug the Clear connect card into my desktop computer, and it works whether the Clear modem functions or not.
Not the way Clear intends the product to be used, but it works for me.

I quit as a Clear dealer. I still use the product in the store.
My Clear contract runs through November. Maybe by then Clear will have some of the bugs out. If they do, I will continue. If not, I guess I try Frontier DSL.
Clearwire took a straightforward, thoroughly reliable product, made it sexy, gave it a new name, and for me it has been a disappointment.

I am especially disappointed because Clear is a local company. Clear's world headquarters are in Kirkland, and it's an $8 billion company, measured by market capitalization.

I had hoped Clear would have the Nordstrom touch, or maybe the Costco touch. They don't have it yet, but if we give them some time maybe they'll get it right. 
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(Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Five Corners in Edmonds. He evaluates Puget Sound business activity for his newsletter, and his column appears regularly in the Beacon.)

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