Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Clear Roof Antenna

As more and more mobile devices become Internet savvy, the demand for true wireless broadband has become great. All the cellular carriers have been making noise of how fast its network are, with the latest horn tooting coming from Verizon with the release of LTE, the so-called 4G broadband, last week. Yet, while Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, have all been trying to make old phone equipment provide data connectivity at fast speeds, one company has been rolling out a massive wireless broadband campaign of itself for 2010. Clear, the new wireless broadband brand of Clearwire, has been pushing its WiMax, 802.16, technology all over the country. Finishing up a year long expansion here in Sacramento just recently near SvenOnTech headquarters, Clear has already signed up over 2 million customers to it’s 4G offering nationwide. To insure those in California’s state capitol have a good amount of high-speed Internet where ever they may be within the area, Clear has put up 177 towers, like the one pictured here, throughout Sacramento with 300 to be activated in the near future, Amir P. Khorram, General Manager at Clear, told me on a chilly Tuesday morning at Clear’s Sacramento office just blocks from Cal Expo. “Finally something else than Comcast and Surewest,” Khorram told me with smile indicating that customers now can go beyond the local broadband giants. By the end of Clear, “Will have turned up 45 cities in 2010,” Debra Havins, PR Manager at Clearwire, told me over an email. With just a few weeks left in the year, Havins refined, “We have three more to go: SF, Denver & Bridgeport, CT,” making the 45 cities for the year. Besides Sacramento, some of the largest cities lit up this year consisted of: Washington DC, Boston, LA, Minneapolis, Miami, NYC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Nashville and Houston. Clearly, a large array of geography of 4G.

Khorram invited me to the top of Clear’s building on Howe to take a firsthand look at what makes Clear work. Overlooking the Arden section of Sacramento with Downtown easily in eyes reach, Clear’s Ric Karau, Lead Field Technician, showed off the directional antennas mounted on three separate panels across the four-story buildings roof. Khorram explained that these antennas, linked to a nearby wire cabinet, can literally be set up in hours expanding Clear’s 4G network much quicker than a cellular carrier could ever hope to produce. When Karau showed off the wire cabinet (pictured below,) I was impressed by the set up. Packed with a couple of batteries for about 4 hours of power – more than enough time to set up temporary generators – both Ethernet and fiber switches, and a log book, Clear isn’t skimming on the equipment. While simple in words, the technology is nothing short of top-notch and powerful. Unlike the cellular networks, Clear’s 4G network never succumbs to user overload slowing the users bandwidth. In other words, it doesn’t matter if one or one hundred people are on the 4G network, everyone connected will enjoy the same quick speed between 3 to 6 Mbps (on average) with bursts beyond 10 Mbps. Clear is able to one-up Verizon and its LTE operating on the, “2.5 GHz band and we have more than 120 megahertz of spectrum per market in that band, more than any other wireless carrier,” Havins explained. While Verizon has just announced and started its 4G roll-out, Clear will, again, finish the year with 45 cities already streaming Netflix, Hulu, and the Pittsburgh Steelers game from NFL.com. (What, not everyone is a Steelers fan like me? ;) )

Clear Wire Closet

Wire Cabinet (Click for Full Size)

I had an opportunity to test the 4G network with Sierra Wireless’ USB multi-band modem. The modem changes seamlessly to 3G if a 4G signal can not be found. Through partnership with Sprint, Clear can diversify its reach to areas that yet have to become bathed in real broadband coverage. As I drove south on California Highway 99 from Cal Expo, the signal was spotty at times. Once I crossed US 50, however, I had 75% or more 4G signal all the way to Elk Grove’s first exit south of Elk Grove Blvd. In my tests (SpeedTest.net result) in strong 4G areas, I easily neared 10 Mbps time after time. When I was at 75% or less, the speeds were closer to 2 Mbps. Uploads never topped 1 Mbps which is the only area Verizon’s LTE trumps Clear with 3 – 5 Mbps upload speeds.

I spoke to Khorram about Clearwire’s earlier issues with blocking VoIP and other ports related to bandwidth leeching such as bittorrent to which he responded that Clear does not block any ports. Users both mobile and home can enjoy true broadband speeds without a wires. Sadly, the cellular industry finds the new market of mobile broadband as an opportunity to make gobs of money with tricks of monthly caps and high prices for exceeding the ceiling. Thankfully, Clear is taking a different route with charging only $45 per month for unlimited bandwidth. While this is at about the cost of cable or DSL, there is no one offering such rates for wireless at these speeds. You can’t take your cable or DSL box on the road on your family vacation and continue to enjoy quick Internet surfing in the hotel, avoiding costly and slow connections there, as you can with one of Clear’s many portable modem offerings. To me, Clear really is really the only choice for your mobile and home user outside of cable and DSL reach. I’m not the only one that thinks Clear has a big future as Clearwire was named “The Top 10 Richest Venture-Backed Companies Of All Time” by the Wall Street Journal in June of this year raising $1,299.50 million dollars since 2003. That’s more than double the worlds most popular web destination Facebook and nearly twice that of economy cellular carrier MetroPCS Communications. It seems there are many in the financial world that believe Clearwire is a hot ticket. Those of us in the in tech field love the added competition since the cellular world acts much like airline industry coping each others rates thus creating an oligopoly. I know that I am very excited about Clear and feel that there finally is a real wireless broadband answer. Clearly, Clear has made it’s mark.


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