I hate to use the obvious "4G or not 4G" pun ... but I just did.
March 30, 2011 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Should I order Clear 4G/3G internet service? I'm about to move into a new apartment. By default, I was going to get TimeWarner cable for internet, as TimeWarner is what I've used in the past and my new apartment (which is in NYC) will be cable-ready. But I see that Clear has a plan that gives you 4G wireless access at home + 3G access anywhere else (their "4G/3G" plan). This sounds very appealing, but I'm concerned I might be too much of a power user for it. If you've used Clear 4G, did you have problems with low speed or restricted data usage?


- I'm not constantly downloading huge files, but I sometimes do. It's important for me to be able to watch YouTube, though it's OK with me if I have to wait a couple minutes while it loads. I don't use the internet to watch movies or TV (I use DVDs for that).

- Clear claims that the 4G gives you "unlimited data," while the 3G has a cap. I don't see the cap on 3G as an issue, since I only occasionally use my laptop outside the home.

- However, it turns out that "unlimited" for 4G actually means ... limited! See, Clear has an "Acceptable Use Policy." The Policy says you have to make a vague agreement not to hog bandwidth; if you do, they could restrict or even cut off your service. Here's the full legalese in case anyone's interested (but please don't feel obligated to wade through this before commenting!):
Excessive Utilization of Network Resources.Wireless networks have capacity limits and all customers can suffer from degraded or denied service when one or a small group of users consumes disproportionate amounts of a wireless network’s resources. Clearwire, therefore, will monitor both overall network performance and individual resource consumption to determine if any user is consuming a disproportionate amount of available resources and creating the potential to disrupt or degrade the Clearwire network or network usage by others. This process of monitoring both overall network performance and individual resource consumption is consistent with the description of the nature of the Service previously described in this AUP. Clearwire reserves the right to engage in reasonable network management to protect the overall network, including analyzing traffic patterns and preventing the distribution of viruses or other malicious code.
During periods of congestion, Clearwire uses various techniques such as reducing the data rate of individual bandwidth intensive users whose use is negatively impacting other users. This temporarily limits the amount of bandwidth available to the bandwidth intensive users until the congestion has diminished, at which point Clearwire will endeavor to lift any limits it may have imposed on bandwidth intensive users during the period of congestion. Clearwire may also consider historical usage patterns when temporarily reducing the data rate of bandwidth intensive users during periods of congestion. When feasible, upon observation of an excessive use pattern, Clearwire will attempt to contact you by telephone at the telephone number you gave to us or otherwise to alert you to your excessive use of bandwidth and to help you determine the cause. Clearwire representatives also are available to explain this AUP and to help you avoid excessive use incidents. If you are unavailable or do not respond to Clearwire’s attempt to contact you regarding excessive use, or if excessive use is ongoing or recurring and repeatedly having negative effects on other subscribers of the Service, Clearwire reserves the right to immediately restrict, suspend or terminate your Service without further notice in order to protect the network and minimize congestion caused by the excessive use. While the determination of what constitutes excessive use depends on the specific state of the network at any given time, excessive use is determined by resource consumption relative to that of a typical individual user of the Service and not by the use of any particular application.

Unlimited Use Plans. If you subscribe to a service plan that does not impose limits on the amount of data you may download or upload during a month, you should be aware that such “unlimited” plans are nevertheless subject to the provisions of this AUP. What this means is that all of the provisions described in this AUP, including those that describe how Clearwire may perform reasonable network management such as reducing the data rate of bandwidth intensive users during periods of congestion, will apply to your use of the Service. The term “unlimited” means that we will not place a limit on how much data you upload or download during a month or other particular period, however, it does not mean that we will not take steps to reduce your data rate during periods of congestion or take other actions described in this AUP when your usage is negatively impacting other subscribers to our Service.
- So ... yeah, that's kind of a drag. I don't know how much they actually crack down on "excessive" users or whether this mostly a CYA thing. I did find this post by someone who ran up against the limits. That's discouraging. But do you think this experience is common enough that it's a good reason not to use Clear 4G?

- Price is not a significant factor, as the Clear 4G/3G plan is only slightly cheaper than TimeWarner (the base monthly fee is the same, but getting TimeWarner would mean I'd pay extra for a wireless router).

- Unfortunately, though Clear does offer a cheaper, non-4G option, it's not available in my area yet.
posted by John Cohen to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I download a music or video torrent from time to time, with an occasional bender, and I watch a fair amount of Netflix. I got throttled in my first WEEK using Clear, and hovered around dial-up speeds for nearly a week after that. Now I am careful to not torrent and watch Netflix simultaneously, and I haven't been governed again, but that situation really really sucks.

If all the other providers didn't suck in their won ways I would drop Clear like a hot rock, but the wireless convenience and the price can't be beat. But don't go into it thinking anything like unlimited. It is NOT cya, they WILL throttle you, and they will NOT un-throttle you until they feel like it, no matter how much you complain.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I haven't used the Clear 4G service but I've used the Clear WiMax service. I could not get even a quarter of the advertised throughput, and latency was awful (I do a lot of my work in remote SSH sessions so this was a dealbreaker for me; latency may not be an issue for you), even though I was two blocks from the tower on the fourth floor.

Maybe their 4G service is better than WiMax. More relevantly, perhaps, Clear got me to sign up by claiming that I could cancel the service at any time with no penalties, then jerked me around for weeks over the speed issues, then charged me a bunch of previously-unmentioned fees when I got tired of waiting for calls back that never came and tried to cancel. They were by far the worst ISP I've ever had to deal with, knocking Comcast down to a respectable #2. They were the occasion of my writing my one and only letter of complaint ever to the Illinois attorney general (which eventually got me my money back). I wouldn't give those larcenous motherfuckers another dime with a gun to my head and a 9600bps Fidonet-to-email gateway as my only alternative. YMMV.
posted by enn at 9:51 AM on March 30, 2011

I have Clear. The only thing keeping me from cancelling and switching to Time Warner are unrelated complications with the previous tenant's unpaid TW bill.

First of all, did you check that you are actually in an area that has 4G coverage? Almost all of Manhattan is covered, but there are some greyed-out areas, namely a few blocks surrounding my dad's apartment on the UWS, and my old office near the Port Authority. They will only give you 4G if you are in a covered area. They'll also ask what floor you're on -- coverage either drops or increases the higher up you go, but I forget which.

I got the mobile hotspot plan, with 4G/3G, because my apartment in Harlem was in a 4G area. The service is reasonably fast, faster than my 3G cell phone, faster than wifi that I was stealing from neighbors (thick, pre-war walls), but slower than ethernet-to-cable-modem. If you really want speed, YouTube without sputtering, movie downloads, etc, I'd go with cable.

Meanwhile, the piece of hardware I got from them, their mobile hotspot, totally sucks. I haven't even tried to go mobile with it yet. The first one I received kept kicking me off, and I couldn't reconnect without rebooting the modem (router? whatever), which took FOREVER. But I dealt with it. Then the battery stopped holding a charge: even when plugged in, it'd say that the battery was too low and it would shut off. So I sent it back for another, and I have the same disconnecting problem. Maybe it's just the model for this piece of hardware, but personally, I'm over it.

Their tech support people are decent. They are located in America, and some of them can even think for themselves and go beyond regurgitating their troubleshooting scripts. But nothing special, and no one can really offer any help beyond "turn it off and back on" and "send it back," although TWC isn't be much better, but at least if you need it you can get physical people on your premises.

I've also read a lot of reviews about throttling, or just significantly losing speeds after the trial/penalty-free-termination period is over.
posted by thebazilist at 9:52 AM on March 30, 2011

I've had Clear (via Sprint) since it went live in MSP. Speeds aren't that hot - 3-4 MBPS range, but that's down. Up is in the 1-1.5 range. I watch Netflix a fair amount. Don't stream torrents or anything. I've not had any issues and am happy with it.
posted by thatguyjeff at 9:52 AM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: First of all, did you check that you are actually in an area that has 4G coverage?

Yes, I called Clear's customer service line and they confirmed this.
posted by John Cohen at 9:56 AM on March 30, 2011

I have Clear Wireless in Baltimore. Weather and high winds seem to cut down my bandwidth. Haven't been throttled. YouTube often stutters (I have the lowest bandwidth plan).

It was *dead* easy to set up, even using Linux. First time that "plug and play" actually was true for me. Yet I can still get into the router and change settings, even before I bought the router.

All in all, I'm ok with it, although I'd like more bandwidth (which I could probably get by paying for it). Considering the ease of setup and not needing to hang around for a tech to install cable or whatever, I'd recommend it for the less technical in a heartbeat.
posted by QIbHom at 9:59 AM on March 30, 2011

Best answer: I use Clear 4G home internet service, and I posted in this previous thread.

Aside from the one apparent throttling incident mentioned in that thread, I've had pretty solid service from Clear for the last three years now. I don't do much heavy downloading, but I do use Hulu/Netflix streaming pretty regularly.

My 4G is definitely a bit slower than most cable modems.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:00 AM on March 30, 2011

You should visit DSL reports and read the Clear forums. Lots of complaints about throttling. Supposedly, you get a pretty small cap and then they throttle you down to dial-up speeds for the rest of the month. I was researching using them for a remote office, but from what I've read they don't even seem appropriate for a backup line.

Just go with TW. Its very difficult to recommend Clear to anyone considering how their operation is run. They're really only appropriate for cell phones.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:00 AM on March 30, 2011

Best answer: I'd always assumed my meh-speeds were infrastructure related and not throttling. Hm. Anyways I can Netflix and Hulu and download and whatnot but I do usually have some abrupt pauses for caching the stream. Clear's quality is very finicky from place to place or on the move, even from different rooms of my apartment and workplace. I would borrow a friend's connection and test it out first. Set up is crazy easy, though, which is why I got it for my mother.
posted by Skwirl at 1:10 PM on March 30, 2011

Best answer: CLEAR 4G Brooklyn user here. Ended it with TW after one too many problems with them, including being out of service for over two weeks. PM if you want the grimey details, I don't really wanna rehash it. Anyway, Clear isn't great but it isn't terrible either. I self-throttle my torrents (noticed they would often kill my download speed if I had uploads past a certain kbps) and still stream netflix, youtube, all that good stuff, no problem. Think I am probably a pretty heavy internet user, as I work from home 2 days a week. Would definitely recommend it over TW, but I'm not gonna say they don't have issues.
posted by johnnybeggs at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011

Best answer: I have been using clear for about 9 months. I have watched so much netflix on it I'm suprised they haven't capped us.

We have the mobile wireless. It's cool to be able to watch bladerunner on the busride on my iphone.

I'm pleased with it.

That being said, gamers would probably hate it.
posted by roboton666 at 10:44 PM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I grudgingly went with TimeWarner cable despite their horrendous customer service. I look forward to seeing if Verizon or Clear gets around to offering a viable option for this obscure little town, but for now TimeWarner unfortunately seems to be the only real option here in Manhattan.
posted by John Cohen at 1:18 PM on April 8, 2011

« Older If Medvedev is presenting, I can't wear my old...   |   What are some good books on the modern history of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.