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Clear WiMAX Ends Nov. 6: You Don’t Have to Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here

If you are among the dwindling number of customers still using Sprint’s Clearwire 4G WiMAX service, the wireless provider would like you to leave.

After about a year of successive warnings it was preparing to decommission its aging WiMAX network in favor of LTE service, nobody can accuse Sprint of not giving its customers fair warning. The top banner on the Clear.com website is now festooned with red text giving customers one last chance to move on.

clear bye bye

In brief, the last Sprint WiMAX cell tower will cease functioning Nov. 6 2015 at 12:01am EST. Sprint is repurposing many of its former WiMAX cell sites to support expanded 4G LTE service in the carrier’s perennial network makeover.

wimaxDespite this, there still remains a loyal user base for WiMAX service — many in semi-rural areas using the service until the last days for wireless home broadband. The alternative is usually very expensive mobile data service from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile, or one of several resellers. But usage caps can be stingy and overlimit fees high.

We also found several businesses, including a small auto servicing chain in western New York, still occasionally relying on Clear WiMAX-powered guest Wi-Fi, apparently unaware the service is soon to disappear. Time Warner Cable is often the chosen replacement for Clear’s business customers in the northeast as the cable company aggressively markets business broadband service coupled with free customer/public Wi-Fi access for around $90 a month.

Although WiMAX is nearing extinction in the United States, it remains in service in places like Ukraine and Azerbaijan. In Calgary, Platinum Communications continues to offer WiMAX wireless broadband in rural parts of Alberta between Edmonton and Calgary and large sections of the flat, open prairie of southeastern Alberta, including the communities of Lethbridge, Brooks, and Medicine Hat.

As Clearwire Service Prepares to Shutdown, Customer Service Agents Suggest Comcast as Alternative

clear-logoClearwire users seeking alternatives after the wireless ISP shuts down its WiMAX network this fall are surprised to hear some Clear customer service representatives recommending Comcast as their best option.

Stop the Cap! reader Randall Page has been looking for a new ISP after receiving a notification from Clearwire its network is ceasing operations before the end of this year and he needs to find a different provider:

Dear Valued CLEAR/Clearwire Customer,

You are receiving this notice because our records show you are subscribed to services on the CLEAR 4G (WiMAX) Network or Clearwire Expedience network. Sprint is in the process of implementing major enhancements to the Sprint 4G LTE Network, including the deployment of Sprint Spark, an enhanced LTE network capability, by repurposing the CLEAR 4G (WiMAX) Network and Clearwire Expedience Network. As a valued customer, we are providing you formal notice that Sprint will cease operating the CLEAR 4G (WiMAX) Network and Clearwire Expedience Network on November 6, 2015 at 12:01AM EST.

What this means to you:

  • Sprint will no longer support CLEAR 4G WiMAX and Clearwire Expedience devices or services.
  • Your CLEAR 4G WiMAX and Clearwire Expedience devices and services will no longer work, including your ability to contact 9-1-1.
  • You should not return your device(s).

To discuss your options or learn more, please call 1-888-888-3113.

Thank you for your business.

Sincerely,
CLEAR/Clearwire Wireless

clearsprint

The Page family has used Clearwire for years to get Internet service in their rural home near Lynden, Wash. The service was affordable and more than adequate for the occasional web browsing and e-mail Page’s parents rely on. After learning the service was being discontinued, Page called Clearwire customer service to learn what other options were available.

“They claim they will essentially match your current level of Clearwire service on the Sprint network,” Page told Stop the Cap! “Although Clearwire originally advertised unlimited service, the representative was not willing to match that through Sprint. Instead, they built a recommended usage plan based on reviewing actual use over the last several months.”

Clear/Clearwire's modems and routers were designed to work with their WiMAX network, which is being decommissioned. This equipment will be obsolete and cannot be reused on a new provider.

Clear/Clearwire’s modems and routers were designed to work with their WiMAX network, which is being decommissioned. This equipment will be obsolete and cannot be reused with a new provider.

Page was offered a 30GB plan adequate for his parents, but the quoted price of $110 a month was more than twice the price of Clearwire. The family also had to pay $200 for a replacement modem compatible with Sprint’s LTE network to replace the Clearwire WiMAX modem that isn’t.

“No consideration for Clearwire customers, no special promotions, no loyalty discounts, nothing for customers like us who have been with Clearwire for almost five years,” Page complained. “When Alltel was sold off and their network was changed, customers were given a free replacement phone as a courtesy, but Sprint seems to care less about us.”

Sprint acquired Clearwire in 2013 mostly for its massive spectrum holdings in the 2.5GHz band. After the deal closed, Sprint fired 75% of Clearwire’s workforce and began planning the end of Clearwire’s legacy WiMAX network, also familiar to first generation 4G Sprint customers who used it before the launch of LTE service.

Clearwire’s higher frequency spectrum never penetrated buildings well and did not reach as far as wireless signals on lower frequencies, which meant Clearwire was required to build a large cellular network to deliver reasonable service. Sprint inherited 17,000 Clearwire-enabled cell sites in the deal, many deemed redundant. A Sprint filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission indicated Sprint was shutting down no fewer than 6,000 of those sites by the end of this year, with the remaining transitioned to TD-LTE service as part of the Sprint Spark project.

The change will allow Sprint to better monetize its 2.5GHz spectrum by selling usage-based plans and more expensive home wireless broadband service. It’s the second major wireless technology shutdown organized by Sprint. In 2013, Sprint shut off the last 800MHz iDEN Nextel cell site inherited from its acquisition of Nextel. Sprint now provides LTE 4G service over the frequencies formerly used by Nextel.

Page was not happy with Clearwire’s alternative through Sprint, and remarkably the representative then suggested his family should sign up for Comcast service instead.

“I was floored to hear a representative working on behalf of Sprint recommend Comcast,” Page said.

It isn’t the first time Clearwire has done this:
clearwire sprintClearwire’s own Facebook page was abandoned in 2013, presumably right after its sale to Sprint was complete. Stranded customers are complaining about the impending loss of service and the lack of alternative options and information.

Wireless 'n WiFi's high usage data plan has gotten good reviews from Stop the Cap! readers,  although it is expensive.

Wireless ‘n WiFi’s high usage data plan has gotten good reviews from Stop the Cap! readers, although it is expensive and relies on Sprint’s less-than-great network.

Unfortunately, the Page home is not serviced by Comcast and DSL from CenturyLink is not an option either. Page and his immediate neighbors are instead joining a group “family plan” on a wireless carrier and will share a Wi-Fi hotspot that can reach three homes. It technically violates the terms and conditions of most family plans to share a connection in this way but it is the only affordable choice the families have for now.

Those rural Clearwire customers who cannot subscribe to cable or DSL broadband might also explore some options from Wireless ‘n WiFi, which sells high limit 3G/4G LTE plans that work on Sprint’s 3G and 4G networks.

Their current plan offers up to 60GB of usage per month, up to 30GB of which can come from using Sprint’s 3G network. The service costs a still steep $109.99 a month (including all taxes and fees) and comes with additional startup costs:

  • Rental of NetGear 341u USB modem and MBR1200B Cradlepoint Wi-Fi Router ($100 equipment deposit required, refunded when equipment returned)
  • $49.99 Activation Fee
  • $8.95 Priority Mail Shipping (for Equipment)
  • $268.93 total startup cost includes all charges referenced above (not including monthly service fee)

Service is month-to-month, no term contract. Overlimit fee is $5/GB.

freedompop plans

Some lighter users report reasonably priced service is available from FreedomPop, as long as you are careful to avoid over 10GB of usage per month ($59.99) and you turn off revenue generators like automatic top-off and other various extras they pitch (including data rollover if you find you use up most of your monthly allowance anyway).

A Better Alternative to Comcast’s Internet Essentials’ Tricks & Traps: EveryoneOn’s Discount Internet Access

internet essentialsWhile regulators sort through the thicket of fine print that keeps hundreds of thousands of families from qualifying for Comcast’s $9.95 Internet Essentials affordable Internet program, a much simpler offer has emerged that doesn’t work overtime to protect Comcast’s broadband revenue from being cannibalized. In short, regulators don’t need to cut deals to expand programs like Internet Essentials in return for saddling residents with America’s “worst cable company.” There are alternatives.

EveryoneOn markets Comcast’s Internet Essentials where appropriate, but the group also gives low-income residents without school-age children other options that won’t require a $45 billion merger deal to expand.

EveryoneOn’s website asks visitors to enter their zip code to determine eligibility for discounted Internet access in neighborhoods with below-average standards of living. In western New York, we found few programs available in wealthy suburban zip codes, but most city neighborhoods were eligible for substantial discounts off wireless Internet access:

Mobile Beacon, like FreedomPop, uses the Clear WiMAX network at the moment.

mobile beacon coverage

Mobile Beacon relies on Sprint’s Clear 4G WiMAX network.

Mobile Beacon utilizes Sprint’s Clear 4G WiMAX network at the moment, and does not throttle or limit customer usage. The $10 rate plan is by far the cheapest around for unlimited access, but speeds are limited to 1Mbps. That may not be a problem for many Clear WiMAX users who can’t get speeds faster than that anyway.

howItWorksModemFreedomPop offers 1GB of monthly data for free, after a $49 setup charge.

Both offers are readily available to public with almost no pre-qualifications. The biggest downsides to both plans include Clear’s very limited WiMAX coverage area and the fact Sprint is gradually decommissioning its WiMAX network.

To remain committed to low-income Internet access, Sprint will offer free wireless broadband service to 50,000 low-income students nationwide.

Microsoft is also actively promoting EveryoneOn’s affordable Internet service offers to school districts nationwide as a solution to their home connectivity problems.  Microsoft will also help deploy Windows devices below $300 to classrooms across the country. Schools can buy Windows 8.1 Pro at a discounted rate and get “Office 365 Education” at no extra cost after they buy Office for teachers and administrators.

New York regulators are getting an earful from public interest and non-profit groups about solving a digital divide that is critical to the state’s economic future. The Internet is no longer merely a nice thing to have. It’s now essential:

  • A 2013 Jobvite survey revealed 94% of recruiters use or plan to use social media to find potential employees.
  • Fifty percent of today’s jobs require technology skills, and this percentage is expected to grow to 77% in the next decade.
  • The new GED test is being offered only on a computer, requiring all taking the test to have a level of comfort with technology;
  • The typical US household saves approximately $8,000 per year by using the Internet, according to an industry-backed Internet Innovation Alliance report.
  • 21% of uninsured Americans  do not  use the Internet, making it impossible for them to use the online health exchanges.
  • A Pew Internet Report revealed 59% of caregivers with internet access say that online resources have been helpful to their ability to provide care and support for the person in their care.
  • The New York Times reported Internet access and literacy allows seniors to stay socially connected to friends and family, maintain their health and increase longevity.

Mobile Beacon isn’t just powering income-challenged Americans. The 4G wireless broadband project is also connecting communities, schools, and social service agencies in communities under economic pressure. Mobile Beacon won’t put cable customers under more economic pressure from skyrocketing cable bills, either. It’s not owned by a cable operator. (13:21)

Sprint Applying Speed Breaks to Top 5% of Wireless Data Users Accessing Congested Cell Sites

throttleEffective June 1st, all Sprint contract and prepaid customers, as well as those using Virgin Mobile USA and Boost will find their wireless data speeds throttled if Sprint finds they are among the top 5% of users on a congested cell site.

Text messages are being sent to all customers about Sprint’s new “fairness algorithm” that it will use as part of its data “prioritization management.”

“Beginning 6/1/14, to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times, Sprint/Virgin Mobile USA/Boost may manage prioritization of access to network resources in congested areas for customers within the top 5 percent of data users.”

Such text messages are unlikely to be understood by average customers who have no idea how much data they use, don’t understand what “prioritization of access” means, or what would make them a “top 5 percent” data user. What many do understand is that they were sold “unlimited use” plans that will be much harder to use if they are identified as a 5%‘r.

Fierce Wireless found answers to several unanswered questions:

  • Boost and Virgin customers exceeding 2.5GB of data use a month used to find their data speeds cut to 256kbps until the beginning of their next billing cycle. In March, Sprint announced it was further cutting speeds in the punishment zone to 128kbps for affected prepaid customers;
  • Sprint’s postpaid/prepaid customers are likely to find themselves throttled once they exceed 5GB of usage per month.

speedbumpSprint says the throttle will only be activated on “congested cell sites” and will impact WiMAX, 3G and LTE 4G networks owned by the company. Anyone who has used Sprint’s 3G network will discover most urban and suburban Sprint cell towers are frequently congested, judging by the low speeds many customers endure. Rural customers or those served on the edge of a suburban area may never find themselves throttled and Sprint promises once traffic clears, the throttle is shut off.

At the same time, once Sprint labels you a “heavy user,” they can leave you in the penalty box for up to 60 days because the network prioritization will also apply during the following month of service.

“Customers that continue to fall within the top 5 percent of data users will continue to be subject to prioritization,” Sprint said.

The approach “will enable us to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times,” Sprint said in a statement sent to FierceWirelessTech.

Other wireless carriers also have employed speed throttling to control their grandfathered “unlimited data” customers, Fierce Wireless notes:

During September 2011, Verizon Wireless implemented what it  termed a “network optimization” plan to limit the bandwidth for the operator’s top 5 percent of 3G smartphone users who are on a grandfathered unlimited data plan. (Ed. Note: However, because of FCC requirements, Verizon cannot throttle its 4G LTE customers.)

One month later, AT&T Mobility  instituted a similar plan, targeting the top 5 percent of users on unlimited plans in specific high-traffic locations. However, AT&T was forced to alter its approach in early 2012 after an outcry from users who were unprepared to have their speeds reduced, particularly in cases where some of them had only consumed 2 GB of data. AT&T’s revised policy slowed speeds of unlimited data users who exceeded specific data thresholds.

T-Mobile US also uses a form of prioritization, noting “certain T-Mobile plans may be prioritized” over service plans under its GoSmart Mobile prepaid brand.

Sprint Will Shut Down Clear/4G WiMAX Network by 2015; TD-LTE Upgrade for Most Cell Sites

wimaxSprint has begun decommissioning its increasingly obsolete 4G WiMAX network with definitive plans to shut off the service completely by the end of 2015.

While most Sprint customers with smartphones have long since moved away from WiMAX, Sprint has resold access to the 2.5GHz network for some prepaid Boost, Sprint, and Virgin Mobile customers as well as third parties including FreedomPop and Earthlink.

WiMAX was the first 4G network in the United States, launching first in Baltimore in the fall of 2008. Sprint customers were offered the HTC Evo 4G smartphone to access WiMAX’s faster speeds. Separately, Clearwire marketed access to WiMAX as a wireless home and business broadband solution. WiMAX was often promoted as a longer distance alternative to Wi-Fi, and was initially capable of 30-40Mbps speeds.

clear-logoIn practice, WiMAX in the United States never achieved great success. Sprint and Clearwire’s network was never built out sufficiently to provide nationwide coverage, and because it relied on very high frequencies, even customers inside claimed service areas often dealt with reception problems, especially indoors. Clearwire’s home broadband replacement often required reception equipment be placed near a window, preferably one without a thermal coating that could block or degrade the signal.

As soon as Sprint and Clearwire added a significant number of customers to the network, speeds deteriorated. Neither company invested enough in upgrades to keep up with demand. Instead, Clearwire’s home broadband customers, originally promised unlimited service, were routinely speed throttled for “excessive use.”

The same year WiMAX was introduced in Baltimore, Network World was already warning the technology was in trouble. By 2011, the magazine had officially declared WiMAX dead.

“There was way too much hype surrounding WiMAX (like the White Spaces today, it was marketed as ‘Wi-Fi on steroids’ and a replacement for Wi-Fi; such was, of course, complete nonsense)”, the magazine wrote.

Other American wireless carriers showed little interest in WiMAX, particularly as competing 4G technologies including HSPA+ and LTE were nearing deployment.

SprintDespite the promise of greatly enhanced data speeds with the next generation of WiMAX, dubbed WiMAX 2, many of the world’s largest wireless carriers were already preparing to move on. In particular, China Mobile (and its 600 million customers) became the decisive factor that turned WiMAX 2 into a bad bet. China Mobile decided the better choice was TD-LTE, a variant of LTE technology. With China Mobile providing service to 10 percent of the world’s mobile users all by itself, support for TD-LTE grew and attracted equipment manufacturers that saw the earnings potential from selling tens of millions of base stations.

TD-LTE is an excellent upgrade choice for WiMAX operators because it was designed to work best at high frequencies ranging from 1850-3800MHz — the same frequency bands that WiMAX already uses.

Sprint expects to decommission at least 6,000 of its 17,000 WiMAX cell sites. Another 5,000 of those sites have already gotten TD-LTE technology, a part of Sprint’s broader LTE network upgrade. Sprint will combine its FDD-LTE network in its 800MHz and 1.9GHz spectrum with a TD-LTE network in its 2.5GHz spectrum. Sprint Spark customers are being offered tri-band equipment that can access either technology. Sprint can use its massive expanse of 2.5GHz spectrum to offload data usage from its lower frequency spectrum, especially in large cities.

Another 5,000 legacy Clearwire cell sites will be upgraded to TD-LTE between now and the end of next year. Sprint expects to deploy TD-LTE more widely than WiMAX, potentially serving 100 cities and 100 million base stations by 2016.

Sprint has protected much of its postpaid customer base from the transition by repeatedly encouraging customers to upgrade to LTE service, now being rolled out as part of its Network Vision plan. But firms like FreedomPop and others that now lease access to the WiMAX network will leave their customers with a shorter upgrade path when WiMAX equipment stops working, requiring users to upgrade to LTE equipment.

Sprint hypes its new tri-band Sprint Spark network, which combines two different LTE networks to deliver faster data speeds. (1:18)

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