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Millenicom Customers Lose Unlimited Wireless Data (Again); Sprint Re-Terminates Agreement

muymMillenicom customers have had their ups and downs over the last two weeks coping with e-mail notifications they would lose, keep, and once again lose their unlimited wireless data plan.

Just a day after Millenicom heard that Sprint would allow them to continue selling Unlimited and Bring Your Own Device plans, the wireless carrier best known for its “unlimited for life” offer changed its mind:

We are very sorry to report that Sprint has reversed their decision from yesterday and terminated their agreement with the gateway for our Unlimited and BYOD accounts.

We are not certain how long until the accounts will be closed.

sprintnextelWe will be shipping out Hotspot devices to those clients who had opted for that solution and BMI.net is ready to fulfill orders for those choosing to go with them.

We have attempted to keep you informed every step of the way and avoid any abrupt transition. We apologize that we weren’t able to come through.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service and please accept our sincere wish for your future success.

Dennis Castle
Owner

millenicomIt is not the first time Millenicom has had problems with Sprint, which has proved to be a difficult carrier to deal with with respect to unlimited use plans.

Sprint’s decision is a major blow to rural Americans who lack access to cable or DSL broadband and are forced to consider satellite-delivered Internet access or pay even more for wireless data plans that come with puny usage caps, overlimit fees or speed throttles.

There are a few alternatives, but since these providers resell access to Sprint-owned networks, all are potentially vulnerable to Sprint’s evolving views on resellers:

bmi-logoBlue Mountain Internet (BMI) offers an “unlimited plan” that isn’t along with several usage allowance plans. BMI strongly recommends the use of their Mobile Broadband Optimizer software that compresses web traffic, dramatically improving speeds and reducing consumption:

Monthly Plans

  • $39.99/Month – 1 Gig Data (** up to 3GB compressed) ($25/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $59.99/Month – 3 Gig Data (** up to 9GB compressed) ($20/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $79.99/Month – 5 Gig Data (** up to 15GB compressed) ($20/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $99.99/Month – 10 Gig Data (** Up to 45GB compressed) ($15/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $79.99/Month – Unlimited (Bring Your Own Device) – BYOD
  • $99.99/Month – Unlimited Data (S Network) ***

evdousaThere is a $100 maximum on overlimit fees, but BMI reserves the right to suspend accounts after running 3-5GB over a plan’s allowance to limit exposure to the penalty rate. The compression software is for Windows only and does not work with MIFI devices or with video/audio streaming. BMI warns its wireless service is not intended for video streaming. Customers are not allowed to host computer applications including continuous streaming video and webcam posts that broadcast more than 24 hours; automatic data feeds; automated continuous streaming machine-to-machine connections; or peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing.

EVDODepotUSA offers two truly unlimited use plans starting at $119 a month. The company is only contracted to offer access to Sprint’s woefully congested 3G network and the Clear 4G WiMAX network that typically does not offer much coverage in rural areas. LTE access is not currently available. There is a six month contract obligation, but the company also offers a 10-day free trial.

Their current plans:

evdo

wireless n wifiWireless ‘n Wifi offers two partly unlimited plans with no contract commitment. The company charges a refundable deposit on devices, but they become yours to keep after two years:

  • Unlimited 4G Sprint/Clear WiMAX with 3G Fallback ($58.99) offers unlimited WiMAX service but has a 5GB cap on Sprint’s 3G network, the network rural customers will encounter the most. Total start-up fee is $194.93 which includes an activation fee, modem deposit (refunded upon modem return or after 24 months of service), the first month of service, and shipping for the wireless device.
  • Unlimited 4G LTE with WiMAX and 3G Fallback ($79.99) offers unlimited Sprint 4G LTE and Sprint/Clear WiMAX service with a 35GB cap on Sprint’s 3G network. Customers can select a dual-band device that supports LTE and 3G service for $246.93 (includes activation fee, modem upcharge fee, first month of service, shipping, and refundable $100 modem deposit). Customers looking for access to LTE, 3G, and WiMAX can choose a tri-band device for $315.93 (includes activation fee, modem upcharge, first month of service, shipping and refundable deposit.) Keep in mind Sprint’s 4G LTE network is still very spotty.

Sprint’s ‘Clear’ Raises Prices for Its Throttled and Litigated WiMAX Network

Some ex-Clearwire customers were not happy when their speeds were reduced to 250kbps on the company's overcrowded network.

Some Clearwire customers remain unhappy when speeds are throttled to “manage” the network.

Clear (formerly known as Clearwire) has announced a general rate increase of about 10 percent for customers using its legacy 4G WiMAX broadband service.

As a result, most customers will pay about $5 more per month for fixed wireless or “on the go” broadband service.

“We instituted this to remain competitive and manage our costs,” a Sprint representative told Broadcasting & Cable. “Like our competitors, we must respond to customer trends, and provide a good user experience, and as a result we will make adjustments to fees and services from time to time. Our offer is still comparable to other offerings in the marketplace.”

Some customers would argue with Sprint’s definition of a “good user experience,” as complaints continue about heavy-handed throttling of Clear’s service that makes high bandwidth applications painful or impossible to use in the evening.

Stop the Cap! reader Akos contacted us this week to complain Clear still advertises and contracts for “unlimited data and top speeds,” while not exactly being upfront about targeting certain traffic for a prime time speed throttle that effectively keeps customers from streaming video.

“They openly admit their service is being throttled by software at each tower site that activates when it detects streaming video services like Netflix, reducing speed from 1.3Mbps to as little as 20kbps, rendering it unusable,” said Akos.

The speed throttle is usually active from 8pm-1:30am daily, when traffic is anticipated to be highest. Clear speaks about its network management speed throttle in the fine print: its Acceptable Use Policy.

Akos complains Clear’s speed throttle makes it easy to blame the streaming service, not Clear itself, because customers running speed tests will not see throttled speeds.

“It fools people to think the problem is on their end or with the streaming service, so customers don’t complain to Clear,” says Akos.

As a result, people using streaming video services get about 30 seconds of uninterrupted video before the throttle kicks in bringing extensive buffering delays.

Clearwire’s Speed Throttle Subject of Lawsuits

Clear's own 2010 marketing promises unlimited usage with no speed reductions, like those "other" providers.

Clear’s own 2010 marketing promises unlimited usage with no speed reductions, like those “other” providers.

Clearwire’s speed throttle has been a part of life with the wireless service since 2010. Clearwire had significant legal exposure over its choice of network management because the company routinely advertised “unlimited service” with no speed throttles or overlimit fees. At least three lawsuits were filed against the company for its undisclosed throttling practices, eventually condensed into a single class action case that was finally settled last month.

Under the terms of the settlement, Clear admits no wrongdoing, but will clearly disclose it uses “network management” practices — a term that generally means usage caps and/or speed throttles — and will give customers information about the speeds they can expect when the throttle is active. As of today, Clear has not done that. Clear also volunteered to suspend term contracts and waive early termination fees for customers complaining about speed issues.

At least seven law firms handling the case will split a total award fee of $1,887,792.91 and expenses of $62,207.09. Individual representative plaintiffs each receive up to $2,000. Everyone else identified as part of the class action case that returned a claim form prior to Jan. 3, will receive an average of less than $30:

  • a 50% refund of any early termination fee charged after a customer canceled service because of speed throttling;
  • a rebate of $14 for customers signing up for Clearwire before Sept. 1, 2010 and experiencing speed throttling or a rebate of at least $7 for Clearwire customers signing up on or after Sept. 1, 2010;
  • plus varying amounts for each month of service prior to Feb. 27, 2012 during which Clearwire’s records show it throttled a customer’s Internet speed. Customers throttled at 0.25Mbps will receive $5.00 for each month throttled, 0.60 Mbps: $3.00, and 1.0 Mbps: $2.00.

Court documents reveal of the 2,733,406 customers identified in Clearwire’s records as being speed throttled, only 83,840 submitted timely claims as part of the class action case. This represents a claims rate of about 3.1%. Of those, 76,199 were for speed throttling, 2,331 were requests for reimbursement of early termination fees.

The Future of Clear’s WiMAX and Sprint’s 4G

LTE: AT&T's wireless rural broadband solution?

Sprint purchased the assets of Clearwire Corporation in July, rebranded the network “Clear,” and as of the end of August, stopped selling WiMAX devices to customers. Although Clear will still activate existing equipment, potential new customers are being marketed broadband plans on the Sprint network instead.

Former Clear dealers have received word Sprint plans to eventually decommission its acquired WiMAX network as early as 2014, most likely by gradually converting portions of the 2.5GHz spectrum Clear’s WiMAX service now uses in favor of Sprint’s 4G LTE service in urban and high congestion areas. Clearwire itself was in the process of adopting a variant of 4G LTE technology that would gradually replace the outdated WiMAX standard when Sprint acquired the company.

Although Sprint runs its own 3G network, it partnered with Clearwire to provide 4G WiMAX for Sprint customers. In 2011, Sprint announced it would stop selling devices with built-in support for WiMAX and announced it would launch its own 4G LTE network. Sprint will adopt the same version of LTE other North American carriers are using: FD-LTE, or Frequency Division LTE, which requires one transmit channel and one receive channel. But it will also support and continue Clearwire’s upgrade to TD-LTE, or Time Division LTE, a slightly different standard that supports receiving and transmitting signals on a single frequency at slightly different time intervals, providing enhanced spectrum efficiency. At least 5,500 towers should be active with TD-LTE service by the end of this year. End users will care only to the extent their devices support one or both standards.

Sprint’s 4G LTE rollout will depend primarily on higher frequency spectrum that is disadvantageous indoors and over extended distances. Sprint’s competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless primarily depend on lower 700MHz frequencies that penetrate buildings better and can serve a larger coverage area. But a combination of Sprint and Clearwire’s spectrum assets give Sprint the most wireless spectrum of any U.S. carrier, which means potentially faster speeds and more capacity.

  • 1900MHz: Sprint’s primary 4G FD-LTE service is now available in 151 cities on more than 20,000 cell towers;
  • 2500MHz: Now used by Clear’s legacy WiMAX network, will see a transition towards Sprint’s TD-LTE service which will be targeted to urban and high congestion areas from “small cell” sites;
  • 800MHz: The former home of now-shuttered Nextel, Sprint will eventually launch FD-LTE service on this band which will offer better indoor and marginal area reception.

Customers can expect devices that support both FD-LTE and TD-LTE in 2014.

FreedomPop Set to Introduce Free 500MB of Data a Month on Sprint’s LTE Network

freedompopFreedomPop, which offers 500MB of free wireless data service a month via Clearwire’s WiMAX service on a range of devices, has a better offer for tablet owners coming in the second half of this year.

The FreedomPop Clip is designed to attach to Wi-Fi only tablets and provides wireless Internet connectivity when away from Wi-Fi. Better still, the service will be free for the first 500MB of usage each month and will support Sprint’s up-and-coming 4G LTE network for faster browsing. The add-on hardware only weighs 2.5 ounces and has its own built-in rechargeable battery estimated to last up to six hours.

Tablets enabled with support for mobile data networks have never sold particularly well because of the added cost and expensive two-year contract required to maintain the service. Instead, some customers tether their tablets or enable an add-on Mobile Hotspot feature on their smartphone, which can cost $30 extra per month. The new FreedomPop Clip does not come with a contract or a monthly fee when users keep browsing to under 500MB each month. The forthcoming device will also support up to eight extra connections, in case you want to share.

Those who want more data, and around 30 percent of FreedomPop’s customers reportedly do, they can buy it on-demand without any contract or commitment. If you bug your friends to also buy the device, you can earn additional free browsing. In fact, FreedomPop will try and encourage sharing by including a new “open Wi-Fi” Internet service on a separate SSID. Those connecting through the open feature will likely get a marketing message encouraging them to get their own FreedomPop device, and their usage won’t count against your allowance.

FreedomPop Clip supports Sprint's up and coming LTE 4G network.

FreedomPop Clip supports Sprint’s up and coming LTE 4G network.

Stop the Cap! has FreedomPop’s $99 iPod Touch add-on device, which works exclusively on Clearwire’s network. We’ve used it for about five months and can report the device works well whether you actually have an iPod or not. It is simply a portable hotspot shaped to clip to the back of the 4th generation iPod Touch (it won’t fit ours). But even if it cannot clip on, it still delivers excellent signals up to 12 feet away from the MP3 player.

Its biggest weakness is Clearwire’s hit or miss network. Here in suburban Rochester, N.Y., Clearwire provides service through a nearby cell tower about a mile away. At home, the device works with fair reception indoors, but really needs to be near a window to perform reliably. Outdoors, the device works much better. We found more trouble trying to use the device in a nearby restaurant and while in downtown Rochester because Clearwire reception proved spotty. When it does work, it provides an average of 800kbps-1Mbps downstream speeds, which is superior to most 3G networks, but does not come close to what Verizon’s LTE network can deliver. But then, FreedomPop data comes free.

Just remember to keep usage at 400MB or less every month. As you approach 500MB of usage, FreedomPop will “conveniently” bill you for additional usage it anticipates you will use unless you remember to shut this auto top-up feature off on FreedomPop’s website control panel. You must also use at least 5MB a month to keep the device active, so remember to power it up at least once a month and do some browsing.

The FreedomPop LTE-capable Clip will also reportedly work with 3G service, according to Forbes. This is an important consideration because Sprint’s 4G LTE network is still in its infancy and not yet available in most major metropolitan areas. But if it relies on Sprint’s overwhelmed 3G network, expect much slower performance.

The selling price for the device itself has not yet been announced, but we expect it will be available later this year at $99 or slightly higher.

Thanks to Stop the Cap! reader Jerry for sending this news tip.

Clearwire: Unlimited Means No More Than 5GB Or We Throw You Off

Phillip Dampier November 20, 2012 Broadband Speed, Clearwire, Data Caps, Wireless Broadband 7 Comments

Clearwire wants a divorce from customers it deems are using the wireless broadband service too much — as in around 5GB per month, despite the fact many of those customers pay for “unlimited” accounts.

Broadband Reports says several ex-customers are now complaining on Twitter about their abrupt, involuntary departure this week as paying customers, despite company promises that advance warnings would be sent if a customer was engaged in “excessive use.”

“One user excessively running heavy bandwidth applications can adversely affect the speeds and service quality for their neighbors,” Clearwire told Broadband Reports. “It is rare that we take this step and when we do it affects an extremely small percentage of our total user base. We typically contact users to notify them of this type of situation first in order to provide an opportunity to make necessary changes.”

Broadband Reports:

How much usage was considered too much? Clearwire won’t get specific, but one of the users tells Broadband Reports Clearwire informed him he’d breached 5 GB three months in a row — which frankly doesn’t sound excessive for a modern wireless network.

Clear began throttling heavy users on unlimited accounts to around 256kbps back in 2010. They’ve never really been specific about what triggers the throttled state for users, given it appears to be calculated on the fly based on local tower congestion — so what triggers throttling may be different in different markets. It’s not entirely clear why throttling these users back to 256 kbps wasn’t substantial enough of a punishment for these “fired” customers.

Initial Impressions of FreedomPop’s $99 iPod Sleeve – 500MB Clearwire 4G for Free Each Month

Phillip Dampier November 1, 2012 Clearwire, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Editorial & Site News, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Initial Impressions of FreedomPop’s $99 iPod Sleeve – 500MB Clearwire 4G for Free Each Month

We’ve received FreedomPop’s “Freedom Sleeve Rocket for iPod Touch” here at Stop the Cap! HQ and are giving it a run.

Originally slated for release in the late summer, the $99 sleeve finally arrived yesterday afternoon. FreedomPop’s attraction is 500MB a month of free Clearwire WiMAX usage indefinitely. After the upfront cost of the sleeve ($99), customers can snap the case-like sleeve on the back of their 4th Generation iPod and be on their way streaming content, making Skype calls, checking web pages/email, or sharing the connection with up to eight devices (or friends).

It could be a fine alternative for usage-capped wireless customers who want an extra 500MB edge every month, and if you’ve ever lost a cell phone while exercising (I have), this is a little less risky (and you will definitely notice because the iPod you are listening to will go missing with it).

Still, FreedomPop is a start-up and “free” wireless data sounds a little too good to be true (or at least long-lasting should the business model go awry).

Customers can earn additional usage allotments “connecting” with “Freedom Friends” or signing up for third party offers. If you like the service and want more, FreedomPop’s real business model kicks in — selling you additional data allowances that range from $7.25-$20/GB above and beyond your initial 500MB each month.

Clearwire’s hit or miss coverage in upstate New York.

So how does the device work? We’re testing it out this week and will report our results in greater detail sometime next week. But up front, some interesting observations:

  1. The device seems durable enough. It can recharge from a USB port or from the included power adapter. Charging time initially took several hours, but we’re unsure how long it will run just yet;
  2. A web-based control panel offers easy customization of the device, which appears as a Wi-Fi hotspot when the 4G service is enabled. You can reset your password and even manage the power level. The “low” setting proved more than adequate for anyone within 10 feet to connect, and since this was designed to attach to the back of your iPod, signal strength of its Wi-Fi service is no problem;
  3. You better have a 4th generation iPod or else it simply won’t fit. I actually discovered I had a third generation unit, which means no luck snapping the iPod to the back of the sleeve. Apple’s newest iPod Touch won’t fit either. But then I discovered it really didn’t matter. I can slip the sleeve all by itself in a pocket and it will still work fine with my iPod, attached or not. FreedomPop also sells a small portable hotspot device that could work equally well if you don’t need a “snap-on” solution;
  4. Clearwire, which has a dreadful reputation for reception and speed issues here in western New York, actually worked impressively well in early tests. Indoors we managed a medium strength signal from a cell tower located about two miles away. Clearwire’s very high frequency means outdoor reception free of obstacles like walls and doors will perform even better, and it did. We managed at least 1-3Mbps service at all times, which is better than a lot of cell carrier 3G networks locally;
  5. Making and receiving VoIP calls using an earlier generation iPod Touch is a nuisance. We noticed audio dropouts and call dropping, and you need to supply a headset with a microphone to be able to speak to a caller. But who calls anyone anymore? Text messages and Google Talk’s instant message system worked much easier;
  6. You can eat usage just browsing web pages. I was astonished to discover I consumed more than 42MB after less than 30 minutes of reading e-mail and web browsing a half-dozen news site web pages. At that rate, I’d be close to my limit after just 10 days. This surprised me because my Verizon Wireless data plan shows my spouse and I manage around 700MB of combined usage every month, and that includes streaming radio every morning on the ride to work. FreedomPop’s usage meter will need some closer inspection because there are indications it counts 1MB of usage for each hour the device is powered on, regardless of whether you are actively using it or not;
  7. The second thing we did after unboxing was visit FreedomPop’s website and turn off “automatic top up” under Billing Settings. Otherwise after you reach 400MB (not a typo) of usage, FreedomPop will “conveniently” automatically add 1GB of additional usage for $20, billed to your credit card. Set in the off position, your account will simply stop working for the rest of the month once you hit 500MB.

I had low expectations from FreedomPop’s alliance with Clearwire, the WiMAX network Sprint customers love to hate (and then turn off on their phones to conserve battery life). But so far I am cautiously optimistic.

Readers should be careful before jumping in and check FreedomPop’s coverage map first because Clearwire’s network is notoriously limited. For example, here in upstate New York Rochester, Syracuse, Geneva, and Cortland are covered. Buffalo, Albany, and Binghamton are not. In the Big Apple, New York City has coverage, Long Island east of Valley Stream is out of luck.

We’ll post a more detailed review next week.

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