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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.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Mobile Beacon Nation Case Study.mp4

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.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Sprint Spark -- Today is already the future 10-30-13.mp4

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

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.

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