Wireless Internet Service by Clear

We ended up not having wires to our office at all. So how do we get internet service? We get internet service quite easily from two 4G wireless LAN modems provided by Clear.

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May 2012. During the Spring Semester we had hosted five interns from the University of Texas part-time at our house. We knew that we wanted to have ten interns full-time during the summer and that we would never be able to host them in our house. We would need to rent genuine commercial office space. After some initial looking around, we got hooked up with a commercial real estate buyer’s agent named Matt Watson at Austin Office Space.  Matt helped us find and negotiate the lease on a very nice office and was giving us general tips on how to get setup as we scrambled to get ready to have ten paid interns starting Monday, May 21st.

Picture of Remnants of Previous Wiring

Remnants of Previous Wiring

One of the first things Matt clued us in on was the fact that the landlord would want absolutely nothing to do with the wiring in our office. They would be happy to repaint, re-tile, remove doors, whatever – these things could be negotiated. Computer and telephone wiring would definitely be out of scope.

Initially, this behavior seemed puzzling, but only a few seconds of thought yielded the obvious reason for the landlord’s skittishness: liability. No landlord would want to be responsible for any loss of business caused by failure of computer or telephone communication. As a result, the landlords leave it to each tenant to arrange for wiring and each tenant does so – leaving no records of what they did for the next tenant. Examining our office space, we could see archaeological evidence of multiple generations of incompatible and uncoordinated wiring.

Matt recommended that we contact Stacy Talent at Telco Data for a quote. I did so and Telco Data sent out a supervisor who discussed what I thought we would need and put together a very meticulous and professional written quotation.  For our particular requirements, the proposed cost was a bit more than two-thousand dollars.

Picture of Telephone Wiring Closet

Telephone Wiring Closet

Next problem: find an internet service provider. Every office building has a central telephone wiring closet. The service providers bring their cable to this closet. Your cabling provider runs the cable from the closet to your office and hooks you up. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get the landlord to tell me which internet service providers actually had service to our building, I began to realize that the landlords view these wiring closets as something similar to the Embassy of North Korea – they are not sure what goes on in there and they really don’t want to know.

OK. Let’s get on the internet and see what we can find. First stop: the website of AT&T. I Googled “AT&T Business Internet” and found the seemingly convenient “AT&T Small Business Internet” site. Clicking through their site, I found my specific address and even the floor of my building. Great!  I ordered a 6 megabit service. Great! Pressed go. Phew. All setup.

The next day, an AT&T representative called me. Had they said 6 megabits? Opps. Their Bad. They meant 384 kilobits. Oh, and it would be really expensive and require and extended contract. Ten people sharing 384 kilobits?! I cancelled my order on the spot.

Let’s see, Time Warner Cable had been blanketing the airwaves with advertisements claiming to be the absolute savior of small business phone and internet world – let’s call them. They wanted $259/month for a 15 megabit service. Gulp. And there would be a two-year minimum contract. GULP! Oh, and it would be at least 6 weeks until they could dispatch a tree sloth to connect the service.

6 WEEKS!?!  I was now five days away from having ten $15/hour interns standing around unable to do any work!  My blood-pressure went through the roof! What was I going to do?!

Clear's Convenient Coverage Map

Clear’s Convenient Coverage Map

I am not sure how I became aware of Clear. I think it was a radio advertisement they were running. It might also have been a billboard they had up in the area.

I got on Clear’s website and the first thing I found was Clear’s very convenient coverage checking tool at: http://www.clear.com/coverage

I entered the address of our office and found that there were nearby towers all around. Our office is on the top of a hill. I looked out the window and found that I could see one of the Clear towers at exactly the location shown on the map as shown in the screenshot above to the right.

Clear 4G Wireless Internet Modem

Clear 4G Wireless Internet Modem

Next I called their sales line. The customer service rep discussed our needs, the number of people in the office, the type of work we would be doing and so on. He recommended that we sign up for two wireless modems on the “4G Internet Plan” as shown on their Home Internet Plans page.

Next he gave me the codes I would need to setup the modems and got my shipping address. About twenty minutes later, he had my credit card number and the modems were on their way.

The modems arrived the next day. We have two window offices and we setup one modem in each. Setup took about 10 minutes for each modem.

We ended up with two wireless LANs – AsattePress1 and AsattePress2.  We average about 5 megabits of throughput on each LAN. Users can connect to either wireless LAN. Most machines will choose the one with the slightly stronger signal. In each room, we connected a printer to the modem using an ethernet cable.

We have now had the service for almost a year and are very satisfied. At first I thought that  the service might have trouble in bad weather, but the few heavy rain storms we have had seemed to have surprisingly little impact on the service.

The only problem we have experienced is that every 4-6 weeks we will come into the office in the morning and find the service down in the weeds. That is, the links will be up, but throughput will be down to a crawl. The first time this problem occurred, we called Clear technical support and were told to power off the modems for five minutes. We did so and that cleared up the problem. Powering off for ten seconds is not sufficient as such a brief interruption gets handled at the lowest link level of their equipment. By powering off the modem for five minutes, you give the higher level service time to notice that your modem is no longer there. When you power the modem back up again after a five-minute absence, you get a full reset that clears out the clogged up routing equipment.

Early in my career, I actually designed telecommunications switching equipment for a living and my opinion is that Clear needs to lean more heavily on their equipment suppliers to clean up this problem. That is, the answer rolls off the tongue of the Clear helpdesk reps the instant you describe the problem – obviously this problem happens a lot. The need for the end-user to perform a power-switch-reset to clear a routine and repeating problem is the symptom of amateurish equipment design. Well-designed telecommunications equipment should be polling for service quality automatically and detecting and correcting these sorts of “down in the weeds” performance problems before the end users ever notice them.

That having been said, the problem does not happen very often and it is easy to fix. I just pull the plug on the modem and go have a cup of coffee. By the time I finish the cup of coffee and plug the modem back in, the problem has corrected itself.

There was an initial charge for the modems (I seem to remember $175 each) but there is no extended service contract. Including taxes, we pay just a little over $100 per month for both modems.

Overall, I would strongly recommend that any small business owner give Clear a close look before submitting to the pricing extortion and poor service of the traditional wired internet service providers.

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