Clear 4G: A Love Story

Illustration for article titled Clear 4G: A Love Story

This photograph was taken at the SFMTA Customer Service Center, the 7th level of bureaucratic hell. I was working there, but I don't work there, feel me? I was using Clear's Mobile USB WiMax Adapter. Mobile connection dongles aren't particularly new; hell, 4G mobile adapters aren't even new. But six months ago the technology was straight-up nascent, hardly worth investing in unless you lived in one of the few markets where 4G coverage existed. Well, I've been on Clear for more than half a year now, and things have changed dramatically.


San Francisco. New York. Las Vegas. Chicago. Minneapolis. Los Angeles. Washington. Maryland. Virginia. There's probably more. I've taken this thing all over creation and mostly enjoyed broadband-level speeds. My data even soared above the filthy, CES-clotted airwaves of Las Vegas. I've shared the connection with friends in airports, and used it as a supplement to the pathetic dribble of bits that passes for WiFi at my mother's house. (Sorry mom, it's not personal!) Even now, stuffed in a bunker-walled municipal building, I have enough bandwidth—though I've been busted down to 3G—to upload images.

And it's not just what the thing does that I love. Beauty is more than just stuff that's more than just skin deep. Does that make any sense? What I'm trying to say is, this thing is a looker too: elegant, functional, and extremely portable—a small disc that folds up and disappears into your bag. Its articulating hinge allows it to swivel out of your USB port's way, too. A wonderful touch.

Like any new-ish technology, Clear isn't perfect. The network isn't 100-percent mature yet—you're pretty much boned in the northern flyover states, for example. I couldn't get a 4G signal in Phoenix or Scottsdale, either. And the dongle Cuts the battery life of my Macbook Pro in half and gets really hot. The software can get a little cranky if you shut your notebook without quitting first, too, causeing the Clear Connection Manager to hang up for a few minutes before reconnect.

But I'm pretty OK with it, because, frankly, I'm in love. And an imperfection in someone you love doesn't make him or her imperfect; it makes them real. This adapter has stood by me and done its best wherever I've taken it. Mostly, it knocked the bandwidth ball out of the frickin park. It even attempted (limply) to grab a signal in England, when I—flight-worn and dazed—plugged in without realizing that I was in a country where Clear's 4G was a foreign language. The poor thing just couldn't speak to the local towers.

But it tried. It always tries.

Price: $55/month for unlimited 4G
Coverage: Check the map here to see if your town has the 4 gees.
Get it: here




Fuck all of this.

I sounded exactly like you did when I picked up Clear last year. My roommate and I were moving to a new place and frankly it was the simplest solution. I could sit around for an entire Saturday, which was still several days away, while I waited for the Comcast guy to show up, tethering off my phone the entire time, or I could go pick up a Clear modem and boom. Be on my way. And for the first month it was perfect. Fantastic. Worked wonderfully. Good speeds. It was heaven.

Then, after a little while, we started having connection problems. Then speed problems. It wasn't because of the building I was living in because a.) it had worked wonderfully for a month, and 2.) we live in a single-story town house. The idea that it could be building penetration that was causing the problem was absurd.

I spent a good month on the phone with Clear attempting to get the issue straightened out. For the record, the issues were numerous. Frequent disconnects and near-constant sub-1Mbps download speeds. We were paying for 6Mbps. This was unacceptable. During all of my time on the phone with Clear tech support, however, I had either unhelpful tech reps or, to my relief, one person who knew what he was doing. During a lengthy phone conversation wherein he said very little while tapping away on his keyboard, he confirmed for me that the issue was not my computer, my Clear modem, my router, *or* the connection to the tower. He said he would put in an order for someone to check the tower in my area. A few days later I received a call from the tech at the tower who assured me nothing was wrong with the tower. He offered to come check and see if moving my WiFi router around would work. I declined. I'd already done this.

Finally, the matter was "settled" when I called a tech rep *again*, still insisting that the constant sub-1Mbps download were simply unacceptable for my plan. He conducted three speed tests. Two of the three were ~1Mbps. The third was, after a change in server, surprisingly in the ~9Mbps range. He said that since these three tests average to a number above 3Mbps, which is what you should normally expect from a 6Mbps connection, he was done testing and we were getting exactly what we should be getting. Incredulous, I hung up the phone.

Shortly thereafter, I cancelled my Clear service.

I would've let it go, though, as just a case of crappy customer service. It was entirely possible that some new environmental factor had changed in my area that made 4G signal suck (as I said, it had been good for a while), and the tech support reps were, as they frequently are with large companies, entirely inept.

Not a month after I'd cancelled my service, however, did I get news that Clear was involved in multiple class-action lawsuits, including allegations of false-advertising and throttling users to speeds in the area of ~0.25Mbps (which, again, we consistently saw). To make matters worse, Clear's Rob Lenderman even admitted as much. Clear set in place systems that would routinely throttle users to near unusable speeds, despite paying for better service, and could be caught in such systems for simply streaming video, which is one of the services touted by Clear's advertising campaign.

I wanted to believe in Clear. I really did. I loved that I just went and picked up the modem and started going. It felt like I had the entire internet in my pocket. But Clear's abuse of power and shady approach to network management made it not just impossible for me to support them on principle, but in practice.

In short:

Fuck Clear.