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November 15, 2006

Clearwire: The Q&A

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:57 AM

Following the launch today in Seattle of Clearwire, a wireless Internet broadband service, (and a story in The Seattle Times), I have received numerous emails, and tons of questions. Here's what I'm being asked and the answers I can provide to the best of my ability. I'll update this throughout the day as questions come in.

Q: Are you kidding me? You have to connect your laptop to the modem? As part of the growing legion of computer users who work only on laptops connected via Wi-Fi at home, Clearwire ain't in my future unless they fix that there problem.

A: Clearwire works similarly to any Internet connection. In order to get a Wi-Fi signal in the house, you must connect a wireless router to the modem. The graphic illustration here does point that out in the text.

UPDATE: The illustration also shows that you can use something called "ClearPlugs" that will send the signal through your electrical outlets, so you can have your modem in one room and your computer in another without connecting it with a wire, or setting up a wireless router (it must be plugged into an electrical outlet with an additional adapter).

Q: How much does it cost, is a contract required and what are the speeds?

A: A lot of people have been having a hard time finding this chart, where speeds and prices are laid out for several broadband options in the Seattle area. As you can see, the price goes up as mobility of the service increases. Speeds also decrease as the service becomes more portable. As far as contracts, yes, Clearwire typically requires a year-long commitment. Plan to keep it or else there might be penalties.

Q: Are there any security issues with Clearwire?

A: My very simple answer would be that it is more secure than Wi-Fi because it is using licensed spectrum -- in other words, Clearwire owns the airwaves that it operates on, whereas Wi-Fi shares a common band that's free and open to the public. A technical explanation can be found on Clearwire's Web site here.

It says:

"Your Clearwire connection is very secure. That's because Clearwire wireless technology uses OFDM transmission protocol, featuring a design standard that includes secure wireless data transmission. Wi-Fi operates on unlicensed 2.4GHz frequencies, making it vulnerable to scanning and packet interception. Clearwire operates at licensed 2.5GHz frequencies. Licensed frequencies and OFDM make for a very secure connection."


Q: How tall are the towers, and are they using existing cellphone towers?

A: I don't really know the entire answer to this, but the way towers work is this: The taller the tower, the bigger the area it can cover. However, the bigger the territory, the more people it serves, which may slow down the service. This is a science that cellphone companies also deal with today. The companies want to be efficient and make the towers as high as possible to serve as many people as possible, but if it reaches too many it will affect the quality of service. Many towers today are shared by many cellphone providers, so I don't see why Clearwire wouldn't also lease space from existing towers.

Q: Where's the laser light show tonight?

A: In celebration of Clearwire's launch today, it will be holding a laser light show at the Space Needle tonight at 7:15 p.m. More information is available here.

UPDATE:
Q: Why isn't the Wi-Fi router included in the modem?

A: A lot of people are asking this question "Why is Wi-Fi not integrated directly into the modem?" I don't have the answer to this, but may I point out that currently, this is how it works for both DSL and cable today? In order to get Wi-Fi service in the home, you must connect a wireless router to your cable or phone line. It also might be worthwhile to point out that the company is expecting to eliminate the modems by next year. They will be replaced with laptop cards which will be inserted directly into the laptop, and then eventually through chipsets installed directly in computers and other devices (This information can be found in the company's IPO registration which was filed and then pulled with the Securities & Exchange Commission).

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Tricia Duryee
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