Earlier this week, Jason Purdy, Affiliated Analyst with market research firm MobileTrax and also Director of Digital Products for Sports Illustrated, published the below opinion piece. We feel it’s worth highlighting (and are publishing it in full with MobileTrax’s permission) because Purdy’s recent challenge in finding an Internet connection to meet his needs helps illustrate that consumers have several options to connect, but that there is still a great need for ongoing private investment in broadband infrastructure — especially wireless networks — in order to keep up with current and growing demand for data. It also offers a good example of how important it is to create a regulatory environment that allows providers to transition away from outdated technologies and move to faster, next-generation IP networks. — IIA

New Home, New ISP – Is Mobile Broadband Ready for Prime Time?

by Jason Purdy

After my wife and I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan in 2011, the number one priority was to get internet set up. I loved Verizon FIOS, but our Brooklyn pre-war building didn’t have fiber connections, surprise surprise.
In Manhattan, we had a dedicated 50M bps downlink and 5M bps uplink that never returned a result lower than 45/4. Instead, our options in our new place were DSL or Time Warner cable. I’ve heard horrific things about Time Warner’s customer service, and DSL’s bandwidth is too slow, but if those were my only two wired connections, what were my wireless options?

I have been creating a wireless connection from my 3G iPhone for several years, and it has provided decent wireless connectivity for general internet usage, but it is simply not fast enough nor affordable for an entire home’s Internet usage and downloading rich media like TV shows and movies. Although “4G LTE” is all the hype lately, they cap your bandwidth to 10GB a month. I easily go through that in two days.

Being that I work in the mobile space, I remember reading reports 5+ years ago about how WiMax was going to change everything. The main company implementing WiMax, Clearwire, had to file bankruptcy shorty after launching and investors, including Sprint, Time Warner and Comcast, stepped up to give the company the cash it needed to move into the 4G LTE space.

Today, Clearwire, which markets under the “Clear” brand, is marketed as “mobile 4G broadband”, offering a 3M bps-5M bps downlink. Not exactly the speeds I had before with Fios, but Time Warner’s wait time for installation was at least 10 days, so I took the plunge. I called Clear and they sent the router overnight and waived the activation fee. I only had to buy (not rent) the router for about $100. Amazingly, Internet was up and running from initial call to actually being online in less than 12 hours.

Besides usual internet usage like emails and browsing, I also download a lot of large files like the Apple iOS SDK. So how fast was Clear in reality? The first hour went remarkably well. I downloaded the iOS 6.0 SDK very quickly, averaging over 1.5M bps. After that finished, I tried Netflix which had some initial buffering time, but then seemed to play ok. Unfortunately, half way through a Breaking Bad episode, it started buffering again. This became a common occurrence until I noticed what caused it – any concurrent traffic on the same network. If I received a new email or I checked Twitter on my phone, the entire network was hosed. I ran a few speed tests and bandwidth went from 5.72M bps to less than 1MB bps (0.12M bps). For a frame of reference, Gmail took over a minute to load.

I tried emailing Clear to see if this was common or if I could pay $5 or $10 a month to have preferential access. Their response was “I’m sorry. You may not be a good fit for Clear.” Well, at least they were honest. At this point, it was pretty Clear (sorry) that this wasn’t going to work out, so I ordered Time Warner. I did have to wait a few days to get my Time Warner order processed and installed. This has turned out to be a great solution, and certainly better than trying to run my entire house off my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot, but simply not a long-term solution.

When I cancelled Clear they were very nice about it, asked why and what they could do, and ultimately gave me a full refund. When I called to cancel, I assumed I’d get the $100 back from the router I returned, but I tried to tell them they could keep the $54 monthly fee. I did use their service quite a bit for almost two weeks and was happy to have internet at my new home while we were moving in, but they wouldn’t accept it. Thanks, Clear! Can you imagine if this launched in 2005? Everyone would have switched from DSL and the mobile space would have completely changed.

Scheduling Time Warner wasn’t ideal, with the only times they would show up at our place were between 9-5, but that said, check out my new speeds! Single connection: 28.7M bps, which is amazing, but then I tried what I could not do with Clear: four connections at once including 1) My iPhone streaming Pandora, 2) My AppleTV streaming Netflix, 3) My MacbookPro downloading an update to Photoshop and 4) my iPad uploading a video to YouTube. The result: 25.17M bps.

Realize here that we’re only using Time Warner for internet access. They tried to sell me a cable TV package, but we just didn’t need it. If we watched more TV, it might have been worth it, but I don’t mind paying Time Warner so I can get over the top (OTT) access to movies and some TV shows via sources like Netflix, iTunes and Hulu.

Although wireless speeds are faster than they’ve ever been (remember trying to load a website on your Motorola Razr?), and in theory speeds are faster than any average user would use, in practice wired (cable) internet access is the only option right now. I’ll switch back to Verizon’s FIOS at 10G bps (drool) if they offer it in my area, but Time Warner is working out just fine for now.

You can read this post, along with much more about the current state of mobile broadband, at Mobiletrax.