Fellow TidBITS contributor (ok, ok, I overstate my contribution) Glenn Fleishmann takes a hardnosed look at the enticing possibility of the unwired ISP Clearwire in the Seattle market. I’m at the thin, frayed end of DSL and really can’t consider cable, as I host in-house, a practice both technically and TOSly unadvisable under cable. Their outbound speed may be weak, but it would be hard to get weaker then that which I currently pay for on not one but TWO DSL lines.

Sadly, Glenn neglects to examine the Clearwire TOS. Personally, as Clearwire has sprung from the loins of cellular visionary Craig McCaw (did i get that right? I suck at the whole capitalist sycophancy thing. I’m working on it, OK?) I do not expect the TOS to actively permit any sort of publicly-oriented upstream content delivery, or if it they do, the TOS will include a sufferance clause permitting the proprietor to choke any commercial or political discourse that troubles the business model at whim.

Clearwire’s tech model is still a bit kludgy; to get online, you must plug the company-provided modem/router/hub into a power supply and thence the modem/router is treated as a conventional wireless-capable DSL or cable modem. That’s surely parity in terms of user experience; yet what I desire is truly mobile hi-speed access to my private IP space. I wish to sit in a park, car, ship or plane with any given terminal, my laptop or my father-in-law’s gateway, authenticate, and work securely within my IP space. Given that my dear Pipo lives in a part of the country that is far from Clearwire’s coverage area and lacks a PC that supports any sort of wireless networking, I understand that this is a a set of featuredemands that must be seen as unrealistic. But there is a subset of them which is clearly possible.

The only features in these scenarios I have not yet actually experienced in real life with nothing fancier than conventional 80211.b hardware and 256k ethernet is easy and secure administrative access to my IP space and high-caliber upstream speeds. But because upstream broadband has failed to offer any speed improvement to the majority of postential customers, competition in the low end of the market has been purely price-based, and therefore 256k wireless or wired networking is essentially free with any given set of computers.

The competitive key to beating cable or DSL, then, is fat outbound pipes. Come to me with an unrestricted hosting plan that gives me upstream of as little as 1k, and you have my $60 a month, money i am already spending for two separate DSL lines with a choke of 256k on each. The trick? The provide must eschew content and activity controls, precisely as a phone provider does.

I won’t hold my breath – there are technical hurdles for all three bandwidth-provisioning strategies that limit upstream bandwidth; content managers are for the moment highly engaged in a fight to limit the market; and of course, if you’re already filthy rich, the laws simply do not apply.

Still, I’d think that $60 per month across a 20% of the extant market might well be enough dough to attract a would-be Medici or Borgia to the sinking island. The question would then be rather simpler: Shall I dine at the table of the Borgia?

2 thoughts on “Kleer

  1. That stinks – I didn’t realize the Clearwire modem required a power supply. I was expecting it to come as either a self-powered USB dongle or a PC(MCIA) Card.

    I agree that the idea of having a static-IP, always-on, broadband wireless connection for $60/mo would be too appealing to pass up if a few more things were in place.

    The main issue for me is security. I of course use wifi hotspots fairly often, but if I had a static IP I’d be taking advantage of it to work on my servers, which I’m not going to do over an unencrypted network. Clearwire’s FAQs and other info say that their service is split over and hops between several frequencies using orthogonal division multiplexing or somesuch and is very hard to eavesdrop on, but makes no mention of encryption. They say it’s secure, but “secure” and “encrypted” are different enough in my book to turn me off to the idea of wireless broadband for now.

    When you talk about connecting to your IP space via someone else’s gateway, wouldn’t that essentially be a VPN?

  2. Yeah, I suppose I am talking about VPNs in one way or another. But I don’t want to add another layer of crap to maintain and debug and learn and relearn. I want to configure my hypothetical anywhere-in-the-first-world wireless broadband ISP exactly as I do now – I input a gateway IP, choose the downstream IP I’ll be using as local, and the gateway provides me with ‘local’ access to the other IPs that are downstream from the gateway IP.

    In essence, then, I’m requesting the ISP make the VPN a default and transparent option. Ha ha ha.

    Also my choice of words vis-a-vis ‘power supply’ might be improved upon by substituting ‘electrical socket’ – my understanding, third-hand as it is, pictures the CW hub as similar to any other given hub in terms of connecting to the local grid. I have a vague idea that it itself may be a wall-wart, but that seems unlikely, given how many plugs any given technoweenie octopus farm requests.

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