Warning: Technical (and whiny) content follows. My regular readers may wish to stop reading now….
Recently I began to shop around looking for a cheaper and / or better way to handle my home phone and internet services. I called the big boys in my area (CableOne, Qwest) but was not thrilled with their pricing. Then I heard about Clear – formerly ClearWire.
Clear has several stores very near me, so after I went to their website (www.clear.com) and looked into their pricing and packages, I visited my local clear store to get answers to specific questions. The gentleman I spoke with there claimed that he was one of the “on site techs” who would be able to answer any technical questions I had – so I threw some at him. I used words like latency, antenna gain, signal to noise ratio, static IP address, etc. He handled them all with ease. The 2 main items I needed to verify with him were:
- Does Clear offer a static IP address to their home customers?
- Can I use my static IP to run things like a mailserver, webserver, code repository, etc.
I was assured that for an extra 10 bucks / month I could have a static IP, and that there were no restrictions for how I used the connection. I could host my own hardware and set up whatever sort of internal network I wanted.
So, a few days later I called them to sign up. The salesperson was very courteous on the phone, and again assured me that there were no restrictions and that I could have a static IP. So, I placed the order for both an internet connection and phone service. The equipment arrived the very next day, and I plugged it into my laptop that evening to do a speedtest and check out how well it worked.
Here are my initial impressions:
- The salespeople seemed to be knowledgeable and friendly, and did not mind my somewhat difficult technical questions.
- The delivery of the equipment was as fast as I could possibly have hoped for, and it was free. Kudos for that.
- The performance of the connection at my house was really quite good. Using several speed test utilities (my favorite lately is http://speed.io) I consistently recorded speeds of 10ish Mb down / 1Mb up, which is the package I ordered. My only complaint is that the latency was not fantastic, but any wireless connection will have poorer latency than a wired connection. The best ping time I ever saw was around 85ms, the typical ping time was around 170ms.
- I did try placing the radio in several different locations in my house, and found that an upstairs bedroom near the window provided the best reception for the radio and best connection performance. This posed a problem for me, as my other networking equipment (server stuff, router, UPS, backup drives, etc) are all located in a purpose-built climate controlled room in my garage. So I had to cut a hole in my wall to get to the attic, then another hole in the ceiling of the room in my garage to get an ethernet cable from the back of my router to the Clear modem.
So far, things were looking great. I was going to be able to get a seriously faster home internet connection as well as dump the local phone company and save a few bucks overall each month. I eagerly waited for time to start the networking transition for all my domains etc at home. A few days later I finally had a free evening I could use to rearrange everything. Since I run my own linux server at home to host my personal domains (like this one!) I had to change a bunch of routing rules, firewall rules, dns records, physical connections from device to device, etc. The whole process should have taken about an hour or so. And, within an hour or so I had most things switched over to the new Clear connection and working fine. I could browse the web from inside my house. I could check mail (both internal and external), SSH was working fine, etc.
Then I tried to access my website from an external host, and discovered that the connection was never made. I started to comb through all the various items I changed looking for an error. DNS records were correct. Firewall rules were right. Routing tables were all correct. Web server was up and working, as I could hit it from internal hosts.
Oh crap (I thought) – it appears that Clear is blocking port 80 at the modem.
Further research revealed that Clear does indeed block port 80 at the modem, contrary to what both sales persons claimed.
So, today I had to cancel my Clear service – and I was really very disappointed to have to do so. The performance of the connection was great, the sales and support staff with whom I interacted seemed knowledgeable and courteous, their shipping speed and ease of setup was great – but for some reason they have decided to disable what is possibly the single most important aspect of an internet connection to me.
This has apparently been an issue for some time for them, much to the ire of many potential customers in a similar boat to me: a request for bridge mode capability in the Motorola modem is the number one request on their user forums: http://forums.clear.com/clearcom/topics/push_motorola_to_have_their_firmware_include_bridged_mode
There has not been much of a response from Clear about why on earth they would block things this way – when I chatted with one of their support reps on their website after I discovered the issue, I was told that changing the block on port 80 would void the warranty on the modem, though I’ve read elsewhere on the nets that hosting a webserver specifically violates their TOS. They don’t care if you host a mail server, irc box, secure webstore, or any other type of service – just nothing is allowed on port 80. This makes about as much sense to me as saying that if I decide to take the lid off the jar of peanut butter in my pantry I’ll wind up interrupting power to my upstairs bedrooms.
There is an even bigger issue here than just for folks like me who want to run their own servers: it’s the ugly beast known as the “double NAT“. See, since their “modem” is actually functioning as a router, any traffic that goes from the inside of your house to the outside has to go through a Network Address Translation, or NAT. This works fine if you only have one router. However, if you have your own home router already, plugging in this modem will force NAT to happen both at your router and then again at the Clear modem. This will cause all kinds of mainstream services to fail. A few off the top of my head:
- Back To My Mac
- Netflix Streaming
- Many Online Games
- Many VPNs or Remote Login Solutions such as GoToMyPC
- Anything that requires uPNP or other auto-discovery of network topology
In my case, I could deal with the double NAT, but a fully locked port 80 is the game killer. Your case may be different.
In summary: I really do wish I could recommend Clear to anyone interested in dumping the local big boys, but until they ship a modem that is really a modem (not a router) I cannot.
Clear – please put me on your mailing list for the big announcement of an actually usable connection.