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Friday, November 13, 2009

Clear 4G USB with Cradlepoint CBA-250 - wireless internet for the home

I recently decided to give WiMax (4G) internet service a try. The goal is to replace my existing cable internet service if I can squeeze high enough speeds out of the WiMax service. I'd also like to be able to wire it up to my whole house so I can share the connection with all of my systems in the house. Lastly I want to be able to take my connection on the road should I ever feel the urge.

I live in Las Vegas where we recently got access to Clear internet service. I've heard of people getting speeds up to 10Mbps which would suffice to support all of my internet needs that consist of gaming (a bit of WoW every now and then), Netflix streaming, Hulu and other video streaming, and casual web surfing. I decided to go with an unlimited mobile plan and got one of the Motorola USB 100W adapters. I got the USB adapter instead of the home modem so I could easily take the adapter on the go with a laptop when I want to work outside of the home.

I have ethernet cabling throughout my home, so to provide access to all of my systems in the home I decided to get a Cradlepoint cellular broadband adapter that works with the Clear 4G USB modem. Clear does offer a Cradlepoint router which is branded as the Clearspot, but I didn't want to go WiMax->WiFi, I wanted to go WiMax->Wired->Switch. I found the CBA-250 for the job. This router has a USB and express card slot on one end and an ethernet port on the other. The USB port will accept the Clear adapter with a firmware upgrade. With a bit of googling I found the CBA-250 for $125 online, shipped free.

All of my equipment came within a week and I took a night to set it up and give it a try. The CBA-250 was a bit of a job to figure out. First, it came shipped with really old firmware and the cradlepoint site had firmware which it stated needs to be loaded in order to work with the Clear USB adapter. It took a while to figure out that I first had to update the regular firmware of the CBA-250 first, then after that you get an added option on the firmware update screen to update the Modem Driver portion of the CBA-250 firmware which is the Clear USB adapter specific piece. I loaded both firmware updates and finally was no longer getting a red led for the USB adapter, but it still wasn't connecting.

I looked around the CBA-250 admin/config pages trying different things till I finally stumbled upon a setting under the "Modem" tab that had a drop-down to select the USB port(m100) and then a service provider drop-down appeared at the bottom where I was able to select Clear. After a save and reboot the adapter finally found a connection.

Now for some speed tests. With my initial testing I have the adapter in my home in a room on the second floor, but I live on the outskirts of Vegas and there are quite a few other homes between me and where I think my accessible cell towers are located. Therefore I was not able to get a full 4 bars on the CBA-250. However, using a homemade radio signal reflector that I poked the USB adapter into, I was able to get up to 3 bars. This reads as 60% signal on the CBA-250 admin status page. I ran speed tests at www.speedtest.net, www.speedtest.org, and www.dslreports.com. My maximum speed was about 4Mbps down and 512Kbps up. Not to bad, but not nearly as good as my current cable connection which is bursting up to 2MB/s at times.

That's all the time I have for tonight. In my next tests I'll see if I can locate a better spot inside or outside the home where I can get maximum reception and do some more speed tests to see if I can hit the 10 Mbps mark. I'll also hook the CBA-250 up to my home switch, a D-Link DIR-655, to give access to my entire home. Then I'll do some gaming tests to make sure I don't run into any network latency issues, which I heard can be problematic with wireless connections like this. I'll also do some video streaming tests to make sure I'm getting the same quality I get when watching movies or TV over my current cable internet connection.



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