After I moved, I decided to set myself up with Sprint’s new WiMax service (Xohm or Clear, depending on which marketing materials you see — shortly after they rolled it out there was a name change). There’s not much out there about the service beyond some random tech blog entries from around the launch, so I thought I’d post on my experiences. (Long story short, it didn’t work out for me.)
Anyway, here’s how it went for me. I decided to go with the WiMax for several reasons: There’s no installation appointment necessary, which is always a good thing. The price was in the range of what I’m willing to pay, and on top of that they have a promotional rate for your first six months. There’s also no contract, so you can cancel at any time. All very good things.
I checked out their coverage map and my new apartment was several blocks within the coverage zone. So far, so good. On to the hardware options, where there was a bit of a disappointment. Currently, only three options are given: a standalone modem, a USB dongle, and an express card (which comes with an adapter for PC card slots). And currently, only one of those is listed as officially being Mac compatible – the standalone modem. I wasn’t really interested in the modem, because I wasn’t sure if my wireless router would work with it (it’s something like three years old at this point, so who knows). In addition the standalone modem is $20 more expensive than the other two options.
A little bit of digging took me to the Xohm developer site, where Sprint has essentially farmed out the coding of the software you need to run the other two pieces of hardware on anything but a PC to whoever wants to do it. (This is of course under the banner of “open source makes us more awesome,” but you can insert the standard “you should support Macs to begin with” rant here.) I took a look at the forum posts and found some software that seemed like it might work for the USB dongle, so I decided to give it a try. I headed down to the Xohm-branded kiosk in the Gallery at the Inner Harbor. (As a side note, I originally wanted to go to the kiosk at Mondawmin Mall, where I could have run some additional errands at Target, but when I called to confirm whether or not they had what I wanted in stock, I got a prompt asking me to log into my voicemail. Oookay).
No problems procuring the USB dongle, and the girl at the kiosk double checked (using the public-facing coverage map) that I was covered before she sold me anything. She seemed to assume I had a PC, and I didn’t correct her since I knew they were probably told to say that only the standalone modem was supported on Macs.
I got home and installed the software package I downloaded from the developer site, only to find that it made my entire system run like molasses in the winter. Not so great. Random developers were saying that the problem was with the hardware, and the manufacturer is projecting a “late February” resolution. Next I tried installing on my PC, because I figured if I could get it to work on my PC, I’d just hang tight and use that for the Internet until the Mac issue was resolved. Everything installed just fine, but when I got to the point where they allow you onto the network so you can sign up for service, I got a message saying that the network could not be found. Uhoh.
I thought maybe the problem was that my laptop is 5 years old (and pre-USB 2.0, which I thought might be causing a problem). So on 1/31 I took my laptop and all the Xohm stuff up to Paul & Danielle’s, where Paul had generously offered to help me out with uninstalling a component of the software. We did that and then tried downloading & installing a new Mac software package that was uploaded earlier in the week. That didn’t affect my system, but it also couldn’t seem to find the connection. Thinking this was still perhaps a Mac problem, Paul tried installing it on Windows over VMware Fusion, which others on the developer site had been doing with some success. Windows software installs fine, but we get the same error I had gotten on my PC at home. Paul had also been doing some other systems/network guy type-things to see what was going on, and we came to the conclusion that there isn’t actually any coverage at my place or at theirs (which is also shown as being several blocks inside the coverage zone).
So, I took advantage of the 30-day return period this past weekend. The person at the kiosk seemed to think it was a defective piece of hardware and offered to exchange it, but I told her that a friend had looked into it and it seemed that everything was functioning, there just isn’t actually any coverage where we are. She returned it, but she wasn’t as friendly as she had been when she sold it to me. (Makes me wonder if they’re getting a lot of returns.) Then again, neither was I; I was annoyed at having to go back down to the Inner Harbor just to return that.
Sprint has the usual disclaimers on their coverage map (if you chose to view the map and then make another click in the fine print – if you don’t leave the homepage you’re just told you have coverage). I can understand that there are gaps in coverage within the covered area, but I would expect that to be more the case on the fringe of the coverage areas, not several blocks within them. So, I’m very disappointed in the service. Between the lack of official Mac compatibility (insert rant on how many Mac people are enthusiastic tech early adopters and this is a dumb move on Sprint’s part) and the errors in their coverage map, I can’t imagine I will try this again anytime soon. It’s a shame, because I was excited about it.