WiMAX vs. Cable Modem in Anchorage

Right now I spend about $150/month for high speed Internet service combined with cable TV, phone, long distance and so on. I’m not happy about this, partially due to the price, partially because I don’t want all those extra services. So I’ve started looking for “pure Internet” alternatives, and given the choices in my area, it appears the best option is a relatively new wireless Internet service available from AT&T Alascom (sort of related to AT&T) in Anchorage, Alaska.

AT&T’s offering is a WiMAX service, the new long-range wireless Internet infrastructure touted as the Next Big Thing by several players, including Sprint / Clearwire / Xohm, Intel, AT&T (at least the Alascom part of it) and other smaller developers, especially those serving rural and smaller markets.

If WiMAX works well, I can dump my cable modem service, save money and cut my copper ties at home. But any way you slice it, the service will be slower. Can I accept slower service to get just the features I want and save money — or will the siren song of copper speed keep me from straying?

Below, I share my findings — so far — in a video presentation. If you’re considering a switch like this, you might be interested. The video runs about 16 minutes — or you can download the presentation slides via PDF (link below).

[flashvideo image=video/pres-cover.jpg height=380 width=480 filename=video/wimax-cable-modem-pres.flv /]

Got comments or questions? Share them below. I’d be curious to hear about other WiMAX experiences out there.

23 thoughts on “WiMAX vs. Cable Modem in Anchorage

    • WiMAX, as a technology, can be made available in a mobile package. This particular install, however, is pretty much a non-mobile setup. Yes, you can pick up the modem and AC adapter and cart it around town, but it’s not intended to be mobile.

    • Right now, the WiMAX device they provide is a semi-bulk cable modem-sized device. You can take it around town, but it has a big AC adapter and the coverage isn't terribly complete. I was told coverage doesn't reach south of Tudor Road yet, though it's growing slowly. It's really intended for fixed home use.

  1. Why does the service say 2MBPS but when I download something, it only goes from 70kbps to 140kbps? Same goes for GCI Cable. It said 700kbps, I only got 38kbps.

    Wi-Max is cheaper, faster.
    The only problem is that it goes down often… like right now.

  2. Really interesting analysis – glad the VTC held together for you. One note – you might want to edit and blur your final IP address – even if it's DHCP, the address tends to remain the same and it's a bit of a security risk to publish that openly.

  3. Great post John, very cool that you took the time to put everything together. Always interested to see the results with other products. I've been using the GCI EVDO card for a month or so and been very happy with it – for being a USB-only adapter (very compact) I'm pulling 600kbps-900kbps down on average and 250-300kbps up.

    My girlfriend had Clearwire for quite awhile and we were never really happy with it – tons of jitter, odd general latency (sometimes 100ms rt latency to a site, other times 1.3 seconds.. sometimes all over the place resulting in terrible jitter). She could download at her full speed, but the jitter/latency issues made the overall experience poor for anything that was jitter or delay sensitive. For email users, great, for gaming, not so much.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the service. I can't wait to see it come to Fairbanks, for exactly the same reasons you had. I simply don't need all the services in the bundled packages that GCI or ACS makes available. Now, if it were possible to get a mobile WiMAX card for my laptop to utilize the WiMAX connection around town it would be perfect.

  5. Duncan — GCI could end my dilemma by offering true high speed service (5Mbps+) without the bundles. Having spoken with lots of people on Twitter and in person, the bundling aspect is what bothers a lot of us. I'm forced to subsidize GCI business lines that, apparently, can't survive on their own. I understand the practice — and GCI certainly isn't the first to come up with the bundling approach — but it still bothers me and others I know. I'm quite satisfied with GCI's service, with the exception of the bundling aspect. Others have complained about customer service or tech support or whatever, but that's never been an issue for me.

    I should also be clear that AT&T's WiMAX service, for now, has no bandwidth caps in place. The 10GB cap on GCI's 2MBbps service would likely trip me up more than once, thus raising my cost. I know that's unusual for most customers, but I'm not most customers (how many customers know what an ISP peering relationship is?). So while the GCI 2Mbps service is much closer to the apples-to-apples comparison you seek ($57 vs. $60), there's still the key difference of caps (AT&T wins) and latency (GCI wins).

    This certainly is a fascinating area for discussion, though. I had no idea this would stir up so many comments!

  6. Interesting. And thanks for the link! Geez… How many sites does Engadget have?

    The other thing that should keep us on our toes up here in the 49th state is the fact that AT&T and AT&T Alascom are not the same company. Alascom is still relatively independent of the mother ship. Not as much as in the past (pre-SBC), but it's definitely different.

  7. I thought about blurring the IP address, but decided to leave it alone. I've already seen 3 different IPs since setting up the device and anyone truly trying to break in will just scan whole ranges of IPs anyway, looking for vulnerabilities. I figure I'm behind the AT&T network, then behind a NAT firewall, then on a Mac with a firewall. So if "they" can get me, I suspect hiding my IP in a presentation won't do much good.

  8. You're quite welcome! Mobility isn't my chief concern at the moment, though I can imagine it would be if I were a mobile consultant or a student or something like that. If mobility is your chief concern, I'd look at EVDO or similar cell-oriented technologies. GCI offers EVDO in Anchorage, but I'm not sure if it's in Fairbanks.

  9. Interesting… But wouldn't it make more sense to do a femtocell rollout in commercial environments rather than in homes? And if so, wouldn't you use gear that's more rugged than a consumer WiMAX modem? Or maybe I'm missing something…

  10. I'd be very interested in someone showing me how a pure wimax vs cable modem comparison ends up in specifically the speed/features of the bband service and associated costs. I think you will be hard pressed to show how you can buy JUST wimax service and JUST cable modem service and end up with an equivalent broadband service and save any money (let alone $1,000/yr!) with one over the other. You can't compare the cost of just wimax against the cost of a combined value of cable tv, cable modem, local telephone, and long distance services. Let's look at an apples to apples comparison here…

  11. Ah, yes the jitter and latency problem. I don't really have a tool for testing that kind of thing directly. Got any recommendations? Because that's the thing I'm concerned about — already I occasionally get delays when requesting web pages or making other connections. Wireless tech is naturally going to lose connections more randomly, but I don't have a strong tolerance for regular failures.

    How can I fairly test for latency and jitter problems in an automated way over an extended period?

  12. Duncan — One of the problems is that it's impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison for so many reasons. One is speed. Another is delivery technology. Another is price, then bundles and customer service and on and on. Then there's the needs/desires of the user. For example, if I were a hardcore online gamer, I wouldn't even consider trying a WiMAX solution, let alone using it exclusively. The latency is too high and dropped packets will always big a bigger (though not huge) problem.

    In my presentation I was pretty clear that saving $1,000/year comes with the "price" of slower overall speed. It's a trade-off and there's no way around that. I'd love to compare a 2Mbps Internet-only service from GCI against a 2Mbps Internet-only service from AT&T, but the GCI side of that comparison isn't available.

  13. John,

    GCI actually does have a 2Mbps/512K cable modem service ("Xtreme") that does not require any other services. It costs $49.99/mo (and requires either at least basic cable – ~$20/mo or alternatively a $6.99/mo cable access fee). In either case, still cheaper than ATT 2Mbps WiMax at ~$60/mo (if I caught the pricing in your presentation correctly).

    http://www.gci.com/forhome/promos/xtreme_standalo

    That said, GCI's standalone cable modem services do not come with unlimited downloads but that isn't an issue for 98%+ of customers whose usage is well below the thresholds that GCI defines i their packages. Full disclosure: I work at GCI with the products in question.

    I also compliment you on your objective look at the alternatives available – that is rare in this day and age where it seems everyone who writes in the blogosphere has a bone to pick with one provider or another.

  14. Thanks for the info.. They att/Alaskacom etc never has had much of a POP down here in K-Town.. CGI's XTreme Wireless aka Digitel is supposed to be turned on here sometime in 2009. So, there's hope for us who are in towns STILL without any high speed mobile options..

    We had fiber plugged to the island this fall so hopefully things will get better all around..

  15. interested in seeing how this turns out.. also interested in how this service would do with xbox online gaming + using the internet on a computer at the same time. I contemplating also doing their 30-day trial and see if if I could leave GCI for them.

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