Clearwire: 'You WILL be Assimilated'

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I ha

ve a new alarm clock, and it's Clearwire.

It's actually a bit late for an alarm, most mornings. But Clearwire's telerobot calls me regularly shortly after 9 a.m. every day to cheerfully announce, "Clear is here!" and babble on about the virtues of the new WiMax service now being rolled out in my neighborhood, and exhorting me -- with increasing urgency -- to upgrade to the new equipment, because my current gear will soon not work.

For the life of me, I can't get Clearwire to stop calling. It doesn't pay to be an early adopter.

You see, we upgraded from Clearwire's original wireless service to the Clear WiMax nearly five months ago, when Bellingham, Wash. was one of the early test sites of the new service. The upgrade process was a tale in itself, hampered by Clearwire's

mistaken assumptions about when the new gear would arrive, a sudden spring snowstorm, delivery problems, and the company's bizarre and annoying habit of deactivating our old service before we had even received the new modem. I urged any Clearwire staffers who'd listen that they reconsider that practice, perhaps deactivating the service only after the old modem was returned (which they all assured me was their policy -- although not my experience).

But now it's up and running. I think it's stronger than the previous service, if not faster (though Clearwire says it is, and our ping tests showed it works at the advertised speeds). It still has some quirks and needs rebooting on occasion (usually in mid-download, but that's Murphy's influence and can be true of any ISP).

Yet the robocalls keep coming. They're annoying but not harmful, but they are symptomatic of Clearwire's bigger customer service challenge. The company has good technology, great intentions, and conscientious staff, but doesn't quite have its act together.

The complicating factor is that I also have a PC card that works with the older service, wh

The culprit? Clearwire PC Card
ich I use during my frequent visits to a town that has not yet upgraded. But the robocallers are unfazed: I must upgrade.

I can't block the calls, because they come from a service to which Clearwire has outsourced the chore of calling its purportedly laggard customers who cling to the old, soon-to-be-obsolete equipment and the caller ID doesn't show. I've talked to the outsource service. I've talked to Clearwire. I have a whole folder of notes, dates, times, follow-up notes. (They know they're talking to a customer; they may not realize they're talking to a journalist).

In the past week, I've had pleasant chats with Gene, Carla, Scott, and a woman from the outsource service whose name I didn't get because she transferred me very quickly. She said the calls would stop in eight to ten weeks. I told her that was too long, and I'd cancel first.

Clearwire's personnel are pleasant, conscientious and appear to be earnest about trying to solve the problem . . . and my previous problems, for that matter. The most creative attempt was blocking my telephone number in the database so the outsource service can't call it. I think they haven't refreshed the data lately, and so the calls keep coming. When I go out of town, a whole bunch of friendly Clearwire messages accumulate in my voicemail.

At this point, perhaps the answer is simply to laugh and be patient. As my IDG News Service colleague Steve Lawson reports, the rollout takes effect September 1, after which the older equipment may no longer work. Then, Clearwire will probably retire the robots and cease the outreach, and just sit back to take tech support calls from the actual laggards . . . but the company won't hear from me, because the new gear is still working fine; and I'll be glad to no longer hear from it, pushing an upgrade that's already occurred.

UPDATE: 10:14 a.m. Monday, August 10: Clearwire Robocall strikes again.

UPDATE 2: Wednesday, Aug. 12: Two days without Clearwire Robocalls!   I should've blogged this a month ago . . . and I've heard from others with Clearwire stories (of all sorts). Feel free to leave a comment with yours.

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