By Greg Mills
Clear, the new 4G wireless Internet provider "Clear" (associated with Sprint), provided me with a test unit of their new portable WiFi router. I tried it out in Kansas City, Kansas, and when I was able to actually hook up with their new 4G network, it worked fine and is fast. The problem is not with the cool looking 4G device, but with the limited radio coverage available at this time.
As AT&T users can testify to, the wireless device is only as good as the network that supports it. Clear is still building out their 4G network; when it is built out, it will be state of the art. There are a number of devices Clear offers that hook up to the faster 4G network cellular and then pump out a WiFi signal that will run up to eight iPhones, iPads or laptops at pretty much at full Wi-Fi speeds within Wi-Fi range.
The device they loaned me is very cool, something Apple's design guru, Johnny Ives, might have created. It is slick, jet black and very streamlined. It has a three color LED that changes color according to the strength of the 4G signal it is picking up. The Clear Devices all run on the 802.11g Wi-Fi protocol rather than the higher speed 802.11n protocol. I discussed this with a rep from Clear who explained that the slower 802.11g speed is sufficient to provide download speeds that are as just as fast as the 4G network can provide service. Still it would be cool it they supported the latest WiFi protocol.
Recently, Clear has begun to offer a Mac oriented router. It is called the iSpot, the new device is Clear's first 4G personal mobile hotspot made exclusively for Apple mobile products, including iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch devices. iSpot users can share 4G speed with up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled Apple mobile devices simultaneously.
The iSpot offers unlimited usage, with no contract required, for US$25 per month. According to the company, the CleariSpot's ergonomic design and white casing were specifically designed to complement the iconic image of Apple products. I read where it is easy to hack the Mac only device to also serve any intellectually diminished PC types that might be nearby. The device I tested had a security code that locked out open Wi-Fi function.
Note the shot across AT&T's bow, the unlimited data plan for iPad they offered and are trying to withdraw is trumped at a faster speed and for $5 per month less. Additionally, I have inside information that Sprint is working on making the 4G chip set work in iPad as way to push Apple to play ball with them. Having the chip set installed is way better than having an additional device that has it's own batter and issues to deal with.
While I have personal horror stories regarding Sprint's customer service, rumored to have been improved since I was abused by them before iPhone 1 came out, Clear assures me that they are a separate business, but owned by Sprint to the tune of 51%. As I have previously stated, doing business with Clear, which is associated with Sprint, is sort of like dating Scarlett Johansson who is a Siamese twin connected at the hip to Roseanne Barr. Can you ignore the ugly twin and still date the pretty one? Clear assures me I can do business with them and never have to deal with a Sprint customer service rep. I would get that in writing. Previously, Sprint's notion of "customer service" was to treat the customers as simply meat they owned, under contract -- rare, medium or well done.
My only warning, is to make absolutely sure the Clear 4G signal is strong enough where it has to work for you. Never trust cellular company coverage maps. They are created by artist with bold, sloppy wide tipped felt pens when a fine ball point pen is actually called for. If the Clear device you chose is backed up by Sprint's 3G network, an additional cellular account with Sprint will be required to work at typical slower 3G speeds and the data stream coming through Sprint is not unlimited or included with your Clear unlimited data deal. That means buying a Clear iSpot device may expose you to Sprint. More information about CLEAR’s line of personal mobile hot spots can be found at http://www.clear.com/spot .
(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, www.CottageIndustrySolar.com using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at www.gregmills.info ; His email is email@example.com )