Mobile Internet device performs unevenly in debut

Mobile Internet device performs unevenly in debut

If you could take broadband Internet with you, where would you take it? To an airport, a coffee shop or - this being Los Angeles - the beach, where you can surf the Net while watching surfers ride the waves?

Results of recent testing of Clear's new mobile Internet device were, like its coverage area, a little patchy.

The walnut-sized gadget that plugs into a laptop's USB port allows users to swap between 4G and 3G Internet service. But the 4G coverage was lacking in some key areas of Los Angeles County.

Clear, a brand name for wireless company Clearwire Corp., rolled out its mobile Internet service in Los Angeles in November. The service, which taps into Corp.'s , is also available in New York. Clear said it would launch in San Francisco on Dec. 28 and move into San Diego and Sacramento next year, aiming for full coverage nationwide by 2012.

Clearwire's investors include Sprint, Inc., Intel Corp. and cable companies Corp. and Inc.

With 4G, or fourth-generation cellular technology, the network can deliver of 3 to 6 megabits per second - fast enough to allow video and gaming without being physically tethered to, well, anything.

If 4G coverage is not available, the device connects to Sprint's 3G service, which delivers a speed of about 1 Mbps. That's OK for checking e-mail and little Web hits but can be frustratingly slow.

The early rundown on coverage: I got patchy reception in downtown Los Angeles and, somewhat surprisingly, Santa Monica, as well as the Inland Empire. Service was consistently good in Long Beach, northern Orange County, much of the South Bay around Los Angeles International Airport, and in the San Fernando Valley.

It's advisable to check the coverage map Clear offers at its website before deciding to buy. And keep checking, because Clear said it was working quickly to cover an area "from Burbank to Irvine to Ontario."

"We expect to have continually improved coverage over the next couple of months," Clear spokeswoman Debra Havins said. "Airports are a key part of our strategy. Train lines and commuter corridors are very important to us. We've found interest from all ages, small businesses, professionals as well as gamers."

The device is not a hot spot but can be used to power a secondary device that connects multiple users to the Internet.

The setup process was easy and its interface was perfectly functional on both my MacBook Pro and my desktop PC. Download speed was similar to the broadband Internet provided by my cable company.

Clear's gadget retails for $99 with a variety of service plans depending on your Internet usage. Expect to pay about $60 a month for a plan that covers frequent and occasionally heavy Internet use such as streaming videos, and look around for "early adopter" deals Clear is promoting.

If Clear lives up to its word that coverage will improve, I'd consider forgoing a traditional cable or satellite Internet setup in favor of the Clear device. Of course, if you take it on the road, you wouldn't have Internet connectivity at home, a possible problem for those with families or roommates staying behind.

But how many other devices allow you to download high-resolution surfing videos while sitting within 50 yards of actual surfers? Mobile 4G could be the wave of the future, fer sure.


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User comments

Dec 16, 2010
Wow. Who let this article get through editing without the caveat that there is no 4G network available through any carrier yet. 4G is not some nebulous definition by the carriers, it is actually an evolving standard that is much faster than any of the pseudo-4G systems being offered:

http://en.wikiped.../wiki/4G

There has been a lot of news about how the carriers are just renaming a souped up version of 3G as 4G and no one knows the difference. Please take a look at the real specs when you are making a choice, see how much better the 3G is becoming, but don't swallow the hype that 4G is here yet. Let the consumer beware.

Dec 16, 2010
Well my Hero was downloading at a steady 2mbps the other day using 3.5G, but it can go as fast as 7.2mbps
I wonder if they actually mean 3.5G, which is fast enough with good reception anyway.
I think the only place 4G is actually available is maybe Japan or South Korea.

Dec 16, 2010
Has anyone considered that at the rate technology is advancing, in some cases it literally isn't worth producing an entire infrastructure at a given tech level, since it will be completely obsolete within a few years anyway?

Unless you literally "need" the extra bandwidth for your business it isn't worth upgrading until your existing system breaks, because if you wait another 18 months you get something twice as good for the same price.

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