WiMAX Coverage Lagging, LTE on The Way
With plans to launch LTE in 31 cities by 2013, will Clear 4G be the sole source of unlimited mobile broadband or will they cave like Sprint?
In this review of current and future Clear 4G plans, speed, coverage and devices, you’ll learn whether this ship has sailed or if now’s the time to hop on board for a discount cruise.
Clear 4G Plans
Two Plans: Unlimited Data & No Contract.
Simplicity at long last.
With both plans packing unlimited mobile broadband, there’s no worry of overage charges. The only question you need to answer is this:
- Fast and more pricey or slow and cheaper?
What This Means For You:
Clear is only place you’ll not only find postpaid unlimited mobile broadband, but find it at the same or cheaper price than the rest of major carriers.
Clear 4G Speed
WiMAX Today. 100 Mbps LTE-Advanced Tomorrow.
- *The Clear 4G regular plan has an average speed of 3-6 Mbps. Pictured above is the upper limit of that tier.
Clear 4G speed mirrors Sprint 4G WiMAX (as they utilize the same backbone) but falls short of everyone else. That includes:
- AT&T 4G LTE & HSPA+
- Sprint 4G LTE
- T-Mobile 4G HSPA+
- Verizon 4G LTE
However, at $35 and $50 for unlimited mobile broadband, it’s hard to complain. After all, no other provider can claim truly unlimited 4G plans when it comes to USB modems, dedicated mobile hotspots and laptops. Rather, they each have a caveat:
Overage Charges For Internet Devices
- AT&T: $10/GB overage charge
- Sprint: $51.20/GB overage charge
- T-Mobile: Speed cap that slows down your data after hitting your monthly allotment
- Verizon: $10/GB overage charge
LTE To The Rescue?
As we covered previously, Clear has had very impressive 4G LTE speed tests dating back to 2010:
The first Clearwire LTE trial results are in: 90Mbps [downloading], 30Mbps [uploading].
Though these trial numbers never end up holding up in real-world use, it’s notable that the company achieved these speeds while driving around, not sitting in a lab wearing white coats with the base station a few yards away.
Needless to say, though, they’re taking the LTE option pretty seriously if they’re dumping serious cash into testing it out and publishing the results.
However, it’s been 2 years since these tests made an impressive splash and Clear is sorely lagging behind in the LTE deployment department. Thankfully, that may be about to change in 2013 with the potential to leap past Verizon and AT&T’s current 4G LTE speeds:
This is the year we begin overlaying LTE Advanced-ready technology on our 4G WiMAX network.
The technical trials are complete and we’re looking at an initial implementation of our LTE network…during the first half of 2013.
LTE Advanced is a 4G technical standard that calls for peak download mobile speeds of at least 100 Mbps, which far exceeds today’s commercial networks.
Our LTE network will be “LTE Advanced-ready” meaning that it will use an ultra-high-capacity spectrum configuration that is superior to the typical configuration of the slower, more capacity-constrained commercial LTE network designs in the United States today.
What This Means For You:
It’s not the fastest 4G network out there nor the most available. What it is however, is unlimited. Your best bet is to treat it like an all you can eat buffet. The price is cheap and the quality meh but hey, it’s all you can eat right?
On that note, whether they’ll provide unlimited 4G LTE or not remains to be seen. While that would seriously put them in the game, it’s still too early to tell how they’ll price it.
Clear 4G Coverage
Still only 82 WiMAX Markets. LTE in 31 Cities In 2013.
Clear 4G coverage growth has stalled since last year. With only 82 WiMAX markets, it begets the question:
What’s up with that man?
Money. That’s what.
A year ago, Sprint reduced its voting stake to distance itself from the financially fragile Clearwire. The move meant that Clearwire couldn’t be considered a unit and potentially affect Sprint’s debt if there was a default or other major event. While Clear received a much needed cash infusion and this year’s funding issues, the path forward isn’t set in stone…both companies stressed that the shift doesn’t alter other components of their relationship.
Late last year, Clearwire signed a new network partnership with Sprint to help fund its operations beyond 2012, along with selling additional $300 million in equity. In May, the company said it would raise up to $300 million in another stock sale over the coming months to help fund operations.
Numerous investors have walked away from Clearwire. In March, Google Inc. (GOOG) sold its entire 29.4 million share stake in Clearwire for a $433.5 million loss, ending a nearly four-year $500 million investment. Intel Corp. wrote down the entire value of its 7.3% voting stake in Clearwire earlier this year.
So while Sprint has stepped in once more to save the day, Clear has still taken some serious damage in the loss of Google and Intel, both of whom were original heavy financial backers. Nonetheless, Clear might just turn out to be the little engine that could:
We’re looking at an initial implementation of our LTE network that aims to target densely populated, urban areas of our existing 4G markets where current usage demands are high. New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle will be among the 31 cities where we will launch our TDD-LTE network during the first half of 2013.
– Clearwire [ibid]
If they pull this off, it’ll be a much needed update to a flailing network.
What This Means For You:
If you’re not already in a Clear 4G coverage area, don’t expect WiMAX coverage to be coming your way…ever. Your best bet will be to keep a close eye on Clear 4G LTE expansion plans.
To see if Clear 4G coverage is available in your city, see their interactive 4G coverage map here. If you are, then you’ll stand to benefit from taking a look at this year’s device lineup.
Clear 4G Devices
1 Mobile Hotspot, 2 USB Modems & 2 “Hubs”.
Which of the three types of Clear 4G devices you get depends largely on where and how you plan to use the net:
Clear Spot Voyager
Like most mobile hotspots, the Clear Spot Voyager is pretty straightforward. Turn it on, and connect your device(s) to it.
With the ability to connect up to 8 devices, it could technically handle all your WiFi-enabled devices in your house so long as you’re not working with a mini-mansion.
While it doesn’t have any nifty features such as micro-SD card sharing or a LCD displaying device and network info, it gets the job done.
At the time of this writing, they’re 50% off for $50 before going back to $100. Note that if you pick one up today, you’ll be paying for the month in advance (either the $35 or $50) as well.
Clear Sticks come in two varieties: the Clear 4G Mobile USB and the Clear Stick Atlas. Both devices are run of the mill plug and play USB modems that regularly cost $50 but are on sale for $25 each.
Clear 4G Mobile USB
The older of the two, the Clear 4G Mobile USB sports support for:
- Windows®, XP (SP2 and Higher)
- Vista®, (32 & 64 bit)
- Windows®, 7 (32 & 64 bit)
- Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard & Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (32 Bit Support only)
Besides a glowing Clear logo upon connection to your USB port, don’t look for any microSD slots or external antenna ports.
Yup. It’s pretty vanilla.
To Clear’s credit, it ships with a USB extension port that allows you to swivel and angle the device to your liking.
Handy for cramped spaces, getting just the right signal by a window or simply the convenience factor of having your device point the way you’d like it to.
Before plugging in the device, you’ll want to install the necessary software using the provided USB flash drive (separate from the device itself).
Clear Atlas Stick
The newer of the two, the Clear Atlas Stick supports all the aforementioned operating systems plus:
- Android™ and Chrome versions that support Remote Network Driver Interface Service Specification (RNDIS) or Communication Device Class (CDC) devices
Penguins and little green robots rejoiced everywhere.
Additionally, the Atlas has an LED that shows signal strength and connection status plus an external antenna port that’ll be handy for users with poor indoor reception.
As a current WiMAX user, I can attest to dramatically higher 4G speeds with just an increase of an extra bar.
It really makes a difference.
Outside of that, it is noteworthy that the Atlas stick doesn’t require a flash drive as the Clear 4G Mobile does for installation. It’s truly a plug and play device with all necessary software/drivers residing on the device itself.
Unfortunately, no microSD expansion slot here.
Clear Hubs | Internet at Your Home or Office
Not going anywhere for awhile? Grab a Clear Hub.
All plays on Snickers catchphrases aside, Clear Hubs are essentially just like your regular cable or DSL modem except they grab the internet over the air (OTA) rather than through a wired connection.
Like a mobile hotspot, it then broadcasts 4G WiMAX to your house or office.
The major difference between mobile hotspots and Clear hubs are that the latter:
- Receive power from an AC adapter (no batteries)
- Can also connect to devices via a traditional ethernet cord in addition to WiFi
Given their stationary design, wider broadcast range and ethernet cord, it’ll be more suited to running all your home or office needs such as WiFi printers, WiFi-enabled TVs as well as gaming systems such as a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 for minimal lag (though it’ll need to be wired).
In short, it’ll power devices that won’t move too much as well. Of course, you can still connect your smartphone and laptop to it but you get the idea.
If a Clear Hub is up your alley, you’ll have a choice between the Clear Modem with WiFi and the Clear Hub Express:
Clear Modem with WiFi
The Clear Modem w/WiFi is pretty basic as far as modems are concerned.
It comes secure out of the box and requires no professional installation (as per a cable modem for instance).
It notably has an LED to indicate signal strength which should aid in finding the best spot to get 4G signal within your house.
Clear was kind enough to send a device our way last year and from experience, that spot will most always be by a window with as little obstruction from trees and concrete as possible.
Notably, it uses 802.11b, g or n protocols.
If you’re big on streaming movies in 720p or 1080p from say a network hard drive, know that the 802.11n definitely makes a difference in maintaining the smoothness of video playback.
At the time of this writing, the Clear Modem w/WiFi is available for 50% at $50.
Clear Hub Express
The Clear Hub Express is identical to the Clear Modem w/WiFi except it has an external antenna port for getting better signal.
From my experiences with both Clear 4G Home Modems and Sprint 4G WiMAX mobile hotspots, I can attest to dramatically higher speeds after getting an extra bar or two of signal.
For those not in the best of Clear 4G coverage areas, this may give the extra boost needed to enjoy the service as intended.
Like the Clear Modem w/WiFi the Clear Hub Express is available for 50% off ($50) at the time of writing.
Given that this is the superior of the two devices, there’s no reason not to pick this up in favor of the Clear Modem w/WiFi.
Not Top Notch But Still Solid.
Clear’s obvious strength lies in their 4G plans and pricing.
While all the major players already have or are gearing up to get faster 4G networks before Clear launches LTE, no major carrier offers truly unlimited mobile broadband for laptops, mobile hotspots, USB modems and the like.
Unfortunately, their Achilles heel at the moment is a glaring lack of expansive 4G coverage. Their 4G speed, while okay, is quickly falling behind the fastest 4G mobile broadband services available right now.
With LTE to launch next year, Clear may just make a come back. For now, they’re a viable alternative to major cellphone providers for those who’d like to save a couple bucks if they’re available in your area. If you do, their device selection isn’t all that bad either.
Sidenote: While Sprint and Clear’s 4G WiMAX networks are currently tied to each other, there’s no indication that their 4G LTE networks will piggyback off each other as they continue to build their LTE networks independent of each other.
Are You a Clear User? What’s Your Take?