Clear Spot from Clear not so great

imageHere in Portland Oregon  we are lucky enough to be one of the first two markets in the country to get 4G wireless service (WiMax from ClearWire aka Clear).

It’s interesting, that they have opened a number of retail stores with a distinct consumer feel (and certainly with expensive high foot traffic rent), despite the fact that WiMax is probably more of a Business to Business solution at the moment.   WiMax claims download speeds of 6Mbps and upload speeds of up to 1Mbps, although like most wireless technologies your actual speed is highly dependant on coverage.  At my office out in the suburbs of Portland, I get good coverage and 5Mbps downloads, but in my 4th floor condo in the heart of the downtown Pearl district, I barely get coverage at all, and when I do it’s slower than my AT&T 3G broadband card.  Clear promises that they are adding more access points in my neighborhood, and that the dense, tall buildings are a challenge for the relatively directional WiMax signals.  They have a variety of rate plans ranging from pay as you go, to $50/mo for unlimited mobile usage, which is the plan I have.

Anyway, this week Clear came out with a new toy, the Clear Spot. This is a batter powered WiMax to WiFi router/hub that allows you to share your Clear connection with other WiFi users.  In theory, this is pretty cool… plug your WiMax USB modem into the battery powered, small form-factor hub, and you start broadcasting a WiFi signal that your laptop, IPhone, X-Box, etc… can all use.  And since it is portable, you can easily use it at the coffee shop, your car, etc…  So being the early adopter that I am, I grabbed one up for $139.


It works exactly as promised, configuration is very easy.  You can set it up with password protected access, add WEP or PKA Personal security, it passes through VPN and every other service I’ve thrown at it.

imageBut my initial reactions are a bit disappointing.  First of all it charges with a proprietary charger vs. a standard USB connector (so I’ll need to buy two extra AC chargers to throw in my travel kit and office, and a DC charger for my car).  The proprietary charger is 5v (which is what USB uses), but it’s 2.5A which is more juice than a standard USB charger, so in theory it would charge more slowly if they used a USB charger.  Since this uses a mobile phone style Li-Ion battery, it’s hard to imagine they couldn’t have adopted a USB charging standard.

My next disappointment came when I learned that it would only work with my Clear modem and not my AT&T USB Connect Mercury modem.  In fairness, neither Clear nor the hardware manufacturer, Cradlepoint, promised that it would, but the Clear Spot is just a rebranded Cradlepoint PHS-300 which does work with my AT&T modem.  Basically if you buy the Cradlepoint branded version you get AT&T compatibility, and if you buy the Clear branded version you get Clear compatibility.  Cradlepoint promises to support WiMax directly in some products, but apparently the marketing gods decided to intentionally cripple this particular hardware, because that always makes for a great customer experience.  I sent an e-mail to Cradlepoint tech support, and they responded that the latest firmware could be downloaded from the website which would make it work with both modems, but that turned out to be erroneous information.  I then sat on hold with tech support for 45 minutes (they weren’t kidding about average hold times being over 30 minutes), and had a customer service representative confirm that the Clear version of the product can’t be used with the AT&T modem.

Since currently clear doesn’t have coverage anywhere but Portland, and since I can’t use my nationwide AT&T modem with the Clear Spot, at least I won’t have the invest in the travel accessories for the Clear Spot.  Come on Clear, this could have been a really cool product.


  1. Jason – I don’t know what’s happening in Portland, but Clear Wire has recently vacated their space in the Bellevue Square Mall up here in the Seattle area. I’m not sure if they’ve taken up residence elsewhere in the area to reduce rent, but I haven’t seen them.

  2. First of all, your retarded. Clear is in many cities now and not just Portland. I am in Atlanta and this thing works great. Second of all, your complaining about the charger? If your worried about not being able to charge the router via USB, you LAPTOP is going to die before the router battery. Why does this matter?

    I see your point about not being able to use ATT cards on the router though. But then again, why would clear allow that?

  3. I am in India, is there any way to make the local USB modems to work with PHS300.

    Who should be contacted to make a request to add the local Inidan USB modems compatibility.

    Their support team does not seem to be interested to listen it appears?

    Is there a way?

  4. Clear is all the rage here in Atlanta. We had some bumps early on, but as of Sept 18 2009, things are amazing!

  5. Yes, this seems to follow the cellular model here in the U.S.: Your cellphone is locked to the provider (unlike how it works in Europe, where phones are unlocked) so that they can make back the difference (if any) between what they paid for the device and what you paid. The same thing is happening with MiFi on 3G networks right now.

    The MiFi seems to be cooler than the ClearSpot because it has the 3G receiver built into it as opposed to having to plug the receiver into it like it seems that you have to do with the ClearSpot. One piece of circuitry would probably use power more efficiently as well. But the current configuration probably works best until WiMax becomes ubiquitous or until the devices have automatic 3G/4G switching technology! 🙂

  6. Lee in SA, TX says

    I’ve been running Clear in San Antonio, TX since they soft launched on November 1st. I was one of the first couple of dozen activations. Yay me! Love the CLEAR 4G service and speed.

    I just bought a Cradlepoint PHS300 (not from Clear) and it worked great, straight out of the box. Just got it 3 days ago. Updated the firmware just because it (the router) prompted me to do so on that status page, plus updated the firmware on the CLEAR Motorola USB modem also.

    I bought the car power adapter just in case I needed to charge on the go. I’ve got those for all my cell phone, bluetooth and my laptop, cause I spend a lot of time going mobile.

    Anyway, my one pet peeve about this device, is speed. I can get twice the speed if I plug the USB modem direct into my laptop, as compared with plugging the USB modem into the Cradlepoint PHS300 and connecting the laptop to it wirelessly. Doesn’t matter how far apart the two are during the test, nor the signal strength for CLEAR. I get 1/2 of whatever speed I could get, compared with going direct.

    Anyone else having this experience? I’ve contacted Cradlepoint tech support and am awaiting a response.

  7. Okay, heard from Cradlepoint tech support. They said “turn off traffic shaping option” which I did have turned on. Apparently was a default setting. No change in speed. Back to the drawing board. Still better speed than depending upon my 3G card, and it is flexible in allowing Blackberry, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc to connect at the same rate as my laptop. Just tested with a friend’s Blackberry, was able to connect instantly, he was extremely pleased with the speed. We transferred a 5.6mb video file from my laptop to his Blackberry in less than 5 seconds. Wow!

  8. Forgot to mention. I have tested this Cradlepoint PHS300 using my Sprint 3G Novatel Ovation U727 USB Modem. Works great. Same speed experienced with it in Cradlepoint as when it was plugged in direct to laptop. Still slower than 4G Wimax from Clear, but hey, at least I’ve now got the option when I’m outside of Clear’s coverage area.

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