Accessory Corner - Clearwire 4G Clear Spot

It's been a good three weeks now since I signed up with Clearwire and acquired my Clear Spot 4G. While my excitement of getting faster data speeds was more or less met, and worked surprisingly well at first, more extensive testing turned out some severe deficiencies with both the hardware and Clearwire's service. Sadly, further difficulties compounding my use left me no other option than to return the 4G device and cancel my service.

PROS: Fast (when it works), competitive monthly rates, expanding 4G coverage

CONS: Pretty much everything else!


While I've been a very happy camper with my Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 for the last few months, some recent events have undoubtedly made me reconsider using the 3G hotspot device. Chief among these was the extremely negative experience my sister had when she was incapable of getting her VM account activated, and thus incapable of getting her own MiFi 2200 purchase up and running! Fail Virgin Mobile! On top of this, Virgin Mobile's announcement this month of ending their unlimited 3G service and throttling speeds after 5GB of usage has pretty much made my $150 investment a paperweight, alongside leaving a very sour taste in my mouth. Finally, encroaching 4G coverage in more US cities from more providers, along with competitive rates and pricing, has placed the final nail in the 3G coffin.

It was that last part that made me (thankfully) get rid of my MiFi 2200 when purchasing the Clear Spot 4G. That, and the fact that I would have no need for two hotspot devices. The price difference made Clearwire's $45/month unlimited 4G solution far more attractive, so I bid farewell to VM. Companies like Virgin Mobile need to learn that if they want to keep their customers, truncating an attractive service is NOT the way to go, especially when demand remains high.


The Clear Spot 4G is only slightly larger in size than the MiFi 2200, but easier to understand while it is working. The two status lights on the front change color to identify both 4G connection and wifi. On the bottom of the device is printed the security key with descriptions on what the different color lights show. Unlike the MiFi, the Clear Spot 4G uses a regular mini USB port for charging, instead of the micro USB connector, making charging the hotspot device far easier. It's a little heavier too than the MiFi, but that's partly due to the more substantial 2100mAh battery used by the Clear Spot 4G, allowing for a real-world 6 hours of 4G tethering.

Typical speeds with a CINR of 11...
Speeds with the Clear Spot 4G are as wild as they are with Virgin Mobile's 3G, depending greatly on where you are located in relation to the towers. In my fringe location at home, I saw a CINR of 7, yet was still able to hit 2500kbps out of the box. But just two blocks down my street I saw CINR numbers hit 21 and speeds go as high as 10,000kbps. If you are contemplating getting 4G service, you should definitely take advantage of Clearwire's return period and test it where you will be using it, since their coverage map does not necessarily indicate good coverage in areas where the hotspot device will actually work.

...and even faster with a CINR of 15
Fortunately, to Clearwire's credit, they continue to actively expand their coverage and improve their network. Just two weeks after my initial testing, my home CINR went from 7 to 11-12 with three out of five bars reception - enough to bump my speeds from 2500kbps to 3900kbps with a latency of 53ms. During my trip to Vegas, and inside my hotel room on the 23rd floor, I was able to enjoy a very solid CINR of 15 and watch speeds hit over 7000kbps. Without a doubt, Clearwire's service works best in areas where they have blanket coverage - if you live/work in such an area, you should be good to go!


And that's about where the good news ends. Upon returning from my trip to CES, I noticed my Clear Spot 4G begin acting up. After 20 minutes of activity, the hotspot would totally lock-up and freeze. Both the 4G and wifi lights remained lit on the hotspot, indicating an active web connection, yet Windows would report a yellow triangle between my notebook and hotspot with a red x between the hotspot and the web. Reconnecting to the Clear Spot failed to resolve the connectivity issue, and powering down the wifi adapter and/or notebook also would not fix the problem.

When I tried to power down the hotspot device, holding down the power button, the device would not respond. It was totally locked up. The only way to regain use was to yank the battery, killing both lights on the front and powering back on. Once I reconnected again with my notebook, things worked fine for about another 20 minutes, after which the hotspot lost internet connectivity again and locked up, making me yank the battery and restart it again.

This would continue every 20 or so minutes. Obviously, it shouldn't be happening, and is not the way the Clear Spot 4G should be working. Calling the company's customer service resulted in their next-day delivery to my door of a replacement Clear Spot 4G. Thinking that I had just a bad device, I was surprised to find that the replacement equipment was also having the same exact problem - works fine for 20 minutes and then totally locks up.

My subsequent call was routed to their technical support personnel, who placed a ticket to have my local tower examined. That came back a negative. Since Clearwire claim their network had no issues, yet determined that both my devices were "not the problem" the blame game then went to my notebook. A third call went to their tier 2 technical support, yet when the opportunity arose for them to troubleshoot the issue with the hotspot device in it's locked-up state, the support rep failed to do so!!!

4G wireless broadband is not rocket science, and neither am I a computer novice. Clearwire's technical people know all-too-well how their hotspot device connects to their network; their service has been up long enough across the US for them to have worked those kinks out. But blaming the device, then the network, then my equipment, for my connectivity problem tells me that Clearwire is, firstly, reluctant to put the finger on the issue, and two, taking their paying customers for a silly ride. It is one thing to evaluate and review a product, but I should not be the one doing Clearwire's quality control!

The company's billing practices also raises an eyebrow, for service requires the customer have a valid credit card on file, from which Clearwire automatically deduct in advance one month's payment directly from the credit card. Invoices are sent exclusively to customer's email (no paper trail), making any legal issues for billing disputes a nightmare. Call me traditional, but I've never experienced a problem receiving an invoice in the snail mail, and paying over the phone every month via an automated service - it's in print, it's legit, and I know when and where how much of my money is going.

Adding insult to injury, the company sends out emails enticing users canceling their account to sign back up for just $19/month instead of the regular $45 - can you see where this is going?


Had my Clear Spot 4G worked as intended, I would not only be very happy, but would have given Clearwire a solid recommendation. The fact, however, that their product/service not only failed, but was unable to be fixed, leads me to believe that Clearwire places no significance whatsoever on providing a satisfactory 4G experience, much less value and appreciate the consumer. My runaround with two hotspot devices failing to work is not the kind of experience 4G users should have. If Clearwire cannot figure out why I was having the issues I was, and fix it, I cannot think of a reason they should remain in business.

Unfortunately, I had not only returned the Clear Spot 4G and cancelled my service with Clearwire, but I had passed on my Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200, leaving me now with no mobile broadband service at all. As much as I was hoping to save a few bucks and cancel my home DSL service in lieu of going 4G, my dream of getting internet everywhere continues to remain just that - a dream.


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