Clearwire’s Portable Clear Spot Hotspot Lets You Share a 4G Connection
By Brian Chee
At a Glance
Easy 4G setup
Firewall lacks additional safeguards
Convenient Clear Spot travel router offers ease of setup and connects multiple devices via Wi-Fi.
Clearwire adds to its existing WiMax lineup with the Clear Spot, a compact 4G router that you can share among up to eight devices. At $140 (as of June 3, 2010), the device provides a viable and convenient way to maximize your connection–but, as you might expect, the router’s built-in battery lasts only 2 to 3 hours.
The Clear Spot complements the Clear 4G USB WiMax modem (and is a rebadging of Cradlepoint’s hardware, sold under that brand as the PHS300CW). Measuring 4.7 by 2.9 by 0.8 inches and weighing 3.5 ounces, the Clear Spot is larger and heavier than the Novatel MiFi (a 3.5-by-2.3-by-0.4-inch, 2-ounce mobile hotspot also sold under Sprint and Verizon’s branding) but still small enough to tote around.
This minimalist device has one USB port for connecting the 4G USB modem, as well as a power switch and a power connector. Setup is equally simple: All you do is note the last six digits of the firewall address, conveniently underlined on the bottom of the modem, and enter that info when prompted. You log in to the Clear Spot via its discoverable SSID (in the format Clear-Spot-xxxx); from there, you’re redirected to a “Captive Portal” page that asks you for those very same six digits to confirm your login.
If you plan on using this device in one place for any amount of time, you might consider enabling wireless security to ensure that no one is listening in on your conversations. Even though the Clear Spot offers WEP security as an option, we don’t recommend using it; WPA is more secure and is compatible with just about every modern wireless device.
The Clear Spot should be plug-and-play for already-activated 4G USB modems; the process was smooth in my testing. Once all three LEDs on the top are green–indicating that the device is connected and logged in to the wireless service–you should be able to browse for the Clear-Spot-xxxx wireless SSID with no extra software; just browse for the network name and type in the last six digits as your initial password. It’s when you try to use a 3G USB modem or tether the Clear Spot to your 3G or 4G phone that you need to check Cradlepoint’s compatible-device list (also relevant for the Clear Spot), as well as to consult with your wireless carrier (not every wireless carrier is tethering friendly).
After several days of use, I noticed that the Clear Spot handles IP addressing differently than other Clearwire products do. The Clearwire home modem gets only private addresses (NAT); apparently you have to upgrade to the Clearwire Professional subscription to get a public address assigned in the form of a static IP address. By contrast, the Clearwire portable offering gets directly addressable public IP addresses from the Clearwire DHCP servers. That translates into Clear Spot’s being a gamer’s delight: Armed with a USB modem and a Clear Spot hotspot, a subscriber could potentially set up a Web server (I set up pcworld-test.boldygoingnowhere.org using DynDNS.com, one of the many dynamic DNS Services in the Clearspot configuration list) or a gamer rendezvous server, all without additional software.
The Clear Spot costs $40 less than the Cradlepoint PHS300 personal Wi-Fi hotspot; the latter has the sole advantage of giving you double the number of devices (16 to Clear’s 8) that can connect simultaneously. If you don’t need so many Wi-Fi devices to be online at once, the Clear Spot makes a lot of sense for connecting on the go.