Personal hot spots are handy, if not always mobile

Clear Spot 4G+ lets multiple users connect but can lose its signal on the go

The GCN Lab product of the month for March is personal hot spots.

We realize that this is more of a category than a specific product. But the market for personal hot spots is wide open now, with no clear leader. And the public’s demand for the tiny devices will only grow. As such, the entire category of personal hot spots has generated enough buzz to take the coveted product of the month spot for March.

A personal hot spot looks like a small cell phone, only it doesn’t make calls in the traditional sense. Instead, it connects to a cellular network by using 4G — or 3G if a 4G connection isn’t available — and then creates a mobile hot spot so that other devices can log on and get Internet access.

From a user’s point of view, it's not unlike getting Internet access at a Starbucks or McDonald's, only it’s your own personal access point that travels with you as you move. And most of them will provide access for five or more devices of any type, be they iPads, laptop PCs or even other phones. In fact, many Android phones have this ability now, but a personal hot spot is a cheaper way to provide Internet access for multiple devices.


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These devices have evolved quite a bit in recent months. A year ago, we took a look at the Verizon Wireless MiFi 2200 Mobile Hotspot, which plugged into a computer’s USB port to give it wireless access to the Internet via Verizon’s network. These days, most personal hot spots are stand-alone devices that don’t need to be plugged into anything.

You simply connect to the wireless network you want to use, usually by clicking one button, and then log in to the hot spot using Wi-Fi with whatever devices you want. You can hide your personal hot spot and protect it with a password, too, if you want to keep other people from using your connection. However, most hot spots have unlimited data plans, so locking down your connection isn’t absolutely necessary.

One of the newest breeds of this type of device is the Clear Spot 4G+ personal hot spot. Those of you who live in the Washington, D.C., area have probably started to see the company’s commercials on TV, though the Clear Network coverage map shows they are in most major cities. The 4G+ personal hot spot has several data plans, with some of them offering unlimited 4G data for as little as $50 per month.

The lab got one of these devices and found that, when it was working, it was pretty cool. We were even able to get four people with laptops connected and surfing the Internet at the same time from a single hot spot.

However, the Clear network still seems to have a lot of holes because moving in a car caused the Clear Spot 4G+ to frequently lose its signal. However, that is not as bad as dropping a call because your laptop will just wait until the signal comes back for you to continue surfing as long as the signal is not gone for too long.

Although devices such as the Clear Spot 4G+ aren’t perfect, they are darn convenient if you can find a location that has good coverage and hang out there for a while. And moving around will get better as networks mature.

Personal hot spots show what the future of wireless communications might look like, with everyone carrying around their own network access nodes and perhaps sharing them on occasion with a few good friends. And if you’re willing to put up with some growing pains, you can touch that future now.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Fri, Mar 30, 2012

Bought the CLEAR 4G Hotspot in Largo, FL from a rather sketchy but nice young man who appeared sincere. Needed it bec. the condo we were staying in did not have wireless service. Left to drive home and NEVER,except in Atl, and a few other city areas, had service. That was very disappointing. Were assured that with no contract, I could cancel it and restart it any time I wanted. I tried, and found it to be daunting! Much arguing, trying to convince me I sh keep the monthly service, etc. I have been assured it is cancelled. We shall see! And if I can restart when I want! Service is not what's advertised.

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 kannan San Jose

1. They look like a good competitor to Verizon (based on reviews). 2. They sales methodology is so horrible and bad. 3. They have no option on their website to give the cost of the MIFI Gadget , its only the price that made to LURE web visitor to call them 4. Once you call them , you are subjected to go through hell before getting any information from the person who ever comes on the line. 5. I was on the line for close to 10 mts and didnt get any quote!!! 6. He took my phone number address zip code . 7. Still i didnt get a quote 8. I got suspicious when he asked if my home was rented or own 9. Then he wanted to know of the current service provider---Which is not required ....this guys sounded like a nosy / inquisitive / curious or fishing for information on finding out which service provider i am using. 10. I didnt like this because i was already on the phone for so long and he was not interested in giving me a quote. 11. He wanted my SSN to give me a price quote and cost of the MIFI Gadget !!! Something's not right here and certainly shouldnt ask for SSN to give a price quote or for the cost of the mifi gadget. Hope Clear Spot has some good explanation for this and could publish on their website why they are asking for SSN to give a price quote and how the personal information is being handled.

Fri, Jul 29, 2011 Daniel

I own a ClearSpot 4G device and it works wonders. I was stranded on the side of the road and my phone had died, but luckily I had my iPod and I was able to use the Internet provided by my ClearSpot device and call someone for help. These little devices are extremely useful, yea they're a little expensive but after what it's done for me I think it's worth it.

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 Geez

"However, most hot spots have unlimited data plans, so locking down your connection isn’t absolutely necessary." WHAT? Just let some stranger onto your hot-spot so they can try to hack your PC? Better your PC than mine!

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 Michael

Actually, if you have an Android phone with Android version 2.2.1 or above (e.g. T-Mobile's MyTouch 4G) you can already use it as a personal hotspot and it is *less* expensive than the personal hot spots provided by AT&T or Verizon, e.g. MiFi. Start with the fact that they don't charge a 'tethering fee' or a 'hot spot fee' -- they just share your existing allocation of Internet bandwidth at the touch of a button. Also, unlike the 4G USB dongles, the Android phones start with 4G and drop back to 3G or 2G to maintain a connection. And of course, there is the cost per gigabyte -- I pay $20/month for unlimited Internet. After downloading the first 5 gigabytes T-Mobile throttles the speed, but at $4 / gigabyte I don't think any other service is as cheap, including the ClearSpot 4G product.

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