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.
John Breeden II directs the GCN Lab. Follow him on Twitter: @GCNLabGuys.