4G: It’s specifically NOT where I want to be

So I’ve got a few short trips to various locations coming up this month and next, and I thought to myself “I should get one of those CLEAR Spots to test out their WiMAX 4G.” I’ll be mobile. I could use the connectivity. People are buzzing about 4G. Great idea, right? Too bad the map says otherwise.

Two places I know I’ll visit are Washington DC and the San Francisco area, both of which are covered by CLEAR. However, 4G coverage is still pretty porous at this point. As it happens, the specific areas where I intend to be are both shown as being holes in coverage on CLEAR’s map. Luck of the draw, right? Wait, it gets weirder.

Reston, VA, where I live and work, is also an area covered by CLEAR. I could test their 4G speeds right here… except there are holes where I live and work. There’s even a coverage hole where my wife works. According to their coverage map, I’d be fine driving between home and work. I just wouldn’t be covered at home or work.

So what’s the point here? Just a complaint about patchy coverage? Actually, no.

First, I want to thank CLEAR for providing such a detailed map of their coverage. I’ve tried wireless service from all four major carriers and have found their maps to be overly broad and theoretical. In theory, they should all cover me throughout Reston, but in reality, only one gives me a strong signal at home. If everyone provided a coverage map like CLEAR’s, which also shows tower locations, customers would be better for it.

Second, I could still use a mobile hotspot to evaluate and keep me connected during my travels. A pure 4G solution is out, but the 3G/4G CLEAR Spot 4G+ is still an option, albeit a pricier one. Virgin Mobile’s MiFi is the most affordable option (but sold out online). And then there’s the new iPad + MiFi bundle from Verizon, but I just don’t need an iPad at this point and don’t want to deal with reselling.

As you may have noticed, each of these options has something in common: no two-year commitment. I could definitely use a mobile hotspot in the upcoming month and probably every now and then in the future, but not every month for two years.

So that’s what I’m looking for: a mobile hotspot with no contract that works in SF and DC. If you like one of those options I’m considering or have a better idea, let me know in the comments.