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

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Mbuckley

    10/16/2010 at 2:30 am

    I just bought a Virgin Mobile Mifi at Best Buy for $130 (price matched to Walmart) in MD. I am on a tour of the SE United States for the next month and will be giving it a really good workout, especially while on the road. So far, I have had good coverage through DC, out 66, on 29 South to Charlottesville, lost it for a few minutes near Montpelier, had good coverage all the way down I81 and to Mount Airy, NC and then to Burlington, NC. Using it in the hotel as I type this since it’s faster than the hotel wireless. Speeds are quite satisfactory overall if you don’t expect home broadband speeds. Out on the country roads I get 2G speeds, on the highways, 3G. Very little waiting except for videos. Best gadget I’ve bought in a while!

    Reply

  2. SamC

    10/16/2010 at 1:05 pm

    I too use the Virgin Mobile Mifi. Great service, as long as you don’t stray far from large population areas and major highways.
    The pay-as-you-go is what really got me interested in Virgin Mobile. They offer two plans which fits just about anybody’s needs. I sure do wish my cell provider would do the same.
    I am definitely waiting for 4G coverage in more areas. I can’t understand why it’s taking this long. I’m sure the industry would cry back “it costs money” in reply. Sure it does, but I’m betting there is enough demand to make up for the cost in no time.

    Reply

  3. SamC

    10/16/2010 at 1:05 pm

    I too use the Virgin Mobile Mifi. Great service, as long as you don’t stray far from large population areas and major highways.
    The pay-as-you-go is what really got me interested in Virgin Mobile. They offer two plans which fits just about anybody’s needs. I sure do wish my cell provider would do the same.
    I am definitely waiting for 4G coverage in more areas. I can’t understand why it’s taking this long. I’m sure the industry would cry back “it costs money” in reply. Sure it does, but I’m betting there is enough demand to make up for the cost in no time.

    Reply

  4. Schro01

    10/16/2010 at 1:37 pm

    Virgin Mobile sounds great. Any downside?

    Reply

    • SamC

      10/16/2010 at 2:15 pm

      Yes, coverage. I think Verizon offers more coverage, but it also costs more for less bandwidth. That’s why I selected Virgin Mobile.

      Reply

  5. Mbuckley

    10/17/2010 at 3:50 pm

    VM is a budget solution. Verizon charges $80/month for 5GB + a $35 activation fee. If you want the absolutely best coverage, Millenicom offers service utilizing the Verizon network with better prices than Verizon. 5GB plan includes the modem rental for $60/month + $50 activation fee. 10GB plan is $70/month + $100 modem and $50 setup. Both plans include same coverage as Verizon’s postpaid plan. If you go over the 10GB in a month, service continues, but you may be throttled. If I’m not happy with VM, I will consider this plan. But, so far, so good for me. I’m showing 1Mb/sec download and 0.4 Mb/sec upload speeds as I’m riding down I-85 in SC at 70mph.

    Reply

  6. Kevin N

    10/19/2010 at 4:12 pm

    I suppose you don’t have cell phone with hotspot capability? Those are normally month-to-month (actually, I understand they’re even prorated for submonth usage).

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      10/20/2010 at 2:46 am

      No, unfortunately, my home is not covered by a carrier who offers phone hotspot service. Push comes to shove, I may seek an unauthorized workaround.

      Reply

    • Anonymous

      10/20/2010 at 2:46 am

      No, unfortunately, my home is not covered by a carrier who offers phone hotspot service. Push comes to shove, I may seek an unauthorized workaround.

      Reply

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