In the past wireless carriers spent a lot of time devising ways to keep devices other than phones off their networks. But as wireless networks get faster, the options for connecting are expanding.
Clearwire announced a portable router that connects any WiFi-enabled device to its Clear mobile WiMax wireless network. Manufactured by CradlePoint, the $139 Clear Spot Personal Hotspot is a battery-powered 802.11b/g router that can connect up to eight devices to the WiMax network at download speeds up to 4Mbps, according to Clearwire. You connect it to the Clear network by inserting a $49 Motorola USB laptop modem.
Although Clearwire offers pre-WiMax in several cities, its Clear Mobile WiMax service is currently only available in Baltimore and Portland. But Sprint-Nextel, which is a majority owner in Clearwire and also sells the Clear service, just announced plans to expand the service to 10 more cities this year (Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle) followed by Boston, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. in 2010.
Laptops and smartphones are obvious uses for the Clear Spot, but in its press release Clearwire mentions some more interesting applications for the portable router such as uploading photos and videos from WiFi-enabled digital cameras--there are several including Sony Cybershot DSC-G3, Nikon Coolpix S610c or any camera with a Eye-Fi SD card--and wireless mobile gaming with the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP.
Clearwire says welcomes all these devices because unlike the wireless carriers 2G and 3G networks, Mobile WiMax was designed from the ground up for wireless data. But third-party WiFi 3G routers have actually been around for years--even if wireless carriers weren't too happy about it--and now Verizon will reportedly start offering its own MiFi 2200WiFi, a re-branded version of the Novatel MiFi. The key difference is that Verizon still has a monthly data cap. The competition will become much more interesting--and attractive for consumers--once the carriers start deploying 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks next year.