LAS VEGAS--I reviewed the Clear 4G+ Mobile Series S USB modem right before the holidays, and people have been asking me how it performs outside of the San Francisco Bay Area (CNET's home base). CES 2011 seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out.
Las Vegas during CES is congested, both in terms of traffic and cellular signals. There are hundreds of thousands of people here in the city, each with at least one Internet-connected handheld device. These devices connect to the Net via 3G, 4G, or GPRS (or Edge) signal. If you want to know how a cell service performs, try to use it in Vegas during this time of the year.
(Like every year, my AT&T service with the iPhone was abysmal at best, both the voice and "unlimited" data plan. Voice calls worked sporadically, whereas text messages and voice mails could take hours to arrive, making them completely useless. And, of course, I could hardly use the phone to get online. It was hard at times even to just update my Facebook status, so tethering the phone to a laptop to report from the field was virtually out of the question.)
I started using the Clear 4G+ modem at the Oakland airport, where there was no 4G signal. It did work with the 3G portion of the service. This wasn't a surprise, as Oakland is currently not listed as part of Clear's current 4G coverage.
In Las Vegas, however, the modem consistently had a good 4G signal, no matter where I was. The speeds were much slower than when it was tested for the review, just around 3Mbps for both download and upload. This was likely because of the overall signal congestion. Note that this is still a very fast speed for a cellular connection, even faster than some residential DSL broadband services. Thanks to this, I was able to do many more reports from the field, without having to go back to the hotel or CNET's trailer office. As a matter of fact, I didn't even bother to tap in to the hotel's Internet service at all.
Clear 4G+ service was clearly a winner during the live blog of the Cisco, GE, and Xerox innovation panel, which took place at a theater inside the Hilton hotel. Cell signals tend to degrade a great deal when you're inside a big building, and that's what happened to my colleague Tom Krazit's Sprint service, making it extremely hard for him to do the live reporting. His USB modem, which seems exactly the same as that of Clear, failed to hold a steady connection. The Clear 4G+, however, was connected consistently with decent signal.
The Clear 4G+ USB modem wasn't perfect, however. It drains battery really fast. Tom could attest to this with his Sprint modem, too. Our MacBook Pro laptops, which would normally last a few hours easily on a full charge, could barely last the duration of the event, which was just slightly more than an hour, even with the screens at the lowest brightness setting.
All in all, however, I was very happy and especially grateful to have the little USB modem with me for the show. The fact that it works with both Macs and PCs and comes with built-in storage that contains the connection software, which is required to create a connection, only makes it that much more portable and useful for those who want to carry their officeswith them on the go.
If you want to find out more, check out the review.