Apollo Could Be New Start for Clearwire

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Wireless provider Clearwire ( CLWR) might actually have a useful business tool on its hands: the Clear Spot 4G Apollo ($99 to buy, $6 per month lease with a two-year contract).

If there is a hard lesson of this digital age, it is that getting a wireless network off the ground is one brutal slog. Take Kirkland, Wash.-based Clearwire. Sure, it has powerhouses such as Google ( GOOG), Comcast ( CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable ( TWX) in its corner. And it actually controls its own wireless spectrum.
If you are looking at options for staying connected in your business and are within the coverage area, the Clear Spot 4G is worth a look.

Dogged by service rollout delays, dubious device choices and an overall less-than-clear argument for business users, though, Clearwire's path to the market has hardly been a wireless cakewalk.

While many challenges lie ahead, the company's fortunes may be changing with the Apollo, which showed up in the shop last week. A long-term review lies ahead, and issues remain, but this gadget appears to be a legit business-ready data tool.

What you get
Exactly what the business data doctor ordered: a data access tool that works in the office and on the road.

Let's get one thing, uh, clear. There is nothing revolutionary about the Clear Spot 4G. It is yet another in a long line of portable Wi-Fi data modems, similar to ones made by Sierra Wireless ( SWIR) or Pantech. Wi-Fi modems convert the digital cellphone network into a small wireless hotspot that several devices can use simultaneously. What makes the Clearwire unique is that it is loaded with a solid balance of features.

First, the Spot can connect up to eight devices to the Web, enough for a reasonable-sized small business, assuming average business data usage. Next, Clearwire had beefed this unit up with a high-capacity battery that not only gets six hours of uptime, but is both rechargeable and replaceable.

Better yet, Clearwire's network provides legit faster-than-3G mobile data access. At least in my testing here in Manhattan and suburban New York City, I got solid download speeds of roughly 8 megabits per second and upload speeds of roughly 1 megabit per second. Certainly that is not as fast as top-line LTE providers such as Verizon ( VZ), but it is fast enough for most business use.

But Clearwire's aggressive pricing for the Spot 4G -- roughly $600 a year (including $45 monthly for unlimited access) assuming you have coverage -- is the real kicker.

That's game-changing stuff.

What you don't get
Anything close to national coverage and that comfy feeling of dealing with an established carrier.

As positive a step as the Clear Spot 4G might be, heaven knows there are issues with this unit. First, Clearwire claims a coverage area over 119 million Americans with some nice service in the Northeast. But if you glance at the coverage map you'll see critical areas of the country are simply not covered -- deal killing if you travel to or work in these areas.

And then there's the fact that you are still dealing with Clearwire, which can't seem to figure out if it's the Google-backed wireless powerhouse of tomorrow or a barely alive, on-the-verge-of-collapse takeover target.

And who really has the stomach for that?

Bottom line
If you are lucky enough to have Clearwire coverage, this device appears to be a legit single solution for a business looking for mobile access. Without question, I plan to take this unit for a long-term test.

But for now, if you are looking at options for staying connected in your business and are within the coverage area, it's clear that the Clear Spot 4G is worth a look.

>To submit a news tip, email: tips@thestreet.com.


Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.