Clear Voyager Hot Spot: Coverage Map Is Vital

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- The business hot spot wars are getting ... eh, hot. Witness the Clear ( CLWR) Spot Voyager ($125, device only).

Smartphones such as the Apple ( AAPL) iPhone, Motorola ( MOT) Droid and Samsung Galaxy will now and forever grab the media love. But the network behind these mobile objects of desire is becoming just as critical for businesses.
Up to eight users at a time can get work done on the Clear Spot Voyager mobile hot spot, for not much money or stress. But it all depends on whether you can find service.

And carriers know it.

Verizon ( VZ), AT&T ( T), T-Mobile and Sprint ( S) are finally de-smoke-and-mirroring their fast data network offerings. Coverage maps are actually ... gasp! ... accurate. AT&T now offers true 4G so-called LTE access in a few dozen cities. Sprint offers a great-for-business unlimited data plan.

Real value is also coming from unlikely places. Namely Clearwire and its line of Clear data modems and routers.

Big note: There is much investor noise over Clearwire. They love it. They hate it. They love it again. This stock is a food fight. But I am finding, strictly as a business tech vendor, Clear does offers real choice. And this year it rolled out one of its more interesting ideas: the small, light, fascinatingly priced Clear Spot Voyager.

The company sent over a demo and I gave it the once-over in the New York Metro area and through the Northeast for the past several weeks.

What you get
When the Voyager works -- which is very much not a given -- it provides solid business data connectivity.

It's impressive how much innovation Clear stuffs into what is nothing more than a wireless hot spot the size of a pack of Stride gum. My test modem was fabulously itty-bitty at 2.6 inches square, a half-inch thick and just a bit over 2 ounces. A single button controls the unit. Turn it on. Power it up. Let it find the cell network. The Voyager turns that into a Wi-Fi connection. Enter the password stuck to the side of the unit. Up to eight devices supported. Poof! Instant office network.

The Web experience was average for business use. Sites and basic documents worked fine, though downloads can be slow compared with a wired connection. The unit is powered via either a USB connector or battery. It has about six hours of work life.

Where Clear offers clear innovation is in pricing. Remember, the $125 modem cost is a flat charge. No contract needed. Monthly access fees start at $34, though I would go for a $50-a-month unlimited plan. That all means you can get your people connected fast and with no strings. What else do you need?

What you don't get
Clearwire's biggest issue remains what it always has been: coverage.

Service throughout Metro New York was excellent, including in thinly covered spots as Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant. But in my hometown in Westchester County? Nada. To Clear's credit, its coverage maps are accurate; where it says it works, it usually did. But company officials confirmed that the only way to know if Clear will work for you is get a device, try it for 30 days and, if there is no coverage, send it back.

All carriers are this dumb, but that does not make it any less dumb.

Also, I found access speeds to be a step down from the truly blazing coverage of, say, Verizon's LTE service, and there are some nutty details: Like on other prominent mobile hot spots, the Voyager has no display, for instance. You must decode the status of the thing by how three tiny lights blink. Huh?

Bottom line
The Clear Spot Voyager, while way unperfect, is oddly satisfying to use. If you can find service, you can get work done. At these prices, that has real business potential. If you are only giving the big carriers a sniff for mobile business data, you are probably making a mistake.

Clear is worth a clear look.

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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.

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