With Verizon Wireless apparently planning a marketing push for iPad buyers, Clearwire wants in on the action, too. As we wrote in "Verizon to Woo iPad Buyers with MiFi," 11 March 2010, Verizon will promote its MiFi router to iPad users. The MiFi shares a 3G network connection with up to five devices via Wi-Fi.
Clearwire offers a competing device and plan that it suggests may be a better deal because it has no monthly usage limit. Clearwire also says it delivers downstream speeds 2 to 8 times faster than Verizon.
Verizon's pitch to potential iPad customers considering the $130 extra for a 3G-capable iPad model is that the MiFi is more flexible and capable, and can handle an iPad along with other devices.
But Verizon's version of the MiFi requires a two-year service contract that carries a hefty cancellation fee and either a 250 MB ($39.99 per month) or 5 GB ($49.99 per month) combined upload and download limit per month, after which you pay 5 to 10 cents per megabyte, depending on the plan.
Despite being majority-owned by Sprint Nextel, which also offers the MiFi and has similar monthly limits and overage fees, Clearwire has no such bandwidth limits on most of its service plans. Clearwire's 4G network, which uses the WiMAX networking standard, has been built from scratch as both a mobile service and an alternative to fixed broadband for homes and businesses. The network currently requires either a USB modem or a network gateway (like a wired broadband modem) to access.
Clearwire is using its lack of monthly transfer limits to set itself apart from its 3G competitors. The service is priced quite aggressively, too: home plans (for a fixed gateway plugged into the wall) run from $25 to $45 per month based on the top download speed; mobile plans are $45 per month for individual users. A personal bundle combines home and mobile service for $65 per month. Business plans for multiple devices with a single account are more complicated. (Clearwire does have one individual mobile plan for $35 per month that has a 2 GB monthly usage limit, for those that want to save a few bucks in exchange for a cap.)
Clearwire says its service operates at 3 to 6 Mbps downstream with bursts to 10 Mbps and as fast as 1 Mbps upstream. Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow bragged in a press release that the firm's average user consumes over 7 GB per month. The company also said it is boosting capacity at each network node by 20 to 30 percent, and bumping its backhaul by 250 percent.
For iPad buyers, Clearwire is pushing the Clear Spot, a 4G router that can share its connection to up to eight devices over Wi-Fi. The $139.99 router requires any of the three Clear USB modems, which cost $49.99 or $59.99 for two seemingly identical 4G-only devices, or $224.99 for a combined 3G/4G modem that works on Sprint's network when outside of 4G coverage areas.
Clearwire's CEO said future Spot models will have integrated 4G modems, just like the MiFi's built-in 3G adapter. (You can also plug the 4G-only USB modems into a Mac or Windows laptop; the 3G/4G USB modem doesn't yet have Mac OS X drivers, but does work with Windows.)
The Spot is paired with a mobile plan via the USB modem. The individual plan is either $45 per month for a 4G-only modem or $55 per month with the 3G/4G modem. That latter price includes 5 GB of usage on Sprint's 3G network with 5 cents per megabyte overage fees when you're outside of Clearwire's WiMAX network. Sprint further restricts 3G usage to 300 MB per month when outside its home network - roaming onto Verizon's service! (For reasons we can't explain, Adam Engst and I saw different offers when verifying these prices; his browser showed a $40-per-month unlimited mobile plan with a different name.)
Only the $45-per-month 4G-only plan appears to offer month-to-month service as an option when you purchase the hardware outright; the 3G/4G plan and 2 GB-per-month plan appear to require two-year contract commitments with cancellation penalties, but also allow a monthly lease instead of an outright hardware purchase.
In contrast, AT&T's iPad plans cost $14.99 per month for 250 MB or $29.99 per month for unlimited transfers, which is cheaper but can't be shared with other devices. The plan can be enabled for a month at a time. If you are on a 250 MB plan, you can opt during a billing period to add 250 MB more data transfer for $14.99, or upgrade to unlimited for $29.99.
Clearwire is currently available only in 27 cities, including my home town of Seattle, where it's spread across most of the Puget Sound metropolitan area, including Tacoma. The company will cover 120 million people by year's end, including the metro areas of Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco.