Clear 4G: A Love Story

This photograph was taken at the SFMTA Customer Service Center, the 7th level of bureaucratic hell. I was working there, but I don’t work there, feel me?

I was using Clear’s Mobile USB WiMax Adaptor. Mobile connection dongles aren’t particularly new; hell, 4G mobile adaptors aren’t even new. But six months ago the technology was straight-up nascent, hardly worth investing in unless you lived in one of the few markets where 4G coverage existed. Well, I’ve been on Clear for more than half a year now, and things have changed dramatically.

San Francisco. New York. Las Vegas. Chicago. Minneapolis. Los Angeles. Washington. Maryland. Virginia. There’s probably more. I’ve taken this thing all over creation and mostly enjoyed broadband-level speeds. My data even soared above the filthy, CES-clotted airwaves of Las Vegas. I’ve shared the connection with friends in airports, and used it as a supplement to the pathetic dribble of bits that passes for Wi-Fi at my mother’s house. (Sorry mum, it’s not personal!) Even now, stuffed in a bunker-walled municipal building, I have enough bandwidth – though I’ve been busted down to 3G – to upload images.

And it’s not just what the thing does that I love. Beauty is more than just stuff that’s more than just skin deep. Does that make any sense? What I’m trying to say is, this thing is a looker too: elegant, functional, and extremely portable – a small disc that folds up and disappears into your bag. Its articulating hinge allows it to swivel out of your USB port’s way, too. A wonderful touch.

Like any new-ish technology, Clear isn’t perfect. The network isn’t 100 per cent mature yet – you’re pretty much boned in the northern flyover states, for example. I couldn’t get a 4G signal in Phoenix or Scottsdale, either. And the dongle Cuts the battery life of my Macbook Pro in half and gets really hot. The software can get a little cranky if you shut your notebook without quitting first, too, causing the Clear Connection Manager to hang up for a few minutes before reconnect.

But I’m pretty OK with it, because, frankly, I’m in love. And an imperfection in someone you love doesn’t make him or her imperfect; it makes them real. This adaptor has stood by me and done its best wherever I’ve taken it. Mostly, it knocked the bandwidth ball out of the frickin’ park. It even attempted (limply) to grab a signal in England, when I – flight-worn and dazed – plugged in without realising that I was in a country where Clear’s 4G was a foreign language. The poor thing just couldn’t speak to the local towers.

But it tried. It always tries.