Macs get WiMax/3G hardware courtesy of Clearwire

With a new USB modem, Mac users finally can get national coverage on the Clear and Sprint networks

WiMax service provider Clearwire on Thursday introduced its first WiMax/3G modem that works with Mac laptops, as well as its first Wi-Fi hot spots with integrated WiMax or WiMax/3G radios. (Clearwire and majority owner Sprint Nextel both refer to WiMax as 4G, though that label usually refers to the competing LTE technology other carriers plan to deploy later this year.)

The announcement of the Clear 4G+ Mobile USB (Series S) brings Mac users fully into the Clearwire fold at last. Last July, the company introduced a dual-mode USB modem that worked only with Windows PCs and said it would offer Mac support by year's end. Due to technical issues, Clearwire wasn't able to deliver that last year, according to company representative Mike DiGioia. The company already sells a WiMax-only USB modem that can be used with Macs.

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Clearwire continues to expand its WiMax footprint, which is scheduled to reach 120 million potential customers by 2011, but currently offers the service in only 34 markets, home to 51 million people. To serve users who need connectivity across the U.S., Clearwire still relies on the 3G EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) network of Sprint Nextel. Clearwire says its network offers between 3Mbps and 6Mbps on average, with bursts of more than 10Mbps. Sprint's 3G delivers less than 1Mbps on average.

The Series S device is Clearwire's new dual-mode mobile modem, designed for both PCs and Macs to use on the Clearwire WiMax network where available and on the Sprint network elsewhere. The modem can be used with MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops running Mac OS X versions 10.5.x and 10.6.x. It is also compatible with netbooks and laptops running Windows 7, Vista, and XP SP2 in both 32-bit and 64-bit modes. The Series S is available now online and in stores in Atlanta, Dallas, Hawaii, and several Pennsylvania cities: Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, and York. On July 1, it will hit Clearwire stores in all WiMax markets.

Clearwire is also streamlining its hot spot products, which let users bring several devices onto a wireless WAN via Wi-Fi. For the first time, the company is offering an integrated device for this purpose. It has been selling a hot spot unit that had to have a USB modem plugged into it. The new devices will save subscribers the cost of buying two pieces of hardware, DiGioia said.

The Clear Spot 4G+ is Clearwire's version of Sprint's popular Overdrive dual-mode unit, made by Sierra Wireless. It can automatically switch from Clearwire's to Sprint's network and back as needed. Users can wirelessly connect as many as five Wi-Fi devices to the hot spot simultaneously. Clearwire estimates battery life as long as three hours for continuous use. The dual-mode product will go on sale next month for $225, or $6 per month for a lease, and it can be preordered now.

The Clear Spot 4G (no + in the name) is a WiMax-only hot spot specific to Clearwire. It allows subscribers to link as many as eight Wi-Fi devices to a single WiMax connection and has an estimated battery life of four hours. The WiMax product, made by InfoMark, is available for preorder now and will go on sale next month for a purchase price of $100 or a monthly lease of $5.

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