We’re going to have lots more — lots more — news and analysis from Tuesday’s official Clearwire launch in Portland, Ore., but before we call it a night we had to break the product news that Clearwire chief strategy officer Scott Richardson forgot to mention during his prepared speech: A portable WiMax/Wi-Fi router for creation of instant hotspots on the go.
The prototype pictured below is a ginned-up version of what looks like a PHS300 from Wi-Fi router pros Cradlepoint, with a Motorola WiMax USB stick instead of the 3G connections the Cradlepoint gear usually uses. The end result — a Wi-Fi hotspot that fits in your pocket, allowing multiple devices to surf off a single Clearwire WiMax connection.
“The idea is to help you connect all the devices you already have,” said Richardson, since most computing gear these days, many phones included, have Wi-Fi embedded inside. While there wasn’t a final form factor to show off yet (Richardson is thinking of something like a hockey puck in size), the $125-or-so (pricing not final) device should be ready for use in Portland by February, Richardson said, after slapping his forehead for forgetting to talk about the device while onstage at the company’s boffo event.
Richardson was reminded about the device during a private interview, where the discussion had turned to whether or not Clearwire needed an iPhone-type device to help get people excited about WiMax. With such a gizmo, Richardson said, iPhone users could link to WiMax networks via the Wi-Fi connection — a bit of a kludge, but not a bad idea if you have a car full of kids who all want to connect to the net (aka the Richardson family test group) while you’re driving around the hills of Portland.
The big difference, Richardson said, is that unlike cell data operators, who really don’t want their customers using 3G cards to support multiple users, Clearwire will embrace and even resell such devices, encouraging more data use. That is especially important to iPhone 3G users, who Clearwire folks are happy to point out are using their device’s Wi-Fi link more than its 3G one because of their desire for real Internet networking speeds.
“We don’t fear these devices,” Richardson said, cradling the router like a favorite toy from Christmas. So instead of trying to get Apple to put WiMax into an iPhone, why not just bring the network to the popular phone via the connections that already exist?
“Just connecting the devices that already exist is a big business for us,” Richardson said. “I see every iPhone user as a future customer.”