Clearwire Finally Goes Simple: But is $50 a Month Too Little, Too Late?

October 31, 2011

It took them a long time to get there but Clearwire finally has the pricing strategy I thought the company should have gone with out of the gate: A simple, one-price plan for mobile or home service, $50 a month, with no long-term contract necessary. It’s easy to understand and easy to purchase (especially with devices priced as low as $39.99) but — is it too late to matter?

When the nascent national wireless broadband service from Clearwire first became available back in January of 2009, the company had a pamphlet with so many different pricing options (dual plans, mobile + home plans, etc.) that it was hard to write simply just how much the new service would cost. And then Clearwire compounded that marketing problem by changing plans and pricing as it rolled out new markets — all under some claim of “finding out what works.”

What works — what always works — is easy and cheap. I always thought Clearwire should have started out selling a $25 per month plan just to see how many people it could sign up. That might sound business-stupid but how is it any worse than the grand plans of former CEO Bill Morrow, which crashed and burned? Inside Clearwire there were reportedly some renegades who wanted to try out a low-cost no-contract pricing scheme but by the time the Rover puck concept finally got greenlighted it didn’t have a passionate executive backing it so it predictably floundered.

Even as late as a year ago January I still thought a simple two-tier plan from Clearwire made sense, especially to get ahead of the tiered-data plans that were coming from Verizon and AT&T. But nobody listened then and instead we got grand plans for Clearwire smartphones and Clearwire Kindles, which resulted in the great Clearwire-Sprint executive collision, which hasn’t worked out well for either company.

Now you have a Clearwire without any of the leadership that brought the ISP to life — former CEO Ben Wolff, who for many Clearwire originals remained the soul of the firm, resigned from the board last week — and with a withered operational budget that leaves Clearwire no choice really but to strip down its offerings to a simple $50 a month plan, no contract, no download limits. My bet is that a bunch of data-hungry types will snap up these deals and run their laptops and iPads off a Clearwire pocketspot for the next few years, loving the last real unlimited wireless data contract around. It’s just a shame this strategy wasn’t tried sooner, when the company had some marketing muscle to put behind it.

Samsung Hotspot for Verizon’s LTE Launches: $100 for Device, $50 per month for 5 GB, $80 for 10 GB

March 29, 2011

Samsung’s mobile hotspot for Verizon’s LTE network. Credit: Verizon.

Samsung’s portable Wi-Fi hotspot for the Verizon LTE network is now available from the Verizon Wireless website, for $100 after rebates and a 2-year contract; however those wishing for an unlimited plan are out of luck, since the mobile hotspot will use the same data plans as the already launched LTE USB modems — $50 for 5 GB per month, or $80 for 10 GB per month.

The device (which we saw working live in the wild last week at CTIA) will be in stores Thursday, according to Verizon. In addition to LTE access it also provides backward-compatible access to Verizon’s 3G network so it can be a reliable broadband supplier to as many as five Wi-Fi devices you may have in your arsenal. For road warriors who spend a lot of time in major airports this device may be just the ticket since Verizon’s early LTE rollouts have made airport access a priority. It will be interesting to see how sales of this device stack up against the first offering in this arena, the Sprint Overdrive, which is now in its second iteration. Let the 4G pocketspots battle begin!

The Rise of the In-Phone Pocketspot

January 12, 2011

With Verizon and Apple’s announcement this week of portable hotspot capability in the upcoming iPhone 4 from Verizon and today’s apparent confirmation of that being a new standard for Apple’s devices, it appears the rise of the in-phone pocketspot is complete. Once considered a carrier’s worst nightmare, the ability to use your phone as an all-devices connectivity tool is now table stakes for the entire smartphone industry.

Since the arrival of the first true 4G pocketspot — the Clear Spot from Clearwire — we’ve been big fans of the category that our pal Andy Abramson nicknamed pocketspots, for their ability to pack an entire Wi-Fi hotspot into a pocket, purse or backpack. The simple concept is a powerful one and speaks to a trend that should grow over the next year, simply that of folks being able to use one data plan for multiple devices. While integrated family plans that share a bucket of bits are probably a bit in the future, a pocketspot like the Sprint Overdrive does just that today — allowing users to share a single cellular broadband connection with whatever Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, pads or laptops they have nearby.

With Verizon’s device suppliers adding portable hotspot capability to almost all the new phones coming for its 4G LTE network (plus introducing a couple new standalone devices) it’s clear that portable shareable broadband is something consumers want, or at least want to have. As we all increase our stack of mobile devices, having a single way to connect them all makes a lot of sense. So welcome, in-phone pocketspot. We’ve been waiting for you.