Quest for a Mac with 4G: Inside the Clear USBw 25100

At 4Ginfo, we're on a mission to embed 4G wireless inside one of our Mac laptops. You may be asking yourself... why would we want to do this, considering there are USB modems that are compatible with the Mac? For mobile professionals it may be more convenient to have the wireless chip built-in to the laptop, as its one less thing you have to keep up with or forget to bring on your trip; additionally, some people do not like having a modem sticking out of their computer (adds to the bulk and increases the odds of something getting broken).
 
Plus, it just looks cooler and we're doing it for the geek factor!
 
Many Windows laptops already have embedded 4G WiMAX chips in them, but there aren't any Mac laptops that come standard with this option, so we're accepting the challenge to embed it ourselves! In order to do this, we have to find a 4G chip that meets certain requirements in order to be able to embed the chip on the MacBook motherboard. Since no one has ever published any information of whats actually inside 4G modems, we had to take it upon ourselves to crack open some modems and see what's in there. We have decided to share this valuable information with you on what we found inside each card - and how we managed to open each card without damaging the internal components.

Clear USBw 25100 Top Shell
                                     
Clear USBw 25100 Bottom Shell

The first 4G Wimax modem that we decided to open up is the CLEAR Motorola USBw 25100, AKA W100 (above). This device was very difficult to break open without damaging the circuit board! Our tester started by drilling several small holes one the back of the device, below the CLEAR logo. Once he had several holes drilled, he used a very thin knife to lift up the top half of the shell to take a look inside the shell to see what was inside, to ensure that he wasn't going to damage anything as he continued to pull apart the shell. To his surprise, there were two plastic rods melted to both sides of the shell that actually went through the mount holes on the circuit board near the USB connector. This meant that if he tried pulling the shell apart, it would break the circuit board inside! He estimated where he thought those two points were on the outside of the shell, and then drilled two holes through the plastic rods without damaging the circuit board. This was a very precarious process - as our tester explained, "I must admit that I wasn't sure that I would be able to drill out the plastic rods without drilling into the circuit board, but thankfully I was able to do so without damaging it!" Once he drilled out the rods, he was able to remove the bottom layer of the shell (pull slowly, as there is an adhesive holding the middle and bottom layers of the shell together).

Once the plastic shell was gone, this is all that you will find inside:
 
Clear USBw 25100 Chip
     
Clear USBw 25100 Chip

As you can see, the CLEAR USBw 25100 doesn't have a PCI Express Mini Card inside, so we won't be able to use this device to have "real Mac Embedded 4G". The chip only has a USB connector which is permanently soldered on the circuit board. While we could technically use this chip for embedded 4G inside our MacBook, we are going to continue opening up other 4G modems to see if other models offer a PCI Express Mini Card inside, or another more preferable way of embedding 4G inside of a Mac laptop.

One other interesting thing we discovered from our trip inside the CLEAR modem is that Foxconn actually makes the circuit board. Foxconn is an ATi certified manufacturer of motherboards and graphics cards. It also looks like Quanta Computer makes the WiMAX 4G radio that is on the circuit board:
       
Clear USBw 25100 Foxconn
                                                                   
Clear USBw 25100 Quanta
 
Next we will take a look at the Sprint U301 3G/4G modem - perhaps that device will have what we need for our 4G Mac! Check back to 4Ginfo.com/mac4G to continue following our journey!
 
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback related to this project. Join in on our discussion on the 4G Forums! If you have experience porting Linux drivers to OS X, we'd love to hear from you!
 

Portable WiFi: Internet Access On The Go

Many of our readers are always on the go, making 3G or 4G mobile broadband a great fit for their internet needs. For those that require mobile internet connectivity for more than just a single computer or device, we often hear questions about how to get truly portable WiFi. With a mobile hotspot, you can access the internet almost anywhere you go, just as long as there is a cellular signal. Unlike a 3G or 4G device that is directly connected to your computer, with a mobile broadband WiFi hotspot several people can get online to check their email, watch YouTube videos, checking social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, or even have a video chat conference - all at the same time! The possibilities are endless. Whether you're an average consumer who wants to entertain yourself and the family while traveling or a business professional who must be able to stay in contact with clients at all times, a portable mobile broadband WiFi hotspot will allow you to keep all your devices online anywhere you go.

The most popular options for portable WiFi is the new Sierra Overdrive (Sprint 3G/4G), as this device contains both the modem and wireless router capabilities in one ultra portable device, but these are not the only options! Read on to compare the various options for portable WiFi:

Sierra 3G/4G Overdrive:


The Sierra Overdrive is an all-in-one 3G/4G mobile hotspot available from Sprint. It's the first 3G/4G hotspot available and provides mobile broadband connectivity to up to 5 users via WiFi.

Carriers Supported: Sprint

3G/4G Compatibility: Works with Sprint 3G & 4G Networks

WiFi Range: up to 150 feet (maximum of five simultaneous WiFi connections [Pepwave Surf Mini can be used if you need to connect more than 5 users])

Battery Life: About 3 hours depending on usage (an external battery is also available for more battery time)

Pro's: Convenient; affordable; 3G & 4G capabilities; LCD screen that shows battery meter, signal strength, 3G/4G network connectivity and more; audible indicators for various alerts; MicroSD card for shared network storage; "rubber feet" on the bottom of the unit that keep the unit from sliding around on your vehicle's dashboard, etc.

Con's: Locked to Sprint; no ethernet port for hard-wired connections (add the Pepwave Surf Mini for ethernet capability); no antenna port for connecting an antenna directly to the device to improve signal strength (if you need to improve signal strength you will need to use a wireless repeater system like the Wilson Ceulluar SignalBoost with Cradle, but these will only boost the 3G signal - there are no signal-boosting products currently available for boosting the 4G signal).

Read more about the Sierra Overdrive 3G/4G Hotspot

PHS300 + 3G/4G or 4G Aircard:



The PHS300 is a portable mobile broadband router with a 2-3 hour rechargeable battery that allows you to connect your 4G or 3G/4G aircard for internet access.

Carriers Supported: Sprint, CLEAR, and more (see PHS300 Device Chart for supported carriers and devices).

3G/4G Compatibility: Works with 3G and 4G modems from many carriers (see above)

WiFi Range: 30-80ft through walls, much greater unobstructed.

Battery Life: 2-3 Hours. 3Gstore.com sells additional PHS300 Internal Replacement Batteries and external battery packs for more battery life.

Pro's: The freedom of being able to switch carriers if needed; works with 3G and 4G aircards from a huge variety of carriers (and Cradlepoint releases firmware updates often that allow it to be used with even more devices).

Con's: Not quite as small as the Overdrive; no ethernet port for hard-wired connections (add the Pepwave Surf Mini for ethernet capability).

Read more about the PHS300 Router

 

Other Cradlepoint Router + External Battery Pack + 4G or 3G/4G Aircard:



If you need more advanced features on the go, such as the ability to use multiple data cards from different carriers (AKA load balancing), ethernet connectivity, or more WiFi range, you can use another Cradlepoint router with an external battery pack to provide up to 16 hours of portable WiFi. Not sure which Cradlepoint router would be best for your application? Compare them here: Which Router Is Best For Me? For more information on the available battery packs, check out this article: Tekkeon Battery Packs For Cradlepoint Routers Comparison.

Carriers Supported: Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Alltel, CLEAR, and more (see Router Compatibility Chart for supported carriers and devices).

WiFi Range: Varies depending on model. CTR500 = 50-80 ft. MBR900/MBR1000/MBR1200 = 100-200ft.

Battery Life: Varies depending on model of router and external battery pack. For more information see external battery pack information.

Pro's: The freedom of being able to switch carriers if needed; works with aircards from a huge variety of carriers (and Cradlepoint releases firmware updates often that allow the routers to be used with even more devices); ethernet connectivity; maximum battery life; good WiFi range.

Con's: Not an all-in-one solution; more bulky components.


Not sure which portable WiFi option is best for you? Contact the mobile broadband experts at 3Gstore (4Ginfo's sister site) to discuss your needs! 


Related Links

 

CradlePoint Firmware 1.6.9 for CTR500/MBR900/MBR1000/CBA250/CBA750 Adds Support for U301, CLEAR PXU1900, and More

MBR1000 and U301
Firmware 1.6.9 allows you to use your U301 in an MBR1000!

CradlePoint has released Firmware Version 1.6.9 that provides the MBR1000, MBR900, CTR500, CBA250, and CBA750 with official support for the new Sprint 3G/4G U301 modem, as well as support for other modems and a few bug fixes and feature updates. 

With its ability to connect to both Sprint's nationwide 3G network and their new super-fast 4G WiMAX network, the U301 has quickly become one of Sprint's hottest devices. U301 users have been eager for Cradlepoint to support it so that they can share their 3G or 4G connection with multiple computers, and now they'll be able to do just that!

In addition to adding support for the U301, firmware 1.6.9 also adds support for the following devices:
  • Pantech UMW190 for Verizon
  • Pantech UM185 for Cricket
  • Sierra Wireless 305 USB (AKA "Lightning") for AT&T
  • Sierra Wireless 306 USB for AT&T and Telus
  • Ubee PXU1900 for CLEAR
  • ZTE MF668 for Rogers
  • Additional newly-added international devices can be viewed in the release notes (PDF) 

This latest firmware version also provides fixes for a few bugs:

  • Blackberry Bold incompatibility issue
  • Blackberry Curve incompatibility issue
  • Blackberry Storm OS 5.0 incompatibility issues
  • Fixes to make WiMAX (4G) connection more reliable

Finally, firmware 2.5.2 added a couple new features:

  • "Agressive Modem Reset" causes the router to attempt various reset techniques to attempt to re-establish connection if the modem becomes unresponsive
  • "4G auto-reconnect feature" allows you to configure whether you want to connect to 3G or 4G based on various conditions
  • "Make-before-Break" is a nice feature for dual-mode 3G/4G modem users - if you're connected to 3G and 4G becomes available, the router will connect to 4G before breaking the 3G connection

For full details on what this firmware release provides, view the release notes (PDF)


For those ordering the MBR1000, MBR900, CTR500, CBA250, or CBA750 from 3Gstore.com, starting 03/10/10, we will automatically include a CD that has the firmware version 1.6.9 on it.

Related Links

 

Clearwire's CCO Talks Growth and Plans in Interview

clearwire logo

Network World conducted an interview with Clearwire chief commercial officer Mike Sievert. Sievert discussed many hot topics such as their plans for the rest of 2010, WiMAX 2 and current deployments.  Sievert's answers to Network Worlds plethora will definitely be of great interest to anyone who is closely monitoring the direction for WiMAX - below are some highlights and quotes from the interview:

On where Clearwire current deployment stands

Clearwire currently covers 34 million points of presence (POP) as of last quarter. It's also commercially available in 28 different U.S. cities including Seattle, Honolulu and Maui.  Network World also discussed Clearwire's plans for the duration of the year which is said to include launching CLEAR WiMAX service commercially in several more major cities by the end of the year including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Kansas City and Washington, DC.

On Clearwire Wholesale Partnerships

Like most carriers, Clearwire offers service through retail outlets both direct and indirect. However, Clearwire also wholesales its current line of services through partners such as Sprint, Comcast, and TimeWarner cable. "Our wholesale business is going through extraordinary growth right now", said Mike Sievert.  "We ended up with more than 46,000 wholesale customers by the end of the of the fourth quarter last year and we're on pace to do significantly more that that this quarter.  We want to be available to any company that wants to be an active player in the 4G space." 

On plans beyond 2010

Sievert confirmed that Clearwire's current plans are to get their network built out as much as possible in 2010, and isn't looking too far into the future yet: "We certainly have aspirations to cover 200 million POPs, to be truly national and cover most major markets.  However when the projects are complete for this year it will be the largest buildout completed by any wireless carrier in the US., so right now the focus is to complete that project."

On the future of WiMAX 2:

WiMAX is still a new technology, but of course folks are always interested in knowing what will come next. Sievert said the following about their future plans: "We're looking at a number of different technologies, including WiMAX 2. The nice thing is that we have an all-IP network now that will make it less capital-intensive to add new technologies to future networks. Current 3G legacy networks, on the other hand, will have to spend a lot more capital to upgrade their networks to IP. Clearwire is already one step ahead in that regard." 

Sievert concluded by noting that Clearwire makes the process of moving to 4G comfortable for consumers, as they have partnerships with companies that consumers already have relationships with (Comcast, Time Warner, etc) - a factor he thinks will give them an edge over LTE.

Click here to read the full interview from Network World

Discuss this interview on the 4G Forums

 

CLEAR Internet Launches Simplified 4G WiMAX Plans

CLEAR is kicking off the month of March by simplifying their CLEAR Internet plan options! They are making it more affordable and easier to order than ever. They've made a number of changes to their previously convoluted selection of plans, including dropping the usage limits for 4G - all of their 4G plans now offer unlimited usage - and simplifying their CLEAR Professional options. You can view all of CLEAR's plans at 4Ginfo.com/clearplans, but below is a basic rundown of the most important changes:

1. "Get One" CLEAR 4G Internet for $40/mo. This plan allows customers to choose either a "Home Modem" or one of the 4G USB modems and provides unlimited 4G access with no speed caps.

2. "Get One" CLEAR Internet+ 3G/4G for $55/mo is provides unlimited 4G access as well as 5GB of 3G access on Sprint's nationwide 3G network.

3. "Basic Home 4G" for $30/mo is a great low-cost alternative to cable/DSL. This is the only plan left with a speed cap - up to 1.5Mbps download speeds and 500Kbps upload speeds.

4. "Get Two" Home and Mobile ($55/mo) or Mobile and Mobile ($65/mo) plans are great for families or companies that need two modems.

5. CLEAR's "Pro Office" and "Pro Mobile" plans are similarly condensed.

Of course, things couldn't be quite that simple - customers in the Seattle, Hawaii, Portland/Salem markets have access to different plans than these, so if are in one of those three areas you'll need to review the full list of plans at 4Ginfo.com/clearplans to see what's available in your area!

If you are ready to purchase CLEAR 4G service, you may do so at our CLEAR 4G Order Form.


 

 

Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot Review Posted

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Sprint Overdrive by Sierra Wireless
EVDOinfo.com has posted a complete review of the Sierra Wireless 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot called the Overdrive.  This review is not a 2 paragraph review, but a multi-paged review that has been worked on over the last 3 weeks.  EVDOinfo.com had MANY issues with the Overdrive at first and Sierra Wireless flew out an engineer to help diagnose some of the problems experienced in the Chicago area.  A new firmware has been released (1.07) and we based our review on the latest firmware (as of 2/27/2010).
 
Read Sprint Overdrive review @ EVDOinfo.com
 

Verizon Doubles LTE Plans

Verizon CTO says LTE Is On Track

Verizon Wireless has announced more details about their upcoming LTE launch, saying that they plan to launch between 25 and 30 markets this year but will double that to 50-60 markets by the end of 2013. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the high speed data 4G standard adopted by Verizon, At&t, and T-Mobile and has the potential to provide data download speeds of 5-12 Mbps and 2-5Mbps for uploads - Verizon will be the first US carrier to offer LTE and the second to offer 4G at all (Sprint/CLEAR have a major head start with their 4G WiMAX network, which has been available since last year and is growing fast).

"We continue to conduct validation testing in conjunction with initial commercial deployments," the company said in the recent 10-k filing. "We expect that technology testing and assessments will continue as the LTE technology and standards are advanced," says Tony Melone, CTO Verizon Wireless. Melone also mentioned that Verizon has not yet determined whether Verizon will being using LTE for their voice network in the near future or if they'll continue to use their 3G network for voice until their 4G footprint has expanded.

Verizon's first LTE network will launch by the end of 2010, so stay tuned at 4Ginfo for further developments!

Discuss Verizon's LTE plans on the 4G Forums

 


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