Alternate Data Sources
plus SD Card Access for
iPhone, iTouch and iPad
(not to mention other wifi devices)
(and no "jailbreak" required)

© Beverly Howard, Austin, Tx, 2010
This Page Formatted for Viewing with PocketPC
but, ironically, apple requires horizontal scrolling to read plain text

It's been an interesting process for me, a former Windows Mobile MVP, to support my wife's use of, first, an apple nano, then, over a year ago, an ipod touch, and finally, for her birthday last month, a wifi only ipad.

Both Rebecca and I feel a bit like outsiders in today's youth based mobile tech arena.   (Neither Rebecca nor I are typical cell phone users. Our cell phones are not our primary phones and used minimally)  We both have had "pay as you go" accounts that work out to $8.34/month per phone for a number of years and our minute pool balances still increase each year since we use them so seldom.  Wifi at home and when "where you are" happens to include free wifi is extremely nice, but prior trips expose the fact that wifi can be sparse when away from home.

As I searched for what we would consider "reasonable" data access options, the wall I kept running into was there were almost no options to buy only mobile data access at reasonable rates with reasonable conditions.  Several years ago, there were a few options for cellular data, but in my recent research, every data option I found required a voice plan to be in place before advertised data plans could be purchased but they had evaporated since my last need for mobile data access.

Then, quite by accident I ran across a Clear internet access ad that featured using the "ClearSpot 4G+" receiver/router".

This shirt pocket sized receiver distributes Clear's 4g network as a wifi router to up to 5 wifi devices. In addition this specific device offers 3G "fallback" connections to the sprint 3G network when the Clear network is not available.  fwiw, the price for the service and device lease (Austin, Texas) at this writing (Aug, 2010) was $56/month with no "startup fees."  Note... there are currently two different Clear routers available, but the less expensive one does not offer "3G fallback," something that is critical if the service is going to be used when mobile outside of the limited 4G coverage areas.

While Clear 4G data access is fast and unlimited, Clear locations are only currently available in most, but not all, major USA metropolitan areas, so the 3G fallback option is essential in the case of any travel plans that include data access. 

As of this writing, Clear is not available outside of the USA, which means that I will be back on the search trail the next time Rebecca has an international trip planned.

The sprint 3G "fallback" data is capped at 5GB per month.  Clear's site has maps showing coverage on their site and a quick look showed that sprint 3G coverage is available in all areas we are interested in at the moment.  In fact, a trip Rebecca has planned for the Oregon coast was the clincher for signing on the dotted line... (gonna be interesting to see if those 3G coverage maps are valid... stay tuned)

While the router can be powered from ac or cigarette lighter, it also has a three hour battery... means that it can provide cellular data access via wifi sitting cordless on a resturant table.  Alternatively, leave it in your car in the parking lot, and you can probably access it as you shop, eat, rest, etc...

The router has a standard wifi ssid, etc setup with multiple wifi encryption options... Our's is now set up to the same ssid and wep as our main wifi which means you can turn it on as you leave, put it on the dash and hit the road with a connected touch or wifi ipad and continue any web session uninterrupted.

A Few $$$ Thoughts

One disclaimer... the price of the clear option makes $$$ sense if you need significant data access for most months during the service contract and the cost of clear is inversely proportional to how much data you use.  That said, the traditional mobile providers embed so many hidden costs and requirements into any of their plans that the simplicity factor of the Clear service had significant value to me in the end.

During months of searching for cost effective data solutions base on our needs over the last year, the best option I uncovered was goPhone's $20/100MB which evaporates in 30 days but would have probably been workable for our needs.  By comparison, when considering the cost per MB issue, the goPhone data option is 20 cents a megabyte even compared to using only the 3G fallback option which is 1 cent a MB or twenty times less expensive.

In addition, going that route would have required sim shuffling plus an additional $200 for an unlocked USB modem and USB modem capable router.  A couple of prepurchase tech calls to providers pursuing the USB modem option turned out to be pretty discouraging as well.

Finally, if you live alone, the clearspot can easily serve as your only broadband provider... put a power supply near the door, and grab the router as you leave home, then plug it back in when you return.

microSD Memory Card Access for Apple iOS devices

The ClearSpot4G+ router also has a very valuable option for "idevices" such as the iphone/itouch/ipad which have no way to easily access local files when mobile especially image files from the memory card of your digital camera.  This router sports a microSD slot that offers these locked down apple pdas microSD memory card access without the need for a computer to first read the card and then transfer the files.  The ClearSpot router provides network access to any microSD as a "windows shared drive." 

Accessing the router's microSD slot was no problem for the windows computers on my network, but, as mentioned, apple's iOS devices such as the ipad have no "native access" to any files anywhere.  After significant research where most of the available solutions required "jailbreaking" the iOS device, I found the apple approved app Netportal  which appeared to be an ideal solution to allow access to the router's SD card.  The first attempts to get either the itouch or the ipad connected to an SD card in the router were frustratingly unsuccessful.

So, I contacted NetPortal's tech support about my unsuccessful attempts to connect to the router's SD slot including as much technical info as possible observed during my connection attempts and immediately received a comprehensive answer from NetPortal along with the news that a update was due in the near future.  That NetPortal update appeared that evening... installed it and had instant access to all files on the microSD card inserted into the ClearPoint's SD slot!

Hot Tip!  Use the configuration utility to turn off login and password for SD card access.  Assuming you have WEP enabled, the SD card is already behind a locked door.

Hot Tip!  Leave out the "\\" marks when setting up microSD card access within NetPortal... the "computer name" entry in the connection setup should contain only clearspot

microSD Flexibliity

The majority of digital cameras,  mobile phones and other devices "in the wild" use "standard SD memory card slots."  Hence, you might need to shift gears to switch over to the use of microSD memory cards.  It's not hard to do so, since most microSDs sold at this time contain microSD to "standard" SD card format adapters in the package with the memory card.

Slip a microSD card into one of these adapters and insert it into any device that uses standard SD memory cards and the device won't know the difference.  The image shows the assortment that I normally cary with me including the adapters and SD readers that covers almost any computer, pda or other device where I need to use an SD card.

If you have sharp eyes, you may have noticed that the card capacity of the cards in the image are 2Gig rather than the newer SDHC capacity cards that go up to 8Gig for the micro's and 16Gig or larger for the standard SD card formats.  Therein waits a "gotcha!"

Since SDHC is a new format, older cameras, phones, computers, readers and other devices can't read SDHC format cards.  So, unless you have specific needs to exceed 2Gig per card, using those or smaller capacity cards will inprove your flexibility as you move between diverse devices.  In this case, the Clear router specs indicate that the SD slot on the router is SDHC compatible.

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>> shirt pocket sized... <<

One safety note... Since this device is a multiple frequencey RF transmitter, the transmitter emissions make carrying it in any pocket while the unit is in operation unwise.  In fact, the manual advises;

"RF Exposure – The Device is authorized for use solely in a mobile application. At least 20
cm (i.e., 8 inches) of distance separating the Device from the user's body must be
maintained at all times. "