Linksys Wireless-G Router for 3G/UMTS Broadband WRT54G3G review
Although broadband is now widespread in the UK, there are still times when a viable connection to the internet isn’t available. For a laptop, you can simply slot in a 3G data card but, if you need more flexibility, this 3G router could be just what you’re looking for.
At first glance, it looks like any other wireless broadband router. An Ethernet WAN port is provided, a quad-port switch is built in for hooking up PCs via 10/100 Ethernet, and an antenna protrudes for 802.11g wireless networking. But the Linksys also incorporates a CardBus slot on the top, into which you can insert a 3G data card. The router is currently geared towards Vodafone’s service and supports GPRS, as well as 3G/UMTS, if you’re out of coverage with the latter.
Setup is supposed to start with the CD wizard, but we found the WRT54G3G (this router’s commonly quoted part code) worked out of the box. Since cell service is tied to the SIM installed in your data card, and the router defaults to Vodafone settings, the connection was made with no reconfiguration required. A big red-framed button on the edge of the router allows you to toggle the 3G on and off, although we found it didn’t always work. You can also do this within the web interface, but the wizard is required if you want to use both wired broadband and 3G. We’d have liked more explicit control within the web interface itself.
We’d also like more from the session usage monitor, which only gives figures for the current session. Keeping tabs on usage will be important to many:Vodafone’s unlimited 3G services start at £45 a month, but there’s a £25 deal that limits you to 250GB of data.
As a router, the WRT54G3G is well featured. A full complement of wireless security options is available, from WEP to WPA and WPA2, plus RADIUS authentication. You can add MAC address filtering as well. A basic stateful packet inspection firewall is also built in, with the ability to block anonymous internet requests, plus filter multicasts, NAT redirection and IDENT authentication on port 113. Passthrough support is provided for IPSec, PPTP and L2TP VPNs, and you can set up internet access policies for different days of the week. There are the usual port redirection, range triggering and DMZ features. The Quality of Service (QoS) options are particularly extensive. WMM (Wi-Fi multimedia) QoS can be used for the WLAN, both with and without acknowledgement, and you can set wired QoS priorities by device, Ethernet port and application.
In theory, Vodafone’s 3G service offers 384K downstream and 64K upstream. Both are a little behind even entry-level wired broadband, but not so much as to be noticeable in everyday usage. We ran Dan Elwell’s Broadband Speed Test (www.broadbandspeedtest.net) on our connection, and it achieved a downstream performance of just 192K – close to the 200K usually quoted as the real-world limit. Subjectively, the connection still felt like wired broadband, and was certainly adequate for most business needs.
Pricing has come down considerably and, even if 3G still can’t compare in cost or performance to wired broadband, it won’t break the bank either. The WRT54G3G is currently unique in the UK. While it’s undoubtedly a niche product, it’s also of tremendous potential use.