Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Mobile router lets you share your Internet connection on the go

June 22, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   Two-car families have been the norm for decades. It's time to recognize a new twosome -- his and hers laptops.
   Mine's silver and sophisticated looking. Nancy's is white and svelte. Otherwise, they work the same. And they both want to be online at the same time while we're traveling.
   Does this sound like your family, too? When a free wi-fi hotspot isn't available while traveling, what can you do -- for two?
   Our choice became easy when I learned about a new series of mobile broadband routers from CradlePoint , a company in Boise, Idaho. The one I tested (and decided I had to own, after seeing what it could do) is the CradlePoint MBR1000. It costs $250. (Continued below.)

Sprint, others limit your Internet use
   Sprint is unilaterally changing the terms of its unlimited wireless Internet service. As of July 13, Sprint is limiting Internet usage to 5 gigabytes of data per month. Sprint says usage patterns will be checked constantly, and anyone going over 5 GB for two outg of three consecutive months "will face termination."
   Verizon and AT&T already have 5 GB caps on mobile broadband usage. Sprint had been the last major wireless broadband carrier to offer unlimited service. Its limits apply to "mobile broadband card, USB modem, embedded modem as well as phone-as-modem plans," according to a Sprint statement.
   Sprint says customers will be able to track their daily usage on a Web page set up by Sprint.
   Even home Internet usage may be capped soon. Time Warner is testing a plan to impose a 5 GB basic limit on customers using Road Runner. Those who use more would have to pay extra. Time Warner isn't saying whether it plans to make such a test policy official.

   Mobile routers take an Internet connection from a wireless broadband modem and create a wireless wi-fi hotspot so that many users can connect at the same time. A wireless broadband modem normally works only with one laptop -- you plug it into the side of the laptop, usually -- so the mobile router has to mimic a computer, more or less. Once the modem is plugged into the router, the router turns the connection into a wi-fi hotspot.
   This is ideal for travelers in an RV, and it's also a great way to provide Internet access on the fly -- to create an instant workgroup at an outdoor event, for example. It's ideal when you have multiple kinds of computers, too, since many older laptops don't work with wireless broadband modems but otherwise work fine on a wi-fi hotspot.
   I was particularly interested in the CradlePoint router because the company has come up with a way to make normally pokey connections work faster. Crazy as it may seem, my wireless broadband modem actually worked faster when I routed the connection through the Cradlepoint device.
   But I'm digressing. When the router arrived, I took the CradlePoint MBR1000 out of the box, plugged in my Sprint USB broadband modem (a Sierra 595U) and powered it up. I had a new wi-fi network immediately and our two laptops connected wirelessly without a problem. After testing the router in my home office, I fastened the router into an overhead cabinet in our motor home and plugged its little power supply into one of the 120-volt outlets in the RV. (They're fed by an inverter that's connected to the motor home's batteries.)
   That's all I had to do. While we are on the road, the router's three external wi-fi antennas supply a very strong wireless signal for our laptops. If your laptop uses the latest "N" variety of 802.11 networking, you can expect up to a half-mile of range with the MBR1000. That's an astonishing feat, considering the 100-foot range of most other wi-fi connections.
   CradlePoint makes cheaper versions of its mobile routers, too. Go to www.cradlepoint.com for more information. You can order online from http://3gstore.com.