If there were awards for cramming the most networking technology into the smallest package, the Solwise 3G11nMRW Mobile Router would have a bulging trophy cabinet. It’s a miniature 3.5G (HSPA/UMTS) router with 10/100Mbps Ethernet and 802.11B/G/N Wi-Fi connections, but that’s just the beginning.
In this tiny box you’ll also find an FTP server, a Samba file server, a USB webcam server and a USB print server. It can be powered via the removable mains plug or with a USB to mini-USB cable (not supplied), making it truly mobile. There’s also a small adapter socket for a DC adapter: Solwise doesn’t sell one, but we successfully used a ‘universal’ model.
There’s not much room for ports, but LAN and WAN Ethernet connectors plus two USB ports are tightly squeezed in. One USB port takes the 3G dongle and the other’s for USB storage (for use with the FTP server), a webcam or a printer. We successfully tried Huawei E160G and ZTE MF627 3G dongles, but check with Solwise for compatibility before purchase.
Next to the LAN ports is a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button and on another side there’s a mode switch that configures the device as either a wired/Wi-Fi router, a wired access point or a wired/Wi-Fi access point. In all except router mode, both Ethernet ports are available for LAN connections.
Configuration is via a web GUI or a software utility. Both have functional but scrappy interfaces, and mangled English abounds, but a useful ‘one button setup’ puts all the basic settings on a single menu page. Up to 10 users can be assigned for the server functions (see below), with each getting a password-protected web control panel with icons for each function.
3G can be used for primary Internet access or as an automatic failover for a wired or Wi-Fi WAN connection. All the Wi-Fi and NAT/firewall security options you would expect on a full-size router are present, including WPA/WPA2 encryption and IP, MAC and URL filters for clients.
Its best party trick, though, is the ability to run up to five virtual Wi-Fi SSIDs simultaneously, each with a different Wi-Fi protocol and encryption type, giving you five independent access points (APs) in one box, albeit with shared bandwidth. The 15-20m range we achieved in single-AP 11N-only mode in our domestic setting didn’t match a good desktop 11N router, but it’s adequate for most purposes. Add in WDS and wireless repeater modes, and it actually offers more than some desktop routers.
The server functions are unexpected but very handy. Stick in a USB drive and each user gets a private FTP directory, although we did find it a bit fussy about recognising some USB flash drives. Use a DDNS service and you can allow Internet FTP access. The Samba server creates a central network file share for cross-platform use. Plug in a UVC-compliant Logitech or Microsoft webcam and you’ve a surveillance system with local (USB) or remote (FTP) storage of captured frames. The print server works well, too, although the Windows setup is a little involved.
It’s an incredibly versatile router considering its size and low cost. It’s a must-have for those who rely on 3G broadband, and even if you don’t, some of the server functions alone could easily justify the purchase price.
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