ZyXel MWR102 Travel Router review

Need a travel router? You get pocket-sized Wi-Fi convenience with the ZyXel MWR102, plus easy setup and good performance.

ZyXel’s MWR102 Travel Router is a tiny (1.44 ounces) router that can act as an access point or wireless client bridge. The device’s functionality is not so different from other travel routers we’ve tested including the ZuniConnect and TP-Link’s 150 Mbps Wireless N Nano Router. ZyXel’s diminutive device provided slightly better throughput in testing, however, as well as easier switching between AP, bridge, and router mode than that provided by the other two routers. While the ZyXel lacks some features of the ZuniConnect—namely, multiple USB ports for charging additional devices—ZyXel’s little router is a handy travelling companion for setting up a Wi-Fi network on the road.

Specs
The MWR102 is single-band router capable of delivering up to 150 Mbps throughput under ideal conditions. Pocket-sized, measuring 2.9 by 2.3 by .6 inches (LWD), the router can be powered with its accompanying adapter or by USB cable—which is also included in the package. An Ethernet cable and a luxurious black velvety carrying case also come in the box.

There are five LEDs on the front panel that display LAN, WAN, WLAN, WPS, and Power statuses. On the rear panel is a LAN and WAN port, both of which are 10/100 Fast Ethernet. On the bottom of the device is a reset and WPS button. A toggle button is on the side to set the device in either AP or Router mode.

The router’s size makes it nothing to throw into a purse, laptop bag, or briefcase when you’re on the road; in fact it’s so small it could easily be forgotten in a hotel room!

Setup
You can set the MWR102 up as a router, access point, or wireless client bridge. Most users will probably stick with router mode, connecting, for example, a hotel or conference room’s Internet cable to the WAN port and then using the device to create a wireless network. Router mode is actually the easiest to set up.

There are quick install instructions that ship with the MWR102. This guide only details how to set up router mode, for the other modes you need to consult the online user guide on Edimax’s site.

I set up router mode following the instructions, and the process was really simple. First, set the side toggle switch to “Router.” Power the device up and connect an Internet-connected Ethernet cable to the WAN port.

An SSID is preconfigured and once the WAN and WLANs LEDs light green, you can connect a wireless client to the router’s SSID. That’s all there is to the router mode setup. Making any further configuration changes requires going into the Web-based UI, which is easily done by firing up a browser and entering the router’s IP address (also printed on the bottom of the device).

You’d set the device in AP mode if there is already a router in place on the network. You would connect an Ethernet cable from an existing router’s LAN port to the MWR102′s WAN port. This configuration gives the MWR102 the router’s networking information.

The AP setup is not quite as intuitive as the router mode setup and requires a bit more technical know-how. You have to make a wired connection between the MWR102′s LAN port and a computer and then match the computer’s IP address information to that of the MWR102. Fortunately, the online user guide gives good directions on how to do so.

Additionally, setting the toggle switch to AP did not automatically set the device into AP mode. After I set my computer to match the IP address of the router, I was able to go into the interface and saw the device still being listed as in router mode in one area of the interface and AP mode in another. In the page that listed AP mode, I hit “Apply.” The router initiated a 20-second reboot and when I went back into the interface the UI was set to AP mode in all areas of the interface and I saw the appropriate settings that are supposed to appear when in AP mode.

These extra steps I took are not documented in the user guide so those with little networking background may be a bit confused. While this is a lack in the documentation, I think it’s power users who are more likely to use the AP settings; they should be able to figure out the same steps I did.

From AP mode you can also set the router as a wireless client bridge—also a simple setup, once you get past some of the confusion of getting into AP mode. From within the interface you change the mode from “AP” to “client.” Once you do, you can click a button on the UI to perform a wireless survey listing all Wi-Fi networks in proximity. Click the Wi-Fi network you want to the device to bridge and then the MWR102 joins that Wi-Fi network allowing you to connect to an existing WLAN through the MWR102. You do need to know the passphrase of the Wi-Fi network you want to bridge.

Feature Set
ZyXel’s travel router has most of the features of any consumer router including NAT, SPI firewall, access control by MAC address, and MAC filtering. The router supports WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, and 64/128-bit WPA/WPA2.

There are some capabilities that traditional routers have that aren’t included, such as DMZ and port forwarding, but these are features you wouldn’t set up typically in a router for use the on the road.

That’s not to say there aren’t some advanced settings. Those inclined can tweak very granular options such as Fragment Threshold and RF Output Power. The management section of the interface includes data statistics on amount of packets sent and received. The section also is where you can enable a system log, update the firmware, or backup the router’s settings.

Performance
A single-band 150 Mbps is not going to give the same performance as a more robust, dual-band home router, but the MWR102 clocked the fastest speeds we’ve tested in a travel router—averaging a decent 65 Mbps testing 15 feet away from the device in 2.4GHz 802.11n-only mode with 40 MHz channel width. Below is a chart comparing the ZyXel, ZuniConnect, and TP-Link’s throughput:

Good Road Buddy Router
The tiny ZyXel MWR102 Travel Router is super convenient for business travelers who want to set up a WLAN on the fly from a wired Internet connection or to bridge to an existing wireless network. You get pocket-sized convenience in the MWR102, plus easy setup (at least in router mode) and good performance. Although the setup for the AP mode is a bit convoluted and not well documented, those interested in doing so can likely figure out what to do in the device’s user-friendly interface, or they can call the help number printed on the setup guide. As a travelling companion, the ZyXel MWR102 Travel Router gets 4.5 stars and PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for travel Wi-Fi routers.

Specifications
Device Type Travel Router
Networking Options 802.11n, 802.11n
Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses Yes
NAT Yes
Parental Controls No
Stateful Packet Inspection Yes

Verdict
Need a travel router? You get pocket-sized Wi-Fi convenience with the ZyXel MWR102, plus easy setup and good performance.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc