Not that long ago Apple dropped the iPad on the world. First we saw the WiFi flavour followed about a month later by the 3G kind. However, the 3G version has a rather large and disproportionate cost attached to it ($130 extra). Further to that, you need to pay extra to get the service through AT&T.
Now, for many this is an extra cost that they are not going to want to pay. Or they may already have a data service they are paying for and do not need (or want) an extra account with AT&T.
Fear not, as there are answers. We take a look at one from TRENDnet. This is the TEW-655BR3G/A, a portable Wireless N router that can work with more than a few existing 3G USB modems. With the ability to be connected over LAN or WiFI, you have a good deal of options with this new product and with a price tag of only $89.99 from Newegg.com, it is not that much of a stretch.
Let's take this one on the road and see if it can keep our 16GB iPad WiFi and netbook connected.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
TRENDnet's packaging is utilitarian but not at all unattractive. It is clean enough to attract your attention and provides enough information to get you to take it off of a shelf and drop it in your cart.
The back of the box follows TRENDnet's pattern of showing how the product will fit into your network and also what other items will work well with this device.
Inside the box you will find almost everything you could ask for from a mobile router. There are a couple of omissions that I was a little surprised at. TRENDnet did not provide any type of case for the TEW-655BR3G/A. This would have been a very welcome extra, but sadly it was not present.
The TEW-655BR3G/A is a fairly small device. It is not as small as the other "non-3G" travel routers on the market, but it is still fairly small.
Its outer casing is made of plastic to keep things light. The top has three LEDs on the front for indication of WiFi, LAN and USB activity. On the back above the TRENDnet logo is a power indicator. This serves a dual purpose. It can show that the device is on, is charging or is low on battery (Green, Orange and Red LEDs).
The back holds a single RJ-45 port that also has a dual purpose. It can be used to directly connect your system to the TEW-655BR3G or to connect to another router or modem for quick wireless access. There is also a power switch here due to the existence of an internal battery system. This allows you to conserve battery when the TEW-655BR3G is not in use.
Along the right hand side is the single USB 2.0 port for connecting a 3G Modem. There is also a reset and WPS (Wireless Protected Setup) button.
As we mentioned, there is a compartment for a 3.7V, 1700mAh Li-ION battery (included). This is supposed to give you around 2.5 hours of usage before needing a recharge.
The TEW-655BR3G has some nice specs for its size. We also know that due to the use of a USB modem port you are going to get across the board compatibility (well, almost) for 3G functionality. The WiFi side also looks impressive on paper and has support for the current technologies and modulation standards.
The Internal firewall (which we will cover later) also has features that you would expect only in a less portable product.
When you first connect to the TEW-655BR3G/A you are greeted by a setup wizard that walks you through most of the items you need to get up and going. Of course, you could also skip this and move right to the advanced setup, but for many the wizard will be a great place to start.
The wizard takes you through everything, except setting the admin password. Unfortunately you still have to log in to get that changed.
Just six steps and you can be up and running (ok, more like 12, but still not bad).
You can choose the WAN type here and also change it in the advanced settings.
Wireless Encryption setup is part of the wizard, making sure that at least your WiFi network is protected.
Just confirm the information, click finish and then head into the advanced settings to change the default admin password and configure the 3G modem you are using.
When you head to the default IP for the TEW-655BR3G/A you will be greeted with a status screen that shows you your connection status.
Once you login and click on the advanced icon you are allowed into the rest of the WebUI. Here you can configure quite a bit and access some very nice features that lie under the surface of the TEW-655BR3G/A.
Clicking on the network setup link gets you to the settings for both the internal LAN as well as the 3G connection. Looking at the top of the page you will see that you can configure how the RJ-45 port works. You can set it to LAN, WAN and even Off (although I am not sure why you would want to turn off the RJ-45 port).
Below the LAN settings is where you can adjust the settings for your 3G modem. For our testing we were using a Sprint Sierra Wireless Compass 597. This required us to manually set up our access. For many this step will not be needed. It is also important to note that the Compass 597 has a built in GPS and WiFi Radio that gave us some additional issues later on. These were easy to get around, but were frustrating at first.
The TEW-655BR3G also features a DHCP server (like many others) complete with fixed IP mappings and the ability to view attached clients by IP.
The wireless page gives you many of the same options you would find in single band home wireless routers. We were even able to use the TEW-655BR3G/A while not broadcasting the SSID. This is something that has not always worked on travel routers.
Under forwarding rules you can even setup virtual servers (for something like FTP, video streaming; even web hosting and email). You can also configure gaming and video services. Believe it or not, you can also establish a DMZ. Like we said, the TEW-655 has routing features you would normally only find in home routers.
Surprisingly the security settings are very flexible. You have options for packet filtering, domain blocking (including logging attempts to access the domains and DNS resolution attempts), MAC address controls (for locking down your wireless even more) and a few other more mundane options.
The Advanced settings are where you will find things like the system log, Dynamic DNS settings (to get that mobile...umm, video site going), Quality of Service and Simple Network Management Protocol. You can build routing tables, set the system time and finally you can also setup a schedule for some for the forwarding and security features.
The ToolBox is very simple and does not need much explanation.
For our testing here we used an internet speed test host called Speedtest.net. This was what we used to test the internet bandwidth from both a 16GB WiFi iPad and also from our MSI Wind 200U netbook.
For the MSI Wind 200U we tested using both the wireless and the LAN port to get the best idea of how well this will work for you in its real capacity. On the iPad we used the speedtest.net app as the website uses flash which is unavailable on the iPad (still).
Ok, now remember how we mentioned that our 3G adapter has its own GPS and WiFI Radio? Well, that came back to haunt us by reducing the range of the TEW-6553G/A. For some reason we were not able to get decent range beyond about six feet. We talked with TRENDnet and they said that this should not be the case for most operation and we did find that when we used the RJ-45 port for the WAN connection we had much better range.
It was only with the Sierra Wireless Compass that we had this issue. The solution to this was to use an extension cable to get the modem away from the TEW-655BR3G. After that we had almost no issues.
For real world testing we also ran YouTube and Netflix. On the iPad the YouTube app ran very well. We did not see much stuttering or lag at all. This was not the case with the Netflix app. It did not like running over our 3G connection very much and about every five to ten seconds the video would stop completely for a few seconds while it caught up.
On the Wind this was not the case, especially when connected to the LAN port. Netflix over the web and through Windows 7 Media Center was very smooth. I think that is because the Windows version can dynamically adjust to the speed you have available. I do not think the iPad app can do that quite as well.
Still, it was not a completely bad experience and there were times (depending on the movie) when the iPad maintained a watchable speed; it was just that those were rare during our testing time. I do not think that this issue was the fault of the TEW-655BR3G as we did not see the same issue on the netbook we used for testing.
The battery life on the TEW-655BR3G was decent. The included Li-ON battery gave us a little under 2 hours of internet time with a single device connected over WiFi. When we attached more than one system over WiFi that battery time dropped down to about an hour and a half.
When we connected over just the LAN port we saw the battery jump up a little to about 2 hours and 10 minutes. We never did see the stated 2.5 hours, but we did not expect to really, and to be honest, 2 hours and 10 minutes is very close when it comes to battery life claims.
The TEW-655BR3G/A is a good product that needs a few tweaks and additions to be a great product. We were happy with the performance we saw when we connected to any PC using a Wireless N card or adapter. However, the performance when we attached our iPad was more than a little off. This could be another WiFi issue that is rearing its head in the iPad or a compatibility issue between the WiFi on the iPad and the TEW-655BR3G. We also were a little disappointed that we had such a hard time with the Sierra Wireless Compass that we have. Granted, it was an easy fix, but now we need to carry around an extension cable to use the TEW-655BR3G in the way it is primarily intended.
The lack of a carrying case or USB power/charging options took a little away from the attractiveness of the product. Still, in general we cannot complain much, the TEW-655BR3G/A did exactly what TRENDnet said it would. We were able to take our existing USB 3G modem and get online over WiFi and through the LAN port.
There was also an interesting added benefit. Some 3G adapters do not play well with VPN connections. The reason for this is because the 3G connection is not much more than a TAP adapter that emulates an Ethernet device to send layer 2 packets (for internet and other TCP/IP traffic). Most VPN connections are also TAP adapters; this means that when you fire up your VPN connection you kill the 3G connection.
With the TEW-655BR3G/A handling the 3G connection this was not an issue at all. I was able to connect using a few different VPN software clients without issue. This is an added bonus for the IT professional on the road.
To wrap things up; the TRENDnet TEW-655BR3G/A is a handy little device. At $89.99 from Newegg.com it is also a good buy for anyone who is on the road a lot and might want untether themselves from their 3G dongle. It is also fairly nice for use with the iPad and eliminates the need to pay for an extra AT&T account if you already have a 3G USB Modem. The robust firewall/router and the rechargeable battery only add to its value.