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CradlePoint CTR35 Review

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Sunday, 02 January 2011

Cradlepoint CTR35 Wireless N Portable 3G/4G Router - Hands On Review

UPDATE: Firmware updates for the CTR35 are FREE for 2 years to customers who purchase from 3Gstore! For customers who purchase the CTR35 elsewhere, Cradlepoint charges $49.99/year to have access to firmware updates (which may be necessary if you purchase a new modem, need a bug fix, or want to take advantage of a new feature a firmware revision provides). 3Gstore is the ONLY retailer to include 2 years of free firmware updates (plus our exclusive support CD and expert technical support) with the CTR35! Read more: CradlePoint Announces 3Gstore.com as an Authorized Support Center




Since Cradlepoint launched their first mobile broadband router in 2007 (the still-popular CTR350), they have released a plethora of routers to fit the needs of a wide variety of users, from the super-portable battery-powered PHS300 to the robust enterprise-class MBR1200. The latest router to join the Cradlepoint lineup is the CTR35, which may look familiar to those already acquainted with Cradlepoint's products - it's nearly identical in size and shape to the PHS300 and CTR500 - but is in fact a surprisingly unique device that stands far apart from any other mobile broadband router on the market. It's the first travel-sized router to feature a Wireless N WiFi radio like the larger Cradlepoint routers (giving it a WiFi range more akin to a small home/office router than a travel router), and the first of any of Cradlepoint's routers to include "WiFi as WAN" functionality (which allows you to use the router to pick up WiFi from an external source and then create your own private network) as well as the option to broadcast two SSIDs (one private and one public).

Perhaps best of all, even with all the features and functionality it offers, the CTR35 is also the most affordable router Cradlepoint has ever offered! The CTR35 is launching with an MSRP of just $79.99 - seriously!

Design: As noted, the CTR35 looks very similar to the PHS300 and CTR500. It's definitely "travel-size", at just 4.7” x 2.7” x 0.8”. Like the PHS300, the CTR35 features just one input for cellular modems: a USB port that supports hundreds of 3G and 4G USB devices from a huge variety of providers worldwide - you can view the full compatibility chart here. The CTR35 also features a single ethernet port, which can be configured as either WAN (for cable/DSL/etc modems) or LAN (so that you can connect a non-WiFi device like a desktop computer, gaming console, etc to the router).

ctr35_ctr500_mbr1000.jpg
Top to bottom: CTR35, CTR500, MBR1000

ctr35_ports.jpg
side view of the CTR35

Finally, the front of the CTR35 also includes four LED indicators: power, USB status, WiFi broadcasting status, and ethernet status.

Setup/Web Admin:
Like all Cradlepoint routers, the CTR35 is simple enough for any novice to set up. It comes out of the box with basic WPA security set up (the default password is conveniently located on the bottom of the router), and if you don't plan to use any of the more advanced features like WiFi as WAN (but we bet you'll want to after you read more about it!), you won't even need to do much setup at all!

The web admin is somewhat similar to what you'll find on other Cradlepoint models, but with a bit of a facelift:

ctr35admin_login.jpg
The CTR35's web admin looks similar - but not identical - to the standard Cradlepoint admin

One particularly nice addition to the interface is the "help" panel, which appears on every page of the router administration with some helpful information about the settings and features accessible from the page you're on:

ctr35admin_help.jpg
the help panel appears on every page of the web admin

The "router console" section of the web admin provides a nice overview of the general status of the router, how many clients are connected, etc:

ctr35admin_routerconsole.jpg

Another nice feature to the CTR35 is that using a 4G WiMAX modem (like those available from Sprint, CLEAR, Comcast, etc) doesn't take nearly as much setup as it does with other Cradlepoint routers - instead of having to upload a special WiMAX modem driver onto the router, that file is already pre-loaded onto the router. The WiMAX realm is also automatically set to Sprint, meaning you only need to change it in the "connection management" section of the web admin if you're using a WiMAX modem from a provider other than Sprint!

More advanced setup like setting up WiFi as WAN, failover, public vs private SSIDs, and more are also done in the web admin - we'll discuss those in the "features" section below.

Features:
The CTR35 includes all the basic features you'd expect - WiFi and ethernet connectivity, support for different types of security, etc - and you can read the full list of features and specs in the CTR35 product description. Here we'll discuss the more advanced features and those that are unique to the CTR35:

WiFi as WAN (WAW)
: Simply put, WiFi as WAN means that the router can receive WiFi from an external source (for example, campground WiFi at an RV park, free WiFi at McDonald's, etc) and create a private network that you can access securely through the CTR35 (either via WiFi or ethernet, however you like to connect to your router). Even if you have your own internet connection, the ability to use the CTR35 for WAW can come in VERY handy. While carriers have vastly improved their mobile broadband coverage over the years, cellular mobile broadband is not available "everywhere" and sometimes the only internet connectivity available is "campground wifi" at an RV park, hotel WiFi, WiFi from a restaurant like McDonalds, etc. Or, even if mobile broadband coverage IS available, some users still prefer to use public WiFi when it's available so that they can "save" their mobile broadband allowance for use when WiFi isn't available.

The CTR35's WiFi as WAN function works like this: once you enable the feature from within the CTR35's web admin, you'll be able to view a list of all the WiFi networks within range. Select the one you want to connect to (if it's a secure network, you'll need to enter the password to allow the CTR35 to connect, just like you would if you were connecting to the hotspot from your computer) and add it as a "preferred network", then you'll be able to connect to it any time it's available. You can have multiple preferred networks set up and even prioritize them so that the router "knows" to connect to your favorite campground's WiFi as soon as you pull in and switch back to your mobile broadband modem when you're back on the road!

ctr35admin_waw.jpg
the CTR35's WiFi as WAN setup page

ctr35admin_connectionmanager1.jpg
the CTR35's connection manager section allows you to prioritize your connections, including WAW networks you've added

Two WiFi Networks SSIDs: Another of the CTR35's unique features is its ability to broadcast two WiFi SSIDs (the network name that the router broadcasts) - one private, and one public. This option is ideal for people who want to maintain a secure network for personal or business use, but also want to let others use their connection from time to time without allowing these "guest users" to access the secure network and compromise your private information. The two SSIDs are completely separate from one another and can be set up with totally different settings - different security options and so forth. However, if you were hoping to use both the WAW feature and the dual-SSID feature at the same time, you won't be able to: enabling WAW disables the guest network.

ctr35admin_wifisettings.jpg
the CTR35 allows you to create two SSIDs

WAN/LAN Ethernet Port: The CTR35 features just one ethernet port, but it can be configured to be used as either a WAN (input) or LAN (output) port. The LAN setting (which is the default setting) allows you to connect a device like a desktop computer, DVR, gaming console, etc to the router for internet connectivity, while the WAN configuration allows you to connect a hard-wired internet connection (cable, DSL, etc) to the CTR35. If you are using the port in LAN mode and need additional ports (for example, if you have several desktop computers you want to connect), you can add an ethernet switch.

ctr35admin_ethernet.jpg
it's easy to change the CTR35's ethernet port from LAN to WAN mode

Failover/Failback and Failure Check: The CTR35 supports multiple types of internet connections - 3G or 4G modems, external WiFi networks (using WiFi as WAN mode), or a WAN connection like a cable or DSL modem - but only one of them may establish a link at a time, even if they are all plugged into the router. The failover feature allows you to prioritize multiple connections, and if the highest priority connection fails, the router will automatically connect to the next available connection (for example, an office user might have both a cable modem and a 3G/4G modem plugged into the router, with the cable modem set up as the priority connection such that the router will only failover to the 3G/4G device if the cable goes down). You can also configure the router to automatically "failback" to the higher priority connection once it becomes available again.

Failure Check is a related feature that forces the router to periodically check/monitor your internet connection to see if it is connected to the internet or if the router needs to failover to the next connection. When Failure Check is not enabled, the router will still failover to the next highest priority interface once it notices that the primary connection is down, but it won't check the connection unless you are actively using the internet. In other words, Failure Check helps eliminate downtime by monitoring the connection and switching to the backup connection as soon as the primary one goes down (even if you're not using the internet at the time); without Failure Check the router won't know to failover to the backup connection until you are trying to use the internet and it realizes it cannot connect.

ctr35admin_connectionmanager.jpg
failover/failback and failure check settings

Wrap-Up
:


What we love about the CTR35
:
  • WiFi as WAN functionality (this has been on our Cradlepoint "wish list" for years, and we are so happy to finally see it in action!)
  • Option to broadcast two SSIDs
  • 3G and 4G support (click here for a complete list of supported modems)
  • Compact size
  • Easy to set up, configure, and use
  • Wireless N for a great WiFi range (almost as good as the MBR1000!)
  • Easier set up for WiMAX modem users
  • MSRP of just $79.99!

What we wish it had:
  • Port for a WiFi antenna for additional range (if you need more range to or from the router, consider adding the Pepwave Surf Mini)
  • Multiple ethernet ports (of course, you can always add an ethernet switch if you need more ports)


The Cradlepoint CTR35 is now available at 3Gstore for $79.99. Save an additional $20 if you're also signing up for a Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, or CLEAR 2-year contract!

All routers purchased from 3Gstore include our exclusive support CD as well as our esteemed technical support.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 26 April 2013 )
 
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