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Friday, 14 March 2008

Kyocera KR2 EVDO Router Review

Kyocera KR2 by

Update 12/2009: The KR2 has been discontinued and is no longer available. Read more here: KR2 End of Life

The Kyocera KR2 as seen in the photo above, is the 'successor' to what is probably the top-selling 'consumer' 3G router of all time -- the Kyocera KR1. Before we get into the meat of this KR2 review, we think its appropriate to flash back a bit on the KR1 since most of what is great about the KR2 are the many ways it improves upon the KR1.

All Hail The Mighty KR1
The 'buzz' about the KR1 started in 2005 soon after it was spotted at an electronic communications show early in the year. At the time, the only EVDO router options were commercialized DIY boxes that cost $700 ~ $1200 dollars. The rumors of the KR1 selling for 'under $300' created a frenzied audience that was dying to find out more. The KR1 forum on EVDOforums generated hundreds of posts viewed by tens of thousands of people hungry for information.

EVDOinfo/3Gstore got their hands on a pre-production unit and had their full KR1 router review online months before the KR1 shipped. The KR1 officially went on sale at the end of January, 2006 and almost immediately went on backorder. During its heyday, the KR1 was the clear choice for consumers who wanted an easy way to share their Sprint/Verizon EVDO connection with more than one computer at a time. 3Gstore shipped hundreds of KR1's the first week they started shipping in early February 2006 and has since then shipped countless thousands of KR1's to EVDO users across the nation.

Today, the KR1's two year old hardware platform is showing its age and had become increasingly more difficult to update with support for the latest in 3G devices from all the carriers. In fact, its most glaring incompatibility was that it has never worked with Sierra Wireless AirCard 595, a very popular PCMCIA card that has been available since September 2006.

For those curious how the KR2 sizes up in comparison to the KR1, here they are, together:

KR2 on top of KR1

The All-New Kyocera KR2
That brings us to the present and this review of the new and vastly improved Kyocera KR2 EVDO and HSDPA Router, complete with every input port/slot you could possibly need! Lets take a look at it from all sides, shall we? (flash plugin required to view the 360 image below)

As you can see in the pictures, the KR2 can accept 'old school' PCMCIA cards, has two ports for USB modems and even has a slot to acommodate the latest technology ExpressCards. For maximum usefulness, the KR2 also has a WAN ethernet input port that allows it to act as a wifi/wired router for DSL, CableModems, Satellite... just about every other kind of internet connectivity that isn't a wireless device. All the ways you can bring internet connectivity into a KR2 make it a perfect solution for any small office or home that wants to share internet access with many users. The KR2 can even 'failover' gracefully among different live sources of internet connectivity!

The KR2's primary job is to take the internet connectivity that would normally be used by just one computer, and share/distribute it with multiple computers and other devices wanting access to the internet, wirelessly via WiFi and hard-wired through the convenient 4-port ethernet switch built right into the KR2.

How is the KR2 better at its job than the old KR1 you ask? Aside from the obvious addition of a true expresscard slot to eliminate the need for an adapter, the biggest improvement is that the KR2 uses a WiFi 'N' radio to broadcast and distribute its wireless connectivity, resulting in 5-10 times the WiFi range of the KR1 using its WiFi G radio (the best WiFi available when KR1 came out).

The addition of the expresscard slot also means compatibility with a wider range of devices. For a complete list of supported devices, check out our 3G Router Compatibility Chart

Another big improvement over the KR1 is the KR2's support of Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections. The fact that the KR2 supports VPN is already a major plus because the KR1 disappointed more VPN users than it pleased. The KR2 takes VPN to a new level, and even supports multiple VPN connections!

Something Smells The Same
WiFi N? VPN? Expresscard slot? At this point we have to make something clear to our regular readers who might already be thinking "this router sounds a lot like the MBR1000 from Cradlepoint"... You are right, and the reason for that is from all things we've seen, its quite obvious to us that Cradlepoint makes the Kyocera KR2. Aside from the presence of the PCMCIA slot, the KR2 has exactly all the same physical features of the Cradlepoint MBR1000. Same exact 10 LED's on front. Same exact WPS/SGNL buttons on top. Same exact ports/switch/layout on backside, too. Take a look at these closeups of the rear ports. (KR2 is white, MBR1000 is black)

KR2 and MBR1000 Port comparision

The fact that the KR2 is actually made by Cradlepoint is actually one of its best selling points, in our opinion. The older KR1 was made by a different router maker known for its less-than-stellar support. KR1 firmware updates to support a newly released EVDO device by any carrier usually took months, and we believe most of that delay was caused by the router manufacturer, and not Kyocera. CradlePoint has been coming out with firmware upgrades for their existing three routers on a very rapid basis. It is unlikely that Kyocera will be having as many firmware upgrades as CradlePoint, BUT we are sure they will have the opportunity to add features and fixes issues - time will tell how fast Kyocera has firmware upgrades.

The KR2 is slightly smaller from front to back, than the KR1, as you can see in these shots of KR2 stacked on top of KR1:

KR2 compared to KR1

Seriously Improved
Its hard not to just tell you to refer to our MBR1000 review to recap all the great things about the KR2's administration features. Since many of you might actually be past or present owners of the KR1, we'll try and highlight the hardware and software differences between the KR1 and KR2:
  • WAN Input allows use as a router for Cablemodem/DSL/Satellite
  • ExpressCard 34 slot and two USB ports in addition to a PCMCIA slot.
  • Failover between any source, with priority settings for each available source.
  • WiFi N Radio with three external antennas to provide far greater wireless range.
  • WiPipe and WISH optimization improves video/voip/streaming connections.
  • VPN support that caused a lot of grief for KR1 users, is sure to impress KR2 customers.
  • Web admin has more options available:
    • Automatic Best Channel selection for WiFi
    • Dynamic DNS (not just DynDNS but 14 different flavors)
    • More secure encryption options including WPA Enterprise.
    • More Gaming presets
    • Traffic Shaping
    • More logging options as well as submission to Syslog server and logs by email
    • Web filtering (for use as a kiosk. limits access to specific domains)

Closer to Perfection
There will never be perfect hardware of any kind, but the KR2 gets closer than anything before it. Simply by having a PCMCIA slot, it becomes that much better than the MBR1000. Does this mean we would recommend the KR2 over the MBR1000 when asked? Not exactly. We have some concerns that we aren't sure about because of Kyocera's past history.

For instance... one of the biggest problems we had with Kyocera was how long it took them to release new firmware to support recently released devices. When pushed for info, sometimes the blame was placed on D-Link, the OEM manufacturer of the KR1 router. It was easy for us to believe that D-Link could be the culprit, but sources told us it wasn't always D-Link that caused firmware delays, and Kyocera management had to accept at least part of the blame. We know how good Cradlepoint is about firmware release timing, and will have the MBR1000 featureset to judge against... it remains to be seen how quickly Kyocera will release firmware to stay up to date with new devices... we hope for the best, but past performance has us biting our tongue for now.

We should also not forget that because its clear to us that the KR2 is pretty much an MBR1000 with a PCMCIA slot, the same things we dislike about the MBR1000, remain issues with the KR2 -- like the stupid "Signal Strength Dance Routine" that results in fairly useless signal information; the non-replaceable/non-upgradeable antennas; and the lack of any useful RSSI values anywhere... not even in web admin.

Along the same lines, many of the things we want to see in the MBR1000, remain unfulfilled with the new KR2. We'd still like to see load balancing and/or aggregation; standard WiFi antennas; more Setup Wizard options; a print spooler; a car adapter; and did we mention RSSI readings?

With the Kyocera KR1 all support was handled by D-Link. The support that D-Link provided was poor. Kyocera is taking over support directly for the Kyocera KR2. At this point in the product's life cycle, we don't know what kind of support Kyocera will be providing.

The KR2 is a major upgrade from its predecessor, the venerable KR1. Everyone who already has a KR1 is very likely to enjoy better performance and uptime from a new KR2 (assuming your device works with the KR2, not every KR1 supported device will. Imagine that!)


Update 12/2009: The KR2 has been discontinued and is no longer available. Read more here: KR2 End of Life


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Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 December 2009 )
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