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Friday, 06 June 2008

Cradlepoint CTR500 Cellular Travel Router - EVDO / HSDPA 3G Router Review has the CTR500 on sale! Check out the latest sale info on the CTR500

HOT TIP: Interested in bridging WiFi between remote buildings? or using "Campground" WiFi as internet source for your cradlepoint? or maybe you want to use available WiFi as failover for your home/office? check out our Pepwave Surf Review.

UPDATE: CTR500 Firmware 1.6.9 supports Sprint U301 and more. Click for more info
UPDATE: CTR500 Firmware 1.6 supports MiFi 2200 . Click for more info.
UPDATE: CTR500 Firmware 1.5.1 supports 4G/WiMax devices. Click for more info.
UPDATE: CTR500 Firmware 1.4.2 supports BlackBerry Storm & USB760. Click for more info.
UPDATE: CTR500 Firmware 1.4 supports ATT Mercury, Alltel UM175, more. Click for more info.
UPDATE: CTR500 Firmware 1.3 enables LOAD BALANCING. Click here for more info.

We're very excited about the latest product from Cradlepoint Technologies -- the CTR500 cellular broadband router.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router

A Lot Like Big Brother

The CTR500 is a portable cellular router compatible with many HSPA and EVDO 3G devices. Though similar in size to the PHS300 and slightly larger than the tiny CTR350, the CTR500 actually shares more hardware features with Cradlepoint's "SoHo" router, the MBR1000.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router
The CTR500 sitting on top off the MBR1000

Like the MBR1000, the CTR500 has multiple inputs for cellular devices -- this time around there is an ExpressCard 34mm slot and one USB port. Additional similarities include the four LED lights on the body of the CTR500 that are used to indicate the cellular signal strength of the active data device, as well as an on/off switch for the CTR500's WiFi radio. Internally, the CTR500 also shares the same processor as the MBR1000, making the CTR500 capable of handling more connection streams than either the CTR350 or PHS300.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router
The USB slot, WiFi power switch, ethernet port and DC power jack

As with all Cradlepoint routers, proprietary WiPipe technology is used to provide hardware-optimization on the most difficult types of connections -- like VPN, audio/video streaming, VOIP, banking and even gaming. In the time that we've sold Cradlepoint routers, we've had hundreds of customers who have told us that performance through the router is often noticeably faster than if they operated their cellular device directly attached to their computer. One possible explanation for that is the opinion of many users that the carrier's connection manager software is 'bloatware' with poorly optimized code. Some even believe that using a router may be circumventing carrier bottlenecks intentionally programmed into their software. (we have no proof of this. your results may vary)

Definitely One Of The Family
Unlike the MBR1000 and its WiFi Draft-N radio, the CTR500 uses a WiFi G radio similar to that of the CTR350 / PHS300... but that doesn't mean that the WiFi range is "bad". In fact, many have found the WiFi G radio in the CTR350 to be amazing -- read for yourself. Most customers will have success providing WiFi coverage to homes as large as 2500sq.ft. -- just keep in mind that home construction/design and interference from other eletronics can reduce the effective range of any wireless router.

Another similarity with the CTR350 is that the CTR500 has a single ethernet port that can be used as either a WAN 'input' for conventional Cable/DSL service, or as a LAN 'output' to allow hard-wiring desktop computers that have no WiFi capabilities. In addition to its four "signal lights" the CTR500 has five other LED lights to represent power status, the presence of USB or ExpressCard devices, and ethernet or WiFi traffic.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router
L-R: Power, LAN, WiFi, USB, ExpressCard, blue signal lights.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router
this photo shows the CTR500 with Franklin CDU680 and Kyocera KPC680,
alongside Cradlepoint's other portable routers - the CTR350 and PHS300

Features Only This Router Has
Unlike all the other Cradlepoint routers available today, the CTR500 adds a unique feature we hope to see on all future products: a WiFi antenna jack that allows for external high-gain WiFi antennas. Yay! Also worth mentioning as a unique feature is a sliding lock to keep expresscards from accidentally being removed or being dislodged. Not nearly as exciting as the WiFi antenna jack, but unique nonetheless.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router
This antenna jack accepts high-gain external WiFi antennas.

Cradlepoint CTR500 cellular router
The ExpressCard slot and the card lock

Ready For The World
As one would expect, the CTR500 works with just about every USB modem and ExpressCard currently available from Sprint or Verizon, and nearly all devices from Alltel and AT&T, and more - check out the full compatibility list here. Beyond those 'domestic' offerings, we've learned that the CTR500 will be the first Cradlepoint cellular router that will be certified for use in the United States, Canada and Europe. This leads us to speculate that future firmware releases will provide support for some international carriers and devices, like those from Bell and Telus in Canada, perhaps. (speaking of which, 3Gstore now sells to Canada)

The international expansion makes sense, given the recent acquisition of Cradlepoint by Sierra Wireless. With the new parent company's global presence, it will be much easier to provide product support. It doesn't hurt that Sierra Wireless also makes many of the cellular devices that work with the router... talk about home court advantage! 

We did a video review of the CTR500 about three weeks before we published this review. The information in the 'sneak peek' still applies, so we're providing the video as part of this review:

Target Audiences
Though it does share a lot with the MBR1000 router that targets the SoHo audience, the CTR500's small size means it clearly targets the mobile crowd. In fact, we don't see a reason to buy the older CTR350 anymore because the external wifi antenna jack and signal lights more than justifies the $30 price difference. We suspect that the CTR350 may see a price drop in its future... or may just be dropped altogether. Those of you struggling with choice between the new CTR500 and the existing PHS300 should remember that the PHS300's key feature is that it has a rechargable Lithium Ion battery that allows for up to two hours of truly untethered/unwired operation as a "portable hot spot". However, what needs to be pointed out is that the PHS300 does not provide any ethernet connectivity, and the CTR500 has a single ethernet port that can be used either as a WAN input for Cable/DSL/Satellite input, or LAN output for hard-wiring a desktop (or multiple computers with the addition of a multi-port ethernet switch). For those with an ExpressCard rather than a USB device, the CTR500 has an actual ExpressCard 34mm slot, simplifying hookup. The PHS300 (and the CTR350) only have USB port and would require a USB-to-expresscard adapter to work with certain ExpressCards.

Feature-Filled Admin
As with all Cradlepoint routers, the CTR500 has a lot of functionality that is controlled via its web admin. There aren't any 'new' admin features compared to other Cradlepoint routers, but the capabilities are worth repeating. Because the CTR500 can accept three different internet 'sources' (two cellular and one WAN), the web admin allows for 'failover' from one source to another, to another... and each source can be set with higher priority than the others. In the video below, you'll see that two EVDO devices are available to the router, and as one is unplugged, the router quickly establishes connection with the other, and the process repeats as devices are unplugged and plugged back in again. Imagine having a Sprint ExpressCard and a Verizon USB modem attached at same time, and always having a connection even as you drive out of one network's coverage and into the other, automatically! Many emergency response teams and RV owners have asked for this sort of functionality and now it comes to them, even in a portable router.

Easy Setup
As with all Cradlepoint routers, initial setup on the CTR500 is pretty easy. Once plugged in and operational, computers running all major operating systems like Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS/OSX and Linux can connect via ethernet cable or via WiFi . Cradlepoint routers ship with a default configuration that is more secure than most. Even if someone can see its wireless station ID and connect to a CTR500 via WiFi, they would still need to enter a password before they could surf any websites. This makes Cradlepoint's routers more secure than all other brands, right fromt the start.

While the default configuration provides for a minimal level of access security, most owners of an CTR500 will want to access the web admin interface, log in using the default admin password, and run the 'Set Up Wizard', which makes it relatively painless to do initial setup of security and wireless access settings.

The wizard takes admin through choices for time zone, station ID (SSID), and security options (none/login/wps/wep/wpa/wpa2). Once the choices are confirmed and the router rebooted, everything is good to go. Below is a flash animation showing the steps for Setup Wizard.

Comprehensive Configuration Choices
Sounds like we're repeating ourselves, and we are -- but it is worth repeating since some of you have never read our other Cradlepoint reviews. The CTR500's web admin allows for a whole host of settings that make it one of the most configurable EVDO routers ever brought to market. One of its best and more unique features is its ability to do 'traffic shaping' to give certain types of connectivity higher priority over all other activity. This allows the router to be tuned for greater performance for the "more difficult" connections like VOIP, VPN, Video or Audio Streaming, online Banking, Remote Computer Control, and even Online Gaming.

Other CTR500 admin features that many will find very useful are:

  • GPS feature tracks position on Google Maps.
  • Automatic channel scan for best wifi channel. (Channel can be selected manually, as well)
  • WiFi client type (Lock to B or G or Mixed B/G)
  • Access controls to limit activity by IP address, MAC address, day/time, website name, and website rating (very cool for parents, schools or even kiosk deployment)
  • Virtual server settings to easily route specific port activity to servers on LAN side by IP address
  • Wifi radio power settings. Useful when you need/want to limit/reduce wifi range
  • Online check for latest firmware, straight to firmware update
  • Dynamic DNS (DDNS) with support for 10+ different DDNS services
  • Email notifications when certain router issues are triggered
  • Log submission to a syslog server
  • Offline storage of router config (useful when you want to save different settings for different uses)

Superior Support
We've said this before, and we're still saying it today. NO router manufacturer has been as responsive to our needs as a vendor, and our customer's needs. Cradlepoint listens. Even better, they take action. Quickly. Here's an example:

Our customer bought a Cradlepoint router expecting it do do something specific, based on our recommendation. It didn't work exactly as we hoped. Our lead support tech describes what's happening to our contacts at Cradlepoint and in THREE DAYS, Cradlepoint found a solution and provided us with a private firmware version for the customer to try. It worked, and now that fix will be in a future firmware revision.

The 'strategic partnership' we have with Cradlepoint is mutually beneficial. We have lots of customers and lots of experience with using EVDO under different circumstances. That experience allows us to simplify the process of explaining what's happening and we explain things not just to anyone, but to senior engineers at Cradlepoint who can quickly make things happen, and have an interest in doing so for the improvement of their product. We're also convinced that Sierra Wireless' recent acquisition of Cradlepoint opens doors that were never even available to Cradlepoint before, and will expend the consumer router market to a greater degree.

What We Like About The CTR500

  • Portable form factor. The CTR500 is 4.9" x 2.9" x 0.6" (same size as PHS300)
  • Native Expresscard slot in addition to a USB port. Supports failover with priority assignment.
  • WiFi antenna jack allows for use with high-gain antenna to broadcast wifi over larger area.
  • WAN input that allows this router to be used with other internet sources like cablemodem and DSL and even Satellite.
  • Comprehensive router administration features. There is a lot more you can do with this router, than with its competition.
  • Cradlepoint's overall support. These guys rock. We wrote about it in our 'Router Report Card'.

What We Don't Like About The CTR500

  • GPS feature is only accessible for computers on local network created by the router.
  • 12v DC adapter is not included.
  • No ethernet cable included. To us, all routers with an ethernet port should ship with an ethernet cable.

What We'd Really Like To See

  • Bandwidth Alerts. Most cellular carriers have limitations on their monthly service. We'd like options that help users track their data consumption, and send email/SMS or put up browser error pages that alert users that connectivity is disallowed because of data presets.
  • More email alerts. How about an email/SMS whenever the active device detects operation in 'roaming' coverage?
  • External GPS access. Give us a way to let boss/friends/family/ track movements via Google Earth
  • Expanded 'Setup Wizard' options . It would be nice to have options like "Gaming" or "VOIP" or "Video Streaming".
  • True RSSI readings via web admin. (this feature enabled via firmware update.)
  • USB support for networkable devices like printers and USB storage drives. Hey, maybe even a VOIP dongle like the MagicJack?
  • Load Balancing. (this feature was enabled via firmware update.)
  • Many other suggestions have been made by current Cradlepoint owners in this EVDOforums thread.

Why Buy From 3Gstore?
We have a whole blog post about this subject here. Beyond what we already wrote there, we want to point out that our 'strategic partnership' with Cradlepoint means that customers who buy their Cradlepoint routers from 3Gstore are most likely to see special firmware to support the newest devices or to fix issues we've identified, faster than folks who buy their routers elsewhere. That kind of support is hard to find, and that's the support 3Gstore customers enjoy every day. Want to read more? Check out this forum thread: Success Stories.

Related Links:

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 21 July 2010 )
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