3G Router Review: Linksys WRT54G3GV2-ST Mobile BroadBand Router for Sprint EVDO

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Friday, 29 August 2008

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3G Router Review: Linksys WRT54G3GV2-ST For Sprint EVDO Network

Who Needs a "Mobile Broadband Router"?
Linksys has launched a revised cellular router (previous version was WRT54G3G-ST) for use with 3G mobile broadband devices on Sprint's EVDO network. The Linksys WRT54G3GV2-ST (or 3GV2 for short) allows multiple computers to share a single EVDO connection, rather than having to swap the Sprint EVDO card or USB modem between computers.

Even customers with just one computer in a household or office may find the 3GV2 useful if they are currently forced to locate their computer where their EVDO signal is best, rather than where they want to actually use their computer. By using the router where EVDO signal is best, their computer can be located where they want it, or they can use WiFi connection to router and wander aimlessly without affecting EVDO performance.

The 3GV2 is also a great solution for other electronics that can use WiFi or ethernet connectivity to access the internet but cannot directly use an EVDO card or USB modem. Gaming consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstations and Microsoft Xbox have no way to directly connect to the internet using EVDO, but customers who utilize a 3G router like the 3GV2 can play online games like World of Warcraft (WoW), and Super Smash Brothers Brawl... among others.

Even an iPod Touch, Archos 605, Nintendo DS or Wii, Sony PS3 or Playstation Portable (PSP), Sony MYLO, Nokia Internet Tablets like N770/N8100/N810, TiVo DVR, or security webcams can get online using the 3GV2 and a Sprint EVDO USB modem like the popular Compass 597 or Ovation U727.

More of the Same
The 3GV2 shares the same dimensions as the older version, still has one ethernet WAN port to allow use as a Cable/DSL/Satellite router, four ethernet 10/100 ports for LAN networking, a PCMCIA slot for EVDO cards, and still uses the same WiFi "G" radio and 2.2 db external WiFi antenna.

Competitors for the 3G router audience like the Cradlepoint MBR1000 and Kyocera KR2 already make use of WiFi "N" radios to improve WiFi range and throughput, so it is disappointing to see that Linksys is still marketing a 3G router with just the weaker WiFi G.

Also disappointing is that the built-in four-port ethernet switch still only uses 10/100 instead of gigabit. With the prevalence of large multimedia files, 10/100 LAN ports are a serious bottleneck, especially for the home/office user who wants to justify the 3GV2 as their only router and use it with Cable/DSL. Since mobile broadband only provides 1 to 2 mb/s at best, it is not a major drawback, however, if you transfer huge files between local computers, the router can become a bottleneck.

Of course, Linksys will justify their decision to use 10/100 by saying EVDO mobile broadband only provides 1 to 2 mb/s at best, so 10/100 mb/s LAN speed is more than adequate. Their argument is valid only from the perspecitive of sending and receiving files over the interent, but those ports are for the LOCAL network and should not be a bottleneck when transfering files between locally attached computers, most of which today have gigabit ethernet as standard options.

New and Improved. (but still hard to pronounce.)
The "V2" in 3GV2 means its the "second version"... the sequel to the original Linksys 3G router known as the Linksys WRT54G3G-ST and reviewed back in February 2007.

New hardware features include a new "kickstand" built onto the bottom of the router, and three USB ports -- two for EVDO devices, and one extra USB port that we're told has no functionality right now, but is present for "future features". Here's our "Video UnBoxing" of the 3GV2 followed by some pictures.

3GV2 comes with windows CD, manual, antenna, power adapter, ethernet cable

Top: USB/PC card slots; Mid: LEDs / USB; Bottom: Antenna, WAN/LAN, power

Bottom of router with it's "kickstand" in deployed position

Photo comparing stock 3.3 (rear) to 5.5 dBi high gain WiFi antenna

The 3GV2 does not have an actual ExpressCard slot, but the Sprint EX720 and 597E both work when used with the Novatel XCA-3 pcmcia-to-expresscard adapter sold by 3gstore. (FYI, for those considering new Sprint EVDO service, the USB modems like Compass 597 and U727 work just as fast as Expresscards and do not require any adapters to use with 3GV2)

Setup and Administration.
Even though Linksys has announced that all new routers will ship with something called "LELA" (Linksys EasyLink Advisor) setup software specifically for Mac OSX users, the 3GV2 must not be new enough and ships with Windows-only software to allow for easy router setup using a "wizard" (don't worry mac/linux users - there is still web admin accesible via any modern browser).

The wizard steps even the most novice of router users through each step necessary to setup the 3GV2 and create a network.

Linksys Windows Setup Wizard

The wizard assists the user with Cable/DSL and/or Mobile/EVDO connection setup as well as deciding on levels of wireless encryption and setting secure access priveleges and passwords. Sadly, the "wizard" function is not available via the web admin interface, which means that Mac and Linux users will have a harder time getting started, especially if they want to immediately use home/office cable/dsl with EVDO as backup connectivity.

Once the router is setup and operational, administration of router settings is done using a standard/modern web browser like FireFox 3 or Safari. (and yeah. MSIE too.) Those who have used any Linksys router in the past, should feel right at home with the 3GV2 because aside from the parts of admin specific to "Mobile BroadBand", the admin options are fairly normal for a router.

In the areas of admin related to EVDO, the 3GV2 has evolved and now shows more EVDO information than any router we've previously tested. In addition to displaying actual "RSSI" signal strength, the 3GV2 displays what kind of cellular network the EVDO device is connected to (1xRTT/EVDO/RevA), device firmware, PRL version, ESN, phone number and more. The router admin still can't do things like update PRL info or "activate" an EVDO device, but having the information it does show can really be helpful when the time comes for tech support. Because the router can't update or activate the EVDO device, its important to understand that users should operate their card or USB modem attached to an actual computer and use the Sprint connection manager software from time to time to ensure they have the latest device firmware and cell tower information. Keeping an EVDO device updated is one of the best ways to ensure connection reliability and performance. The screenshot below shows all the info available about the EVDO device and network it is attached to.

Specifications and Features of the Linksys WRT54G3GV2-ST

Model:   WRT54G3GV2-ST
Standards:   IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.3u, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11b
Channels:   11 Channels (US, Canada) 13 Channels (Europe) 14 Channels (Japan)

Internet/WAN: One 10/100 RJ-45 Port
PC Card Slot: for a mobile broadband data card
USB ports: Two for mobile broadband, one for "future use".
LAN: Four 10/100 RJ-45 Switched Ports
Other: One Power Port, One SMA WiFi Antenna Port, One Reset Button, One Mobile Connect/Disconnect Button

Antennas:   One 3.3 dBi gain whip antenna, SMA connector
Cabling Type:   UTP CAT 5
LED(s):   Power, Ethernet (1, 2, 3, 4), Wireless, DMZ, Data Card, Internet
RF Power Output:   802.11g: Typical 14dBm (+/-1.5), 802.11b: Typical 16dBm(+/-1.5)
Receive Sensitivity:   11Mbps @ -90dBm Typical, 54Mbps @ -65dBm Typical
UPnP able/cert:   Able
Dimensions:   6.69" x 6.69" x 1.30" (170 x 170 x 33 mm)
Power:   Ships with 110v A/C adapter that provides 12V DC, 1.5A
Certification:   FCC, IC-03, CE, Wi-Fi (802.11b, 802.11g), WPA
Temperature:   Operating: 32 to 104F (0 to 40C); Storage: -4 to 140F (-20 to 60C)
Humidity :   Operating: 10 to 85%, Noncondensing; Storage: 5 to 90%, Noncondensing
Weight:   12.35 oz (350 g)
Security features:   Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) Firewall, Internet Policy
Wireless Security:   Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2 Personal), WEP, Wireless MAC Filtering

Features & Benefits
  Complies with 802.11g and 802.11b (2.4GHz) Standards
  Unsurpassed Wireless Security with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2 Personal)
  External 2.2dBi Removeable (Reverse SMA) Antenna
  All LAN Ports Support Auto-Crossover (MDI/MDI-X) - No Need for Crossover Cables
  Standard PC Card slot for Mobile Internet Connectivity
Minimum Requirements
  400 MHz or Faster Processor
  128 MB of RAM
  Internet Explorer 4.0 or Navigator 4.7 or Higher configuration
  CD-ROM Drive
  Windows 2000/XP/Vista for setup utility. Browser admin.
  Network Adapter
  Activated Sprint Mobile Broadband device/service

Officially Supported EVDO Data Devices
The 3GV2 should officially support all EVDO PC cards, ExpressCards and USB modems that have ever worked on the Sprint EVDO network, EXCEPT the Sprint U680 and Franklin CDU550. The list of supported devices provided to us by Linksys includes:

There are a total of three USB ports on the LinkSys. Most USB devices require only one USB port, but some older Novatel USB modems could use the power from two USB ports with a USB Y cable when in weaker signal areas. The 3rd slot will be used in the future to support other USB port connected devices like Network Storage and printers.

Its also worth noting that, unlike the primary competition for the 3G router market, Linksys and Sprint have chosen NOT to support any Sprint cell phones, PDA's or SmartPhones... or any other cell carrier's phones for that matter. With the recent launch of highly popular EVDO Rev-A phones like the HTC Mogul and Samsung Instinct, Sprint is going to miss out on a lot of 3G router sales with their decision.

Improved Features.
The first Linksys 3G router was one of the first cellular routers to support "failover" from Cable/DSL pipe to EVDO mobile broadband pipe, but it was poorly implemented: in order for the failover to occur, the ethernet cable had to be physically removed from the WAN port.

Our testing with the 3GV2 has concluded that failover truly works and it will "fail back" to the higher priority pipe when it becomes available again. Its worth noting though, the feature is known as "modem backup" and not mentioned anywhere as "failover".

The 3GV2 also streamlined its administration for "QoS" (Qualifty of Service) and now makes it easier to prioritize connections for online gaming, voice over ip, and/or VPN - among others.

Speed Tests -- What You Get Is What You Get
Another problem that many customers of the original Linksys 3G router experienced was a significant decrease in EVDO upload speeds. Thankfully, the new 3GV2 does not suffer from the same issue. Repeated tests using an Aircard 595 and a Compass 597 USB modem showed no significant difference in either download or upload speeds when using the router. Here is a typical speedtest result using the Compass 597:

What We Like About the 3GV2

  • Price point. Value.
  • RSSI, Network, and PRL info displayed via admin.
  • Real failover.
  • 3.3 dBi WiFi antenna is easily upgraded with 5.5 dBi high gain WiFi antenna.
  • Web filtering for java/activex.

What We Do NOT Like About the 3GV2

  • Officially supports ONLY Sprint EVDO devices (though some Verizon devices we tested did work.)
  • ZERO support for ANY phones/smartphones!
  • No lights to indicate EVDO signal level (like on the CTR500 and MBR1000)
  • .
  • WiFi G
  • 10/100 ethernet
  • Lack of wizard for web admin
  • Lack of GPS support
  • Infrequent firmware upgrades.
  • Unresponsive support/slow bug fix releases.
  • One router per carrier?
    • LinkSys works closely with each carrier to certify and support devices; this means there will be a version of the router that works with Sprint (eventually one that works with AT&T and a different one that works with AT&T)
    • Reality is those who know they'll need multi-carrier will buy an MBR1000 or KR2

What The 3GV2 Really Needs

  • Load Balancing and Failover across multiple EVDO devices
  • Support for GPS on Sprint EVDO devices that have GPS
  • Support for data usage alerts - especially important with Sprint 5GB limits.
  • Make use of email/sms. Int'l versions can, so it should have been easy.
  • info about roaming -specially important with 300mb limits.
  • A way to check for new firmware from web admin.
  • WiFi N.
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • One model for all carriers/devices
  • Handset/PDA support
  • Official 12v adapter. This is a 'mobile' broadband router, right?

Wishfully Thinking Out Loud -- (Features We Haven't Found On Any 3G Router)

  • USB printer and/or NAS/mass storage support. magicjack? media streaming?
    (since the 3GV2 can be "hacked" with WRT open source firmware, there is always hope!)
  • Data usage tracking and email/sms alerts. Not just for 5GB, but roaming usage too.

Why buy from 3gstore?
Cellular carrier stores and major electronics chains employ people who typically live in cities where cable or DSL is commonplace, and for that reason it can be hard to find anyone who is EVDO savvy.

When it comes time to get EVDO service and specialized equipment like 3G/cellular routers and antennas or amps, you want to make sure the company you do business with can provide quality pre-sales expertise, and more importantly -- provides superior customer and technical support from EVDO Experts.

For more, check out our blogpost on "Why Buy From 3Gstore"

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 01 December 2009 )
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