LinkSys WRT54G3G Wireless 3G Router
There are many devices around now that allow you to share a broadband Internet connection with computers and other devices in your home or small business. The LinkSys WRT54G3G adds to the standard broadband connection the ability to slot in a wireless 3G data card. The device can effectively connect your local home/business network to both a wire broadband connection via Ethernet and/or to a 3G mobile network using 3G/UMTS data card (standard PC-card format).
The router measures 170mm square and has a depth of 33mm. You can either lay it flat, use the provided stand to hold it vertical or alternatively use the provided screw mount slots to attach it to a wall. One side contains connectors for ADSL/Cable modem along with the antenna, 4x10/100 wired Ethernet ports, power connector and reset button. The opposite edge contains the status indicators.
3G 'mobile' Internet
The only service provider with a compatible data card (in the UK) is Vodafone with their Datacard. The trend currently is toward USB modems so I don't expect many other vendors to have products any time soon.
Mobile Internet in the UK remains an expensive option, hindered by service providers insisting on selling based on usage (e.g. 3Gbytes/month). The general public are unlikely ever to feel comfortable with such a pricing structure with the fear of going over budget and being hit with a huge mobile bill.
Businesses on the other hand can find such a feature very attractive in anywhere you need to operate outside of your stardard office environment. This is a great option for running training courses, setting up an 'on-site' office at a clients premises or off-site company meetings. Rather than negotiate with an external IT department - simply create your own secure network.
Wired internet access
Generally Internet gateway products come in two forms - those that integrate the broadband function and are specific to how you attach to the Internet (ADSL/Cable) and others that provide a standard Ethernet port and then connect to an existing device. The latter are arguably more flexible and provide protection against changing technologies such as ADSL2 and higher speeds. The LinkSys WRT54G3G is an example of this latter category. Connecting it to my NTL/Virgin broadband cable modem presented no problems at all - simply removing my Buffalo Air-Station WYR-G54 was simple enough.
On the local network side most options were present. One ommission that I would have liked to have seen was the ability to lock a specific Ethernet address to a specific IP address with the internal DHCP server - I like (and need) to do this for several media servers here. The last thing you want is their address changing each time they reboot. There are obviously ways around this by setting static addresses in the server itself outside of the DHCP range - but that is much more difficult to manage than allowing the router do manage allocation.
The built in wireless access point supports both 802.11b and the more recent and faster 802.11g. Wireless security options are good including support for WEP, WPA and Radius. Added security includes the ability to restrict access to specific Ethernet MAC addresses (the physical unique address assigned to a piece of hardware). Note though that this feature should not be used in preference to encryption : Ethernet addresses are easily snooped and the spoofed!
Testing performance across a high-speed Internet connection showed the LinkSys to keep up remarkably well.
Access control policies
One feature that looked great on paper (with a daughter who would spend every minute on the Internet given a chance) was the ability to place restrictions on Internet access. Multiple 'policies' can be configured for different groups of computers. Each policy can restrict access to time of day, services that can be used and also allow web-sites to be filtered based on a full URL or a keyword search of the URL.
Although this feature does exist it's not particularly well documented, and also somewhat counter-intuitive. I tried several strategies to create a policy that I thought would only allow Internet access between 8am and 8pm. My first attempt was a simple 'allow' policy between these times. That didn't seem to restrict anything. I tried having an earlier policy that denied all access then another to allow access when I wanted. This time all access was blocked all the time. Next I tried a 'deny' access for the period '8pm to 8am' - not allowed, end time must be before start time. Finally I tried two policies - one to deny access between 12am and 8am and another to deny access between 8pm and 11:55pm (presumably opening a 5 minute gap where access is allowed!). The also had the effect of preventing access at all hours.
At this point, with my daughter moaning in my ear about needingto check her email, I gave up! The manual was of no help at all.
The WRT54G3G provides a range of additional 'advanced' functions - advanced in the sense that the average user is unlikely to need them. These include port forwarding, quality of service (QoS) and support for a De-militarised Zone (DMZ).
There appears to be no support for wireless bridging (connecting to a remote wireless access point via 802.11 in order to extend wireless bridging range). If you have a big house, or a building that is particularly long, this can sometimes get you out of a fix.
Unfortunately the documentation for the advanced features is somewhat limited. The PDF manual for the most part simply repeats the field names in a longer form. There isn't really any assistence in how to achieve something - such as restricting access to the Internet at certain times of day.
In the box
As well as router and vertical mount stand you're provided with two UTP Cat-5 Ethernet cables - one to connect to your ADSL or cable modem, the other for connection to one network device, usually the computer. A card folder contains a CD, 'frequently asked questions' and 'compliance information'. The CD includes a fairly good 'getting started' wizard that asks a number of questions about how you want to use the product - guiding the inexperienced user throught the process.
Device administration is via a web-interface. All configuration plus software upgrade, configuration save and restore is performed over this interface, which was fairly intuitive for basic operation.
The LinkSys WRT54G3G is available for $131.99 from Amazon, including shipping.
The LinkSys WRT54G3G is available for €113,09 from Amazon, including shipping.
This is quite a premium over a standard broadband, wireless gateway product for the added 3G functionality, but for those that can use that functionality the premium is reasonable, and will fairly quickly be dwarfed by the cost of the mobile Internet contract.
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