Vodafone New Zealand is making the Linksys WRT54G3G 3G/UMTS Wireless Router available for its customers, but you might not find it through your local Vodafone reseller. Contact the Vodafone Business Solutions group through the store and you will probably be able to get hold of one of these magic boxes.
The product is so new that the test unit received here came with a UK power adapter. The device was introduced a few months ago in Europe, through a partnership with Linksys and Cisco Systems.
In essence it is a Wireless Access Point/Router, compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g , providing speeds of up to 54Mbps (megabits per second) when connected devices (computers or PDAs) communicate with other devices connected to the same network.
The WRT54G3G works just as a standard router, and can be plugged into your existing fixed line WAN (cable modem or DSL), sharing this connection with other four computers via ethernet (RJ45), or multiple computers via wireless (Wi-Fi). Of course computers connected through the WRT54G3G can communicate to each other.
But the unique feature of this devices is a PC Card slot on the top side, which allows the use of a Vodafone 3G/UMTS card, thus being a highly mobile solution for quick network deployments. This is interesting for ad-hoc Internet access, for example task groups working in another company's offices where Internet access is not provided, or for people working in areas where there is cellular data coverage, but no fixed line access - ideal for TV or filming crews for example.
The Vodafone 3G/UMTS card
The unit is quite small (17cm x 17cm x 3.3cm) and comes with a stand - but it can also be hung on a wall thanks to some holes in the back of the unit, or simply lay flat on the desk. The sandard SMA antenna can be replaced with an (optional) high gain model for better coverage, although the standard one should be more than enough to cover a small site.
I am informed Vodafone New Zealand will sell these units in a bundle including the data card, ideal for companies or people looking for an integrated solution.
Not only wireless, but ethernet and cable/DSL capable
Companies will probably benefit most of the mobility, and for being able to share a single connection - and account - in a group, thus making it easier to manage usage and costs.
Talking to Vodafone I was also told that this could even be a home solution - although other technologys such as TD-WCDMA can probably offer a best (in terms of cost for individual users) last mile solution.
Internet speeds will be of course limited by the 3G/UMTS capacity available, but users should expect an average of 250Kbps (kilobits per second) out of the maximum 384kbps possible on these connections. I tested this by downloading large files from a FTP server.
In terms of security, the unit is compatible with WEP, WPA and WPA2. It comes with a fully configurable built-in DHCP server, VPN passthrough and a SPI firewall. It also allows the user to configure port forward for specific applications and to define an IP address to be placed on the DMZ.
The web based management pages are Vodafone branded, and the initial configuration requires a wired connection (the box comes with two ethernet cables) and a Windows PC. This is because the first time you connect to this unit you will have to configure the router with location, APN name, and other bits of 3G network. It could be just my test unit, I am not sure if Vodafone New Zealand will pre-configure this unit before shipping to end users.
This is a challenge for Apple Mac users: the unit will work well with Mac OS of course, but will need a Windows PC for initial configuration (unless Vodafone starts shipping this unit preconfigured as I mentioned before).
After this initial configuration there is no need for cables anymore and everything can be changed wirelessly.
In terms of usability, it can't be easier: after configuration you just need to plug it to the power outlet on the wall and in a few seconds the cellular connection will be established, and Internet access is available. Of course this will be dependant on coverage.
The device is available in New Zealand through Vodafone's IT Reseller Channel and through Ingram Micro, bundled with a Vodafone Mobile Connect Card.
Good solution for highly mobile work groups or individuals;
No need for a fixed line broadband connection (but it will work with one).
It does not run on batteries (unless you carry around an UPS).