Pros: inexpensive, no monthly fee, reliable, strong signal, easy to setup and use, secure
Cons: no car adapter or battery pack
With mobile network speeds increasing into a tolerable range via 3G, the use of a mobile device as a modem isn't all that bad. Often times browsing on the device itself is a little cluncky. But tethering a smartphone or using a USB aircard with a laptop or netbook can yield good results. What that doesn't get you is the ability to use your 3G connection for a WiFi only device (think iPod Touch) or for multple devices to use that signal via WiFi. Enter the cradle point CTR350.
What is it
The CTR350 is a Mobile Broadband Travel Router. It uses a devices 3G signal (USB modem, phone or smartphone) and turns it into a secure WiFi hotspot. This means that anywhere you can go with your 3G device, you can now have a WiFi signal too.
How Does it Work
Although I don't know EXACTLY how it works, the idea behind the CTR350 is simple. Plug in your data device (This can be any of the supported USB modems, phones or smartphones found at www.cradlepoint.com/support/ctr350) and the CTR350 will automatically recognize and configure it for modem mode. The Cradlepoint router handles all the initiation of your data device and the easy to read status lights on the router will let you know when you are ready to surf the web. It really is that easy. Heck as an added benefit you can use the RJ45 Ethernet connection to plug in a wired modem and use the CTR350 as a broadband WiFi router too.
What You Get
In the box you get the Cradlepoint CTR350 router, a power cord and a very well puttogether quick start guide and instruction sheet. The router is lightweight and although it is a little bit taller, it is shorter in length than both my BlackBerry Tour and iPod Touch. On the router you have 4 indicator lights for power, WiFi, Wired Service and USB connection. The only I/O ports are 1 USB slot, an RJ45 jack and a 5V power plug. It is a clean and simple design. The router also has four little rubber feet, wich are a nice help in keeping the CTR350 in place.
After unpacking the router and taking a look at the quick start guide it was fairly simple to determine what needed to be done in order to get this thing working. Connect the power then connect your Modem or data enable 3G device. At this point you use your computer's standard WiFi interface to establish a wireless conenction on your browsing device and off you go. The CTR350 officially supports Windows and Mac. I also got up and running on my Linux OS in Ubuntu 9.10. My iPod Touch also recognized the WiFi signal and connected without issue.
Technical Info and Security
Cradlepoint allows you to secure the CTR350 router in 3 ways. WEP, WPA or WPA2. They do a very good job of catagorizing the security encryption using a Good-WEP, Better-WPA and Best-WPA2 description. It was very easy to access the router interface and the web-like design made it easy to find my way around. Cradlepoint also gives you a setup wizard option that will take your through the process step by step. It also gives you the option to setup a username and password in order to access the Internet through a browser. This could be useful if you want to monitor your childrens Internet usage or just be safe no one uses your laptop to browse the web when you're not there.
Updating the firmware is also easy to do from the admin within the router. Once connected to the Internet click check for updates. If one is available it will download a small file. Then you browse for that file and the router will automatically flash the firmaware for you. I would recommend updating the firmware straight away. Cradlepoint does a phenominal job of keeping up with device OS upgrades and the latest from maufacturers like Blackberry.
I'm using the CTR350 with a Verizon Wireless Blackberry 9630, or Tour. My OS on the Blackberry is 5.0 (same as the Storm 2) and I had to flash the CTR350's firmware before the router would autoconnect my phone. I do know that with a most Blackberry OS the CTR350 will work out of the box. For example it would have worked out of the box with my Tour on the standard OS 188.8.131.52. I have the Cradlepoint router working with my iPod Touch third gen on OS3.0, Linux Ubuntu 9.10, and Windows XP SP3.
Signal and Speed
This is where I was really surprised (in a good way). The cradlepoint literature states a signal up to 150 feet away. Off to test that proclimation I went. I placed the router in my office and took my netbook about 35 feet away in a room where WiFi signals go to die. I had a "Very Good" signal strength listed. In comparison on our Netgear router connected to a cable modem I get a "Low" or "Weak" signal strength at the same distance. Now, i don't know if ou could get 150 feet out of it, but in a tough environment known for bad signal strength the CTR350 performed well at nearl 40 feet.
So with the distance test behind me I wanted to test the speeds. I averaged just under or right at 1/2MB a second download and nearly 3/4MB upload speeds. Not bad for the numbers, but actual browsing felt much faster than those speeds. Pages loaded quickly and I watched YouTube and ESPN videos without problems.
There are a few drawbacks and a word of caution. Cradlepoint has done such a good job making the device autoconnect that it will start sucking data right away. If you do not have an unlimited data plan it will get very expensive very fast. The device is very portable, but you need a power source to use it. In fact, it did not even come with a 12v car adapter so you're stuck needing a standard 110v outlet to use it. That hurts the mobility of the unit quite a bit. Although Cradlepoint does have a 3G/4G router, this device is specifically 3G or below (CDMA, 2G, etc. etc.). When in modem mode you can't use your phone as a phone. So there's a little give and take there in functionality, but no fault of the device.
I purchased the device for family road trips so my wife and kids could use netbooks, laptops and iPods in the car. As a benefit, we'll be able to use it in hotels and other areas where WiFi may be a pay to use option. I think for those instances this is a perfect solution. One time cost of under $75 and no monthly service fees attached since I have unlimited data and tethering already. I've been very happy with the usability, connection strength and security of the CTR350.
UpdateI traveled with device to the UK and found out that it is surprisingly valuable abroad. The 5v powersource is full range and will allow you to use a travel adapter to convert the power. The MBR 900 did not have this ability as the power would not work when plugged into the outlet adapter. UK USB modems were also ready to connect with the CTR-350. This continues to be a solid WiFi option for multiple devices while on the go, even abroad.