Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CradlePoint CTR350 router (cellular data router) Review

I was shopping for a router that would accept my USB data modem and I came across a company called CradlePoint. I found a Canadian retailer that sold a few of the CradlePoint models and I opted to get the CTR350 model based solely on the price and the size.

I've been using the CradlePoint CTR350 for a few months now and I find that it works very well with my USB data modem (Novatel Wireless MC950D).

The CradlePoint CTR350 router has the standard configurations that most wireless routers have. It also has a few configurations specific to cellphone carriers as well as some configurations that aren't part of most router configurations that I've seen.  In addition, there is an ethernet port on the router that can either be used for fail-over (internet backup) purposes or it can be used as an internet connection for a device that doesn't have wifi capabilities. One of the features that it has which is not cellular specific is it has the ability to scan the wifi channels in the area and use the wifi channel that will offer the least amount of interference. For example, if a nearby router is broadcasting/transmitting using channel 6, the CradlePoint CTR350 router can be configured so that it automatically won't pick the same channel of nearby routers. Using software, I've tested this and it does do this.

In terms of the signal strength, I find it to be quite good and generally I'm within a few meters of the router when I'm accessing it. According to the specifications, the router's range is approximately 200 feet. The router has the standard security settings and supports 64/128-bit WEP, WPA/WPA2 and WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK Encryption Protocols.

I find the cellular router to be very good. It allows me to use my carrier's data network on my various wifi devices. I'm also not limited to using only 1 connection with my cellular carrier's data network (which was a limitation with the USB cellular data modem). I've tested it with my WiFi Skypephone as well as my PDA and I've connected a few items to it at the same time. According to the specifications for this model, this cellular data router is capable of connecting up to 16 devices to the internet at the same time.

The company also updates their firmware on a regular basis, fixing bugs, adding features, and adding support for more cellular data devices.

Some of the things that I like about this cellular data router:
1) It is small.
2) It is easy to configure (or as easy to configure as a regular wireless/wifi router).
3) It is able to change the wireless channel automatically when it powers on.
4) It can be configured to automatically enter your SIM or your device's security PIN.
5) Has some nice (non cellular carrier) features not available/found in regular consumer routers from D-Link, Linksys, etc.

The only thing that I find missing/lacking from this device is it should either be USB powered (which probably isn't doable since the unit requires more than the 5V that can be supplied via USB) or be battery powered (rechargeable). It requires AC power which limits its portability since if for example, I wanted to use it, I would have to make sure that I was able to plug it into an AC outlet which depending on the location is sometimes impossible/difficult. Actually, Cradlepoint does have a portable cellular data router that is battery powered (rechargeable but unfortunately I couldn't find it at any reliable Canadian online retailers which is one of the reasons why I opted to purchase this model.

One other thing about this router is that the range is limited compared to all the home routers that I have used. This router for example would probably not work between floors unless the person accessing it was directly above/below the router's physical location (and obviously depending on the material of the ceiling/floor). The limited range is probably to be expected given the small size and the lack of external WiFi antennas. I would say that the range is better than what you can get with turning on the "personal WiFi hotspot" on some more recent cellphones but by no means does it compare to what you can get with a regular home wireless router with antenna. You can probably extend the range by connecting an external router to the available ethernet port and then configuring that external router as an access point but I did not try this.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section. 

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