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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wireless Broadband Everywhere: 3G Wi-Fi routers

If you own an iPad, Android tablet or a netbook, isn't it nice to have a portable Wi-Fi router with you all the time? While it is doubtful whether this technology will survive with the introduction of Wi-Fi tethering on smartphones, let's take a look into these gadgets.

Portable 3G Wi-Fi routers have been around for almost 2 years. With a size smaller than a deck of playing cards, they have gained their popularity in Japan and parts of Europe. The idea is simply brilliant: insert a SIM card and share a mobile data internet connection with five other users via Wi-Fi. One single charge of the battery can last up to four hours of constant streaming.

The manufacturer behind this invention is Huawei. They called these "E5 Wi-Fi routers". Huawei has partnered with several mobile network operators and distributors and launched different variant of the same device. Have a look and search under: E5830, E5832, E5838, E5832S, E583C, E585 and R201. The first three mentioned are first generation E5 routers; and the last four mentioned are second generation E5 routers.

These are basically the same devices with differences in mobile network frequency band, display and computer user interface. Unless you are keen to explore its different user interface and add-on functions, there are no significant differences. In reality, most users treat these devices as black boxes and use them only as Wi-Fi routers. If you must know, E585 is slightly superior than others as its OLED displays various language. It also displays the data flow. Furthermore, the web interface is user friendly. The only downturn is that it was designed for Hutchison, you would have to be a "3" customer to fully benefit from E585.

One of the key reasons that stops people from buying these portable routers is their price. Furthermore, users often have to pay a significant subscription plan to enjoy mobile broadband. With the introduction of Wi-Fi tethering in mobile phones, I doubt whether these gadgets will survive. Portable router's current advantage over smartphone is its slightly longer battery hours. Wi-Fi tethering will take-off when smartphone manufacturers design power efficient hardware.

The other competition of portable routers are free or commercial Wi-Fi hotspots. Every government that promotes economic growth would invest or encourage investments of Wi-Fi hotspots networks. An expensive portable Wi-Fi router that would last a few hours and gets really warm doesn't sound sexy to people who can find a hotspots almost everywhere they go.  

Every good invention has its life time. It looks like Wi-Fi tethering is the next great invention that will replace portable Wi-Fi routers.