by Darren MurphOriginally announced at CES this year, Netgear's 3G Mobile Broadband Wireless Router just recently started making its way into stores. Essentially, the MBR624GU enables your USB WWAN stick to become an internet source for multiple computers, handhelds or any other device that understands WiFi. You simply plug your USB WWAN modem into the rear of the unit (or into the bundled USB dongle), fire it up, and connect via WiFi or Ethernet. Sounds good in theory, right? Follow us past the break for a few impressions on how this admittedly promising device performed in the real world.
Frankly, there isn't a whole lot to say for Netgear's WWAN router, and that's a good thing. Cradlepoint is largely credited with starting this fad, but with devices like the MiFi making themselves known, the demand for these boxes is sure to slow. For folks who already own a USB WWAN stick -- or would rather more than five simultaneous users have access to their connection -- it's hard to go wrong with the MBR624GU.
By and large, the unit looks exactly like the rest of Netgear's routers. It's compact, lightweight and ought to travel well. Speaking of, Netgear assures us that a cigarette adapter is on the horizon, but for now, your best bet for using this whilst cruising is to snag a power inverter and use the conventional AC adapter. We used an admittedly overpowered 350W DC to AC Power Inverter from Radio Shack to power the router and our laptop in the car, and we never had any issues maintaining a connection on the go.
Setup was an absolute breeze. We simply plugged in our Sprint U727 EV-DO USB modem, nailed the "on" button, and within seconds a connection was live. The first time you connect via WiFi (at least through a PC), you'll be prompted to establish a router name, password, etc., and a few minutes later you're locked in and ready to roll. As for speed, you won't see a boost by using this over a direct USB connection, but it's the flexibility here that sells it. We connected three laptops and two phones at once, and while simultaneously downloading was obviously sluggish, it worked.
In the end, there's little else to say other than the device simply functions as it's supposed to. Connections are easy to establish and maintain, and there are even a foursome of Ethernet sockets for those who'd prefer to jack in directly. There's also a dedicated WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) button and a power on / off button that enables you to keep it plugged in but powered down when it's not needed. Our only real gripe is the omission of a WAN Ethernet jack, which would theoretically allow the device to double as a standard WLAN router. As it stands, you'll only be distributing WWAN signals over this, and unless you're locked into a USB stick for the better part of two years, the $100 asking price might be a bit much. 'Course, we'd probably feel differently if the MiFi didn't exist or if this thing had some sort of dual purpose, but as it stands, you'll need an awfully compelling reason to drop a Benjamin here in order to distribute your WWAN signals.