Review: CradlePoint CTR500 Mobile Broadband Router

Introduction:

Getting online whilst on the go is extremely important to many online professionals.  This is why wireless broadband services are so popular amongst web workers.  In the world of wireless broadband, we have a few choices of getting online including data cards for laptop computers, tethering with smartphones and a new category of devices called that allow you to share your mobile broadband connection.

Devices such as the MiFi do just this – allow you to bridge your mobile broadband connection via Wi-Fi, meaning your iPod Touch, laptop, or mobile phone with Wi-Fi can connect via one mobile broadband connection.

While the MiFi is a great device, there are some drawbacks.  First of all, the MiFi is tied to a specific carrier.  This means if you buy a MiFi from Verizon or Sprint, you’re stuck to a two year contract with that MiFi device on that network.

Bring on the Cradlepoint CTR500

Cradlepoint, a US based mobile router company, offers a different solution.  The CTR500 is a mobile broadband router that utilized your existing data connection, whether it be via a USB device or PC Card (ExpressCard).  Take any activated data card and plug it into the Cradlepoint and you can easily access the device via Wi-Fi.

Opening The Box

The CTR500 device is a slim, piano black device that is about the size of a deck of playing cards, albeit a bit longer.  There are three ports on the left side including a USB port, a standard RJ45 jack for hooking up a standard networking cable and a power port for connecting a power source.  On the opposite right side there are an ExpressCard slot and reset button.

The CTR500 has to be powered by an external power source.  This is a disadvantage when compared to the MiFi, as the MiFi can go for about 4-5 hours on a charge, meaning you don’t always have to carry around a power source to get online.  Back to the CTR500, Cradlepoint was smart to package the device with two power sources: a plug-in model for a wall socket and a second that can be used while you are in the car.

Setup and Use

The Cradlepoint website advertises the CRT500 as a ‘plug and play’ solution and the company is pretty much right on the money with that description.  Simply plug in an activated data card, whether it’s USB or ExpressCard, EVDO or HSDPA, and the CTR500 finds it and automatically logs on, allowing you to connect via Wi-Fi and get online.

Out of the box, you need a password to access the network.  This is a bit confusing but it makes sense as you wouldn’t want just anyone logging on to your data card’s access who happens to be in the area.  The default password is automatically set to the last 6 digits of the CTR500’s MAC address – which is labeled on the device itself.

You can set some very advanced options in the CTR500 including wireless security for your devices including MAC address filtering, WEP/WPA security and so on.  Also, the CradlePoint is a firewall that provides state-ful packet inspection and network address translation.

I have used the CradlePoint with three devices, a Verizon KPC 680, a Novatel Wireless EX720 on Sprint’s network, and a U300 Sprint 4G/3G combo device.  Two of these devices are Express Card and the U300 is a USB device, testing all aspects of the Cradlepoint’s capabilities.

Each time I’ve plugged a device into the Cradlepoint, the CTR500 has easily handled authenticated the data card onto the mobile broadband network.

Conclusion

The CradlePoint CRT mobile broadband router is a highly functional, well equipped, and easy to use way to use your data card.  The CTR500 allows you to work with virtually any wireless broadband card from any wireless carrier, making you free to jump around amongst carriers as you see fit.

For $199, the CTR500 represents a lot of functionality at a great price.  The CTR500 is available from Amazon.com.