Pros: Several advanced routing features; easy to set up and use almost anywhere.
Cons: Slower connection to Internet due to 3G backhaul.
As a recent Comcast service outage clearly demonstrated to me, many of us work in a world that’s increasingly dependent on Internet access. I have a Verizon Wireless EV-DO 3G card for my notebook to provide Internet access when I travel, but that couldn’t help my co-workers during my cable Internet service outage. Fortunately, when the outage occurred, I was in the process of reviewing D-Link’s DIR-450 3G Mobile Router for EV-DO Networks.
The DIR-450 is a traditional D-Link router with many of the advanced features I liked when I reviewed both the DIR-635 and the DIR-655 routers. The DIR-450 is housed in a case virtually identical to that used on the DIR-635.
Only when you look at the rear of the DIR-450 will you notice that instead of an Ethernet WAN port, there’s a PC card slot to accommodate an EV-DO card.
For sharing the EV-DO Internet connection, the DIR-450 includes four 10/100 LAN ports as well as a standards-based 802.11g radio featuring Atheros’ Super-G technology. It uses traditional NAT (network address translation) technology to map the public IP address of your EV-DO card onto a private network. An SPI (stateful packet inspection) firewall protects your private network from attacks and unwanted intrusions.
Why a 3G Router?
There are many potential uses for a router that lets you share your 3G connection. Some examples might include:
- When working at client sites, consultants and auditors frequently are denied access to the client’s network for security reasons, but they still need to communicate with each other and with their home office.
- Groups of employees can create ad-hoc Internet-connected workgroups in hotel conference rooms when the hotel doesn’t supply an Internet connection.
- Emergency responders can set up an ad-hoc wireless network quickly at the scene of an accident or emergency to access vital information and resources.
- On vacation, multiple family members traveling with laptops can all stay connected with friends (and, unfortunately, the office).
- You might live in an area where cellular Internet access is the only service available; you can share the Internet connection with other computers on your home network.
The DIR-450 has an eight-page printed quick install guide. This guide, as well as the user manual, is also supplied on CD. However, there is no CD-Based installation wizard as was supplied with other D-Link routers. Instead, the quick install guide instructs you to plug in your EV-DO card, connect one of the LAN ports to your computer, and browse to the default IP address (192.168.0.1).
DIR-450 Home Page
You can choose either to manually configure your settings or use the built-in setup wizard. Clicking on the setup wizard takes you to a second page where you can choose a wizard for setting up your Internet connection, or a wizard for configuring your wireless security. The Internet connection wizard lets you set an administrative password for the router, set your time zone and configure the router for your EV-DO card. I chose manual configuration. I selected my EV-DO card from the drop-down list and hit “save.” The router rebooted with the new configuration and connected to the Internet after the reboot. It was that easy.
The DIR-450 currently supports a total of 19 wireless broadband (A.K.A. wireless WAN, or WWAN) cards. Compatible service providers in the US include ACS Wireless, Alltel, Cellular South, Embarq, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless, and many others in Canada. It will work with cards from Sierra Wireless, Novatel, Kyocera and others. In fact, during the review process, additional supported cards were added via a firmware upgrade.
D-Link also sells the DIR-451, which is essentially a DIR-450 that supports UMTS or HSDPA cellular data networks. Compatible service providers in the US for the DIR-451 are Cingular (AT&T) and T-Mobile.
Though the DIR-450 ships with wireless security disabled, the wireless security wizard walks you through naming your wireless network, choosing the appropriate level of security and setting your pre-shared WPA or WEP key. Again, I selected manual configuration. You can enable Super G mode or 802.11g-only mode (this unit doesn’t do pre-11n), disable SSID broadcast, and enable auto channel scan, which selects the best operating channel for the DIR-450. It supports WEP (64 or 128 bit), WPA, WPA2 and WPA2 Auto. There’s no support for WPA2 enterprise, but frankly, in a mobile router, you’d probably never use that feature.
LAN setup is quite straightforward. Out of the box, you don’t really even need to configure it, as the built-in DHCP server is enabled with a default IP address pool of 100 addresses. The router does support DHCP reservation for mapping specific IP addresses to specific computers on the network based upon their MAC address
DIR-450 LAN configuration page
A click on the Advanced tab reveals that the DIR-450 retains many of the advanced features found in D-Link’s top-of-the-line models, including virtual servers, port forwarding, application rules (for port triggering), MAC address filtering and Web site filtering. As you’ll find in other recent D-Link routers, the right side of the screen displays context-sensitive “Helpful Hints.” The support tab above the hints column takes you to an index page that provides more detailed information about menu items and configuration parameters.
The DIR-450 lacks the quality of service (QoS)
DIR-450 advanced configuration options
To test the wireless network performance of the DIR-450, I installed Buffalo NFinity draft N into an IBM ThinkPad T40, and connected a second notebook to one of the 10/100 Ethernet LAN ports on the DIR-450. I tested in infrastructure mode and, using two streams of data with iPerf, sent traffic between the two notebooks. I tested using the router’s default settings.
I tested in the same home environment (mine) that I used to test other products I’ve reviewed for Wi-Fi Planet. The site survey revealed seven other wireless networks in addition to the one under test. The DIR-450, with channel scan enabled, picked channel 2, where no other networks were located.
I created four test scenarios, and for each one, ran performance tests a number of times. The results below are the average throughput for each test scenario.
- Test One – One notebook connected to the router with a 100 Mbps connection. The wireless notebook over 6 feet away from the router. Result: 21.6 Mbps
- Test Two – One notebook connected to the router with a 100 Mbps connection. The wireless notebook was moved to a bedroom over 19 feet away. There was one wall between the router and the client. Result: 15.6 Mbps
- Test Three – One notebook connected to the router with a 100 Mbps connection. The wireless notebook was moved to the living room downstairs. Result: 16.5 Mbps
- Test Four – One notebook connected to the router with a 100 Mbps connection. The wireless notebook was moved to the kitchen directly below the location in test two. Result: 14.4 Mbps
For a standard 802.11g connection, the performance measured was exactly as expected. Throughout my entire home, there was good signal strength with relatively little drop-off in performance once the test notebook was removed from the same room as the router.
Performance on the cellular side, of course, will vary with cell loading as well as the quality/strength of the signal between the cell tower and your router. Fortunately, the status page on the router, shown below, shows you the relative signal strength.
DIR-450 status page
The DIR-450 3G router is easy to set up and use. If sharing your cellular data card could solve any of your networking problems, such as creating ad-hoc mobile workgroups or providing Internet access where wired broadband isn’t available, the DIR-450 is a good way to leverage your investment in your mobile data plan.