Highly mobile users know one thing: public Wi-Fi hotspots can be unreliable. The LevelOne WBR-3800 MobileSpot Portable Wireless Hotspot ($140) lets you create your own. It’s small, light, and works well for sharing mobile broadband connections using either USB cards or Card Bus cards. Still, a difficult setup process keeps the WBR-3800 from earning a higher rating.
Design and Setup
The LevelOne WBR-3800 is the smallest 3G router we’ve tested—at 5.1 x 4.8 x 1.3 inches, it’s about half the size of the Kyocera KR2. Its orange and black design is fun and eye-catching.
Setting up the WBR-3800 is a chore, however. It refused to work out of the box with a Sprint U720 USB adapter and required that we run the setup utility. (The Netgear MBR624GU worked without any CD installer.) More confusing, the setup wizard forces you to configure the WAN port, which is normally used for a cable or DSL modem. We wanted to skip this step, because most users would only want to use the router for 3G access. Strangely, it was only when we selected 3G access for the WAN port (very odd, because we were using 3G in the USB port) and left the fields blank that the installer continued.
Apart from the confusing setup process, the WBR-3800 worked with our Sprint U720 USB card after the installer finished. Thankfully, we never had to enter any data about the card, such as the modem number. The WBR-3800 has a leg up on the Netgear MBR624GU because it works with a 3G USB or a Card Bus modem. Despite the setup snafu, it’s great that the WBR-3800 also includes a WAN port, which means you can use it at home with your cable or DSL modem, or connect it to another router.
The WBR-3800 works with a laundry list of 3G PCMCIA adapters from Sierra and Novatel, plus quite a few international 3G providers (since LevelOne is based in Germany), such as Vodafone. In fact, for non-U.S. users (or those traveling overseas), if you have an HSDPA card such as the Vodafone E172, you’re in luck. Depending on their activities (streaming videos, music, downloading large files at the same time), the recommended number of users is between 1 to 25, according to LevelOne.
Performance and Security
As a 3G router, the WBR-3800 works well for Internet access. We tested it using a Sprint U720 card running at about 400–600 Kbps. For 802.11g Wi-Fi access to the router, speeds ran at just 15 Mbps and degraded quickly—beyond 100 feet, the WBR-3800’s access was spotty at best. We streamed the movie Australia as a Windows Media file, which we rented from CinemaNow.com, from one computer to another. On a Gateway MD7826U notebook, streaming worked fine while sitting in the same room, but the connection would drop out when we tried it from more than about 100 feet.
The router supports the very latest security encryption standards, including TKIP and AES, as well as WPA2. There’s also an interesting fallback feature on the WBR-3800: If you connect at home using the WAN port to your cable or DSL modem, and that service fails, the WBR-3800 will automatically switch over to the 3G mobile broadband service. We’d prefer a bit more “multifunction” on a 3G router, though. For example, if you do use the WAN port, it would be handy to be able to use the USB port for an external hard disk—which is not supported.
In the end, the design of the $140 LevelOne WBR-3800 MobileSpot Portable Wireless Hotspot is good and the extra WAN port is an unusual perk. The international 3G support is helpful for business teams who travel globally, and U.S. users will find that the WBR-3800 works with about the same number of EV-DO adapters as other 3G routers. However, while it has a similar range as the Netgear MBR624GU, the MobilSpot’s $10 premium and more difficult setup process make it a less attractive device.