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Home Networking with a 3G Router

Solwise NET-3G-3G11nMRW and Sierra Compass 888

My recent posts have been showing off the scenery we find around us in our new home. The downside of all those fantastic hills turned out to be a lack of line-of-sight for Airwire.ie service. So I’m going to use O2’s 3G internet service as I’m unwilling to pay €25 per month for line rental before I even start paying for ADSL service which is lacklustre at best. However, I need to be able to connect multiple machines and so we need a router. I’ve used a Solwise device before at my parents place. Previous experience has been excellent so combined with the price (~€50, ex. delivery) I decided it was the way to go. The main competition to this device is the Dovado UMR or 3GN at €130/€108 delivered. The 3GN wasn’t available when I was considering devices and I must admit I may have been swayed but it is almost twice the cost.

Hardware out of the way first, the Solwise 3G11nMRW is a rebadged 3R161N from Taiwanese company Amigo. This isn’t just a plain old router, there are some nifty features packed away here. A switch on the side of the router allows you to chose between Router, AP and WiFi AP which may prove useful depending on what and how you want to deploy (remember, they’re €50 a pop so they could make for handy APs). It does WDS which makes things interesting. As well as the wall plug you see in the picture above the package also include a DC adaptor (which you can swap with the plug and is 5~12V, 1.5A) so I’m thinking one of these in the car as well – I wonder if you could use solar power with one of these? (I’m too lazy to look it up at the moment) and it can be powered via Mini USB! So, it’s a flexible device. Finally, all the other ports you would now expect on a device like this; 2 LAN (one of which does WAN/LAN when you’re using your 3G for failover with a wired network connection) and 2 USB ports which can be used for your 3G dongle as well as storage, printer or a webcam (I haven’t looked at the supported webcams)

The software running on this is a BlackBox Linux distro. Unfortunately there isn’t SSH or telnet running on the device that might allow you in for a closer look around. I’m thinking that if there was you would have more than a few people interested in running something like OpenWRT on it. While the software on it is quite functional an open firmware would go along ways to making it easier to move device support along quickly. Which leads neatly into the main issue I had with this device when I first got it. Firmware. Before buying I checked that my Sierra Compass 888 was among the supported devices it was. But was no go when I unpacked the router. Not entirely unexpected as the router didn’t ship with the latest firmware. You have to request this rather than download it as apparently people have bricked devices by uploading the wrong firmware. Latest firmware, still no joy so email tech support. A week in and there was no update even though I was chasing for an update – Solwise were waiting for a response from Taiwan. This was really annoying so I decided to skip through the pleasant requests and just express my disgust (i.e. behave like a prick – frustrating and shameful):

This did get a response though (I hate when you have to be angry and rude to get something done) from a really, really helpful Louise who runs the @Solwise twitter account. The result was an exchange of tweets and emails culminating in an updated firmware, in about 24 hours, and you guessed it; sweet, sweet 3G powered Wifi internet access!

Since then the device has been a star performer – I had one case of it freezing. I decided to kill the system logging option I had switched on and since then it has been rock solid. I’ve no idea if the two are associated but it’s worth mentioning.

That’s about it for now, I may come back and revise this after a longer usage period. All that’s left is to wrap it up with – buy it if you want a good value 3G Wifi router and are in a position to make sure you have a supported device. For the Solwise folks, I’d say – work on the support because everything else you do is great (Solwise have some great, value-for-money products, turn orders around very quickly and the e-store works just fine)

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