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WTR54GS - Travel Router: Traveled, Reviewed

Initial Impressions

  1. jdepew
    Initial Impressions

    As with many situations, first impressions often can be the strongest indicators of what is in store for the future. Our first experience with the new WTR54GS Travel Router with SpeedBooster came with the details we found in the FCC database months before its recent release to market. We had mixed feelings about the new product. The appeal of a miniature wireless router is obvious for travelers, but we were bewildered considering the almost simultaneous launch of the WRT54GC Compact Router (click here for our review of that). As time passed and we worked with the WRT54GC and discovered more details about WTR54GS, we began to see where the two products diverged. Now that we have a WTR54GS in hand, we are going to look more closely at where this product fits and how well it works.

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    The first thing I noticed was the packaging. Here again the similarities continue with the WRT54GC. Delivered in identically sized boxes, it may be difficult to distinguish one from another on the retail shelf without reading the box more closely. Even the view through the window is similar since, as we'll see, the routers are very similar in appearance. If you are looking for either of these in the store, be sure to look for the Compact versus Travel Router w/ SpeedBooster.

    Package Contents

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    Crack open that Doppelganger packaging and inside you'll find a nice surprise. Standard issue materials include the product registration, a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) card, and an advertisement for other products. Also in the documentation packet is the Setup CD which I'll discuss shortly. Keeping in mind that the target audience for this product is the traveler, Linksys has included a case which I can only describe as a hard, soft case and an Ethernet cable. Both the router and the cable fit neatly behind the elastic straps and with a secure zipper, I felt fairly confident I could literally throw the entombed router into my bag and go. Its a nice little touch that emphasizes the point of the product. Since space is frequently at a premium when travelling, the standard issue Ethernet cable has been replaced by a flat, neatly wound cable. There are no markings to indicate the Category of this cable or its construction, but it does not appear to be twisted pair, rather straight through. I'd wager to say its capable of more bandwidth than anything you'll encounter in a hotel room or coffee shop, but if for some backwards reason you have plans to make this the backbone router of your network, you'd probably want to look at a different cable. Overall, very nice extras.

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    Design and Construction

    Out of the box, the router seems surprisingly heavy given its compact size. But when you look at the numbers (73mm x 107mm x 31mm) it is actually slightly larger in volume than the compact router. Weighing in a 5.22 ounces, its also heavier, but the added heft comes from one of the nicest features of the Travel Router.
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    While the Compact router included a rather sizeable DC brick, the Travel router includes an integrated power supply with retractable plug. The power supply is a 100-240V, 50-60Hz switching power supply. This should make the Travel router compatible with just about every foreign electrical specification. The plug is of the US two prong design and with the addition of a plug adapter kit should be able to utilize that range. While I haven't been able to personally test this, I would be willing to do so if a reader were to provide a trip to Europe or another exotic foreign destination. The plug is extended or retracted by a simple sliding button at the top edge of the router.

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    Roll your mouse over the image to see the plug in action!

    The leading edge of the router is where all the action takes place. On this side are the four status indicator LEDs, the Secure Easy Setup button (also with dual color LED), a WAN and one LAN port labeled 'Internet' and 'Ethernet' respectively, and a hole for the reset button. If you've used any of the latest products from Linksys such as the WRT54GX or WRT54GC, the icons and coloring will be familiar. Internet/WAN ports are now ringed in the Linksys blue, and local ports are ringed in yellow. This theme continuation should make setup easy and consistent across the product lines. LEDs indicate Power, Wireless, Internet and Ethernet connectivity.

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    Installation and Setup

    Typically when I get a piece of new hardware I'm quick to jump in and start playing with it, but for some reason I felt compelled to explore the installation disc for the WTR54GS. I'm glad I did because you may or may not notice the small 'Device Default Settings' marking on the back of the router. If you did, you will notice that the default IP address and range is not the typical 192.168.1.1, but rather 192.168.16.1. Default password remains admin and the router is defaulted to an SSID of Linksys, like every other wireless Linksys device
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    Running the included CD setup couldn't be easier. Connect the router an wired Internet source such as a cable or DSL modem, connect your computer to the router with network cable and plug in to the nearest outlet. The Setup routine will walk you through establishing default connection setting and wireless security so you can connect by secure wireless later. Don't be too alarmed if the Windows firewall is disabled during the setup routine. This happened to me and appears to be a required part of the setup procedure. Once complete the Firewall settings were restored. If you chose to work through the setup routine through the web admin interface, you can either be connected by an Ethernet cable or through WiFi. At this point the travel router likely isn't connected to an Internet connection, nor does it need to be.

    I would suggest setting up the travel router for the first time before heading out on the road. Configure the router with a unique SSID that you're likely not going to run into (read: change the default Linksys name), enable wireless encryption and add that new device name to your wireless clients' preferred list of access points. With this done, you will be able to immediately connect to your router with higher priority over another public access point. Once you're ready to head out to the coffee shop, airport, hotel or wherever else you plan on using the router, throw it all in the case and you're ready to go. If your hotspot destination has available wired Ethernet ports, connect the router's Internet port to the network jack, plug in to a power outlet, and ensure you've connected to the Access Point with the same name as you gave the Travel Router, and you should be online.

    If you'd like to share your wireless access point with friends or other patrons you trust, simply share your wireless encryption settings and SSID (Access Point name) and suddenly you've brought high speed wireless Internet access to the masses. If you're travelling to a hotspot that requires an account, signing in while behind the router should give everyone you share the router with access as well. If the hotspot is wireless, such as those from Boingo, Tmobile, and others, the WTR54GS will also connect to those and rebroadcast your wireless signal again for easy sharing. I was able to connect to several open access points and share my connection between both my laptop and PDA. Any device connecting to your Travel Router will be on the same LAN and accessible to each other, but not to others outside of the router or connected directly to the hotspot access point because you've introduced a new subnet and layer of routing and firewall protection.

    Configuration

    Because the feature sets of the WRT54G line and its offspring have largely been synchronized, I will not delve into all of the configuration options available, but this little router comes with all the features you'd expect. Just because its tiny also doesn't mean its any less capable of handling those features with speed and grace, the major hardware components are the same as those in the latest generation of the WRT54G/GS line. The WTR54GS has all the expected features including SPI NAT Firewall; flexible port forwarding, triggering, and DMZ management; access policies including per port, application, client, or web site keyword; WEP, WPA, and WAP2 wireless security protocols; and Wireless MAC filtering. Secure Easy Setup, Linksys' newest push for one button high security wireless connectivity is also featured. SES is accessible by the button on the front of the router or through the web admin page. The most important configuration feature defines how the WTR54GS will connect to the Internet. The 'Basic Setup' page allows for two connectivity options, wired or wireless. Selecting the default wired option, allows you define connectivity through DHCP, Static IP, PPPPoE or PPTP as we've come to expect.

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    Select wireless and things start to get interesting. The router will take a moment to reorganize itself and repaint the Basic Setup page to include a Wireless Network Site Survey. Interestingly, a complete site survey is given though you can only connect to those listed as 'Disabled' Security. That is, you can only connect to open wireless networks such as those in a public hotspot, not your neighbor's personal network. Find the name of the hotspot access point you wish to connect to, such as 'FreedomLink' if you were at Barnes and Noble, click 'Select,' then 'Save Settings.' The WTR54GS will then connect to that network and propagate its Internet access to you. If you are required to login with an account, open your favorite browser and away you go! I was caught off guard by having to select 'Save Settings' despite the fact that I had just 'Selected' the network I wanted to connect to, perhaps this could be improved upon.

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    Quirks

    Do not be fooled by the high level of encryption offered by this product. Just because you enable and connect to the WTR54GS with WPA or WPA2 encryption, data moving from the router to the associated access point is not. If you are connected to the Internet via a wired connection, this is less of a worry. Security does exist between whatever clients exist behind the travel router and those communications will be encrypted, but again anything going beyond the confines of the router, will be open. Of course, Internet transactions that involve sensitive information, such as online banking, probably shouldn't be done on an open, unencrypted, public access point anyway. So you say, what about connecting the travel router to the hotspot or access point with encryption? Unfortunately, that is nor possible right now either. Whether it be a technical limitation or a decision on the part of Linksys, I can understand reasoning why this apparently missing feature is more likely a carefully planned decision. If a network admin had created a secure, closed, encrypted wireless network, chances are they would not want access to that signal rebroadcast to multiple users in a potentially now open and unencrypted method. I think that this may also reinforce the idea that this router is to be used for its wireless repeater features only at public hotspots and access points. When connected wirelessly to the Internet, the Internet LED does not light, though it goes when connected physically by Ethernet cable.

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    Performance

    I have not noticed any significant loss in performance or wireless signal throughout the course of my use of this router. Keep in mind that the router does not have the option for external antennas, and is meant to be used in a small intimate setting such as a coffee shop or hotel room and does not require concrete or drywall piercing range. The inclusion of SpeedBooster is a nice touch and allows you to max out the available bandwidth without tying you to a wired Ethernet port. Hopefully I'll have a SpeedBooster card in hand soon to test out the performance characteristics.

    Technical Details

    Model: WTR54GS Standards: 802.3, 802.3u, 802.11b, 802.11g Transmit Power: 802.11g 12.5 dBm +/- 1.5dBm, 802.11b 16.5dBm +/- 1.5dBm Power Supply: 100-240V 50-60Hz AC 1.5A Dimensions: 73mm x 107mm x 31mm Weight: 5.22oz Security Standards: WEP, WPA, WPA2

    MSRP: $89.99 Availability: NOW

    Conclusion

    Overall Impression

    Overall, I'm very impressed build quality and feature set of this little router. The ability to create a secure personal wireless network even when connected to a public access point is exciting, but that promise may also lead to a false sense of security - remember, your wirelessly transmitted data is in the open after it passes the router. I would like to see features such as Static DHCP included, but this so far as only shown up in the WRT54GC, so it may not be a high priority feature. I'd also like the ability to use this router much like WRE54G Wireless-G range expander to be able to create a large wireless mesh network through WDS that also supports wireless security protocols while maintaining a single subnet. Imagine being able to cover a large home or office with a few of these places strategically throughout the property. While outside the intended goal of this product, the added versatility would be a welcome bonus. So, if you are frequent traveler or spend much of your Internet time at coffee shops or in airports or hotels, I would say the WTR54GS is definitely worth a look.

    Summary

    Pros • Super portability and attractive protective case/cable • Share your wireless hotspot access with friends or other devices • Create secure personal networks in public • WPA2 Support

    Cons • Router gets warm to the touch after extended use due to integrated power supply • More expensive than Compact Router • No support for repeating functions with Wireless Security protocols.

    LinksysInfo.org Rating: 4 1/2 Signal Strength Bars [​IMG]

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