The TL-MR3020 is an ultraportable wireless-n router, which can operate in three modes: as a 3G router (when combined with a compatible USB-connected 3G modem), as a wireless internet service provider (WISP) client, or as a simple wireless access point.
The design is simple, with a clearly labelled sliding mode switch on the side (3G, WISP or AP), and a single button that doubles as Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) and reset. Four status LEDs are arranged along one edge: power, internet, Wi-Fi and Ethernet.
An included ‘Quick Installation Guide’, that folds down to just above business-card size, makes setup in any of the modes as simple as possible. It includes all the factory-defaults (IP address, username, password) that you’ll need on the road.
The router is powered by a 5-pin mini USB cable, and includes a USB mains power adapter (there’s no battery for purely wireless use). Also included is a short, travel-friendly flat Ethernet cable. The router itself is just 74 x 67 x 22mm, and weighs in at a lean 65 grams. The whole package – adapter, cables and router together – weigh only 160 grams, about the average weight of a smartphone. Even if you’re flying with carry-on only, it’s a tiny thing to port around.
The primary use for such a device is to share internet provided by a 3G ‘USB stick’. This allows several devices to share 3G internet over Wi-Fi. Support is advertised for over 120 ‘UMTS/HSPA/EVDO 3G USB modems’ – a Vodafone Vodem worked straight out of the box, though we didn’t have a chance to test a Telecom T-Stick or 2degrees’ equivalent for compatibility.
Of course, you could share 3G internet similarly using your smartphone, or an all-in-one 3G Wi-Fi router such as the NetComm MyZone or the Huawei E5. Why use the MR3020 instead, when you have to provide your own 3G internet stick? Well for a start, it means you can use any compatible internet-stick – particularly useful if you’re issued one by your company, or buy a SIM-locked one on holiday abroad.
You get the advanced options of a full-on router, including everything from website filtering to IP-address-based bandwidth control – far more customisability than you’ll get from your smartphone. It’s more than you’ll need if you just want to share internet between your phone and laptop, but the more devices you add to the mix, the more useful it becomes. If you’re the type to travel with a laptop, tablet, smartphone, e-reader and perhaps a handheld gaming device, the ability to operate a half-decent wireless network anywhere is a definite plus.
The MR3020 also offers a more than just 3G-sharing functionality. For example, you can connect the MR3020 to your hotel room, small office or friend’s wired network via its 10/100Mbps Ethernet port, and create your own secure wireless access point for your laptop, tablet, smartphone and other internet-enabled devices. Given the number of hotels that provide only wired internet or woefully inadequate wireless services, this usage alone makes the MR3020 a must-have device for business travellers.
Performance is going to depend heavily on your source of internet – be it 3G, WISP or Ethernet. While I didn’t attempt to push the router to its advertised 150Mbps limit, I found it fully capable of delivering 3G internet from Vodafone’s network, and ADSL2+ from my home router, at their full unbridled speeds.
I had no trouble with range within my small two-bedroom home, suggesting that you should have no trouble in even a large hotel room or suite.
Altogether, this tiny device is able to solve a multitude of problems commonly faced by the tech-laden traveller. At $99, it’s a no-brainer.
TP Link is distributed in New Zealand by Anyware Computer Accessories.
This review first appeared in the June issue of New Zealand PC World.