Reviews  

SMC Barricade N 3G WiFi Router WBR14-3GN

Madana Prathap 2010-06-08
76 Good
Price: Rs 3,999

Full Review

The SMC 3G Barricade N Wireless Router 300Mbps (with a model number of SMCWBR14-3GN) can be your fail-safe gateway to access the Internet. It is designed in the classic wireless router style, you’d be forgiven for thinking at first glance that this router is something from at least half a decade ago. The features it offers are not to be trifled with, but this router is resolute about wanting to be positioned in a horizontal sitting posture. It cannot be stood up vertically by itself nor is a stand supplied, and you cannot wall-mount it either.

You can set it up such that traffic from within your LAN is routed through your primary wired Internet connection provider, and when that is down it will “fail over” to the 3G USB modem connectivity.

The box in which this device is sold, showcases its features. Besides the WBR14-3GN wireless router itself and its power cable, the bundle includes a Quick Installation Guide and an RJ45 Ethernet cable. It operates over the normal 2.4 GHz radio spectrum. As you will see, this is not a bad product at all, but it is crippled by three factors. These factors are that the LAN ports are not Gigabit Ethernet (100 Mbit only), the USB port cannot be used with a storage device or printer, and there is no support of the 5 GHz band for interference-free operation. Considering these, it would seem to be priced higher than we'd expect.

But then this is an unusual product, with its uniqueness lying in its ability to uplink to the Internet via a 3G USB modem. This is besides the normal methods of uplinking to a modem through a WAN Ethernet port or an existing wireless network. It can behave as a simple wireless Access Point (AP)  and also as a router that keeps you connected to the Internet through any means available. Until now, if you wanted to be able to fall back to a 3G USB wireless modem when your primary wired ISP has a problem, operating a whole computer as an Internet Gateway for both connections was the only option. Compared to that, the SMC Barricade-N WBR14-3GN is a far more economical solution both in terms of initial investment and the recurring expense of electricity bills.

Managing it is a snap, we tested this wireless router using an MTS Mblaze USB modem (also referred to as a dongle) and it worked just as well as it usually does when connected to a PC/laptop directly. Since most other providers with a similar offering (such as Tata Photon Plus, Reliance NetConnect and BSNL EV-DO all of which are essentially HSDPA access cards) use similar USB modems made by ZTE, compatibility should not be a problem. To get it connected, all you have to do is open its web-configuration page, enter the username and password provided by your ISP, the number to dial (#777 for most providers in India) and restart the router for the settings to take effect. You can set it up such that traffic from within your LAN is routed through your primary wired Internet provider, and when they are down it will “fail over” to the 3G connectivity as a backup connection and ensure continued access to the web for your users (it is aimed at businesses too for sure). The “Budget Control” option can be enabled to track the bandwidth usage and to maintain records of the time periods when the router pressed the 3G modem into service. If your HSDPA card (like the MTS Mblaze) offers a fairly good monthly data transfer cap, you can also run the router in dual-WAN mode, thus giving it two uplinks and aggregating the bandwidth for sharing Internet over WiFi or the 4 LAN ports.

Perhaps one laudable feature is its support of the 300 Mbps draft-N WiFi mode. So you can have your device (like laptops) communicating with the router at good speeds when in close range. You can select to run WiFi in 802.11 b/g/n mixed or exclusive mode. Two SSIDs can be setup, with differing security levels on each to help control what users on that “Network” can access. All of the usual expected settings are present for NAT, DHCP, Access Control, Stealth Protection, etc. SMC has even managed to work in support for more sites than the usual DDNS service (they go beyond the DynDns.org site). First time configuration is easy and quick with a web-page based wizard that runs off the router since there is no CD supplied. The web configuration interface is well sorted and neat, finding the setting you are looking for is fairly intuitive. But the "Help" item is just one lengthy page, with no context-sensitive help or icons specific to sections. If you want help about something and you do not know the exact term you should be looking for, good luck with scrolling through the long Help page to get to an approximation of the setting you are looking for! Administering the router is pretty well provided for, with even multiple user accounts that can be created to give people varying levels of access to router settings. Funnily, this router was another of those that only support whole numbers in the TimeZone setting and thus India’s zone of GMT +5.30 was a victim. Time zones located in India’s neighbouring countries – Islamabad/Karachi and Dhaka/Colombo show up in the entries for GMT +5 GMT and GMT +6 respectively.

Three buttons are present on the router, labelled WLAN (for WiFI direct control), WPS (for quick pairing with devices that support Wireless Protected Setup) and 3G. There are 3 non-detachable antennae (2dB each), to provide for better signal strength and coverage area. As is usual, this router seemed to run a cut-down variant of the Linux OS, so it just might be supported by the DD-WRT project at some point. An interesting thing is the "View Current Config" button which shows up all settings across the router on one page, in the usual single-file .conf text configuration files seen on *nix machines. Take a look at the “Specifications” tab of this review to get more details.

In the performance tab is the consistent performance averaged over a period of time. The speeds seen are all as observed from real world testing in the Wireless-N mode, including walls and floors placed in-between the wireless router and client. On flat open ground/surface with no objects to come in between and no walls, just a green field – we saw a maximum range of 24m and wireless transfer speeds that are pretty good for a router at this price point. SMC offers a warranty of one year on this router.

Bottom Line

The SMC WBR14-3GN gives average speeds for a router using its technologies and for its price range. But its support for 3G modems that plug-in via USB makes it a great product to consider for those who’d otherwise have had to buy a full-fledged computer and software to setup an Internet Gateway.

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