Wifi on the Road

I spend a lot of time on the road and often need to stay online.  Back in the Windows Mobile days, it was pretty easy to turn a WM6.x device into a personal Wifi hotspot; unfortunately this isn’t so easy on Windows Phone 7.  In fact, most of us now carry Verizon air cards/USB modems for alternative access.   While this has worked great, I often would prefer a hotspot:  I might need to have other devices like a Zune player get online, or might need to share an internet connection. 

There are a couple of free pieces of software out there to turn your PC into a hotspot:  Connectify and Virtual Router are two that come to mind.   It might be specific compatibility issues with my PC or Verizon modem (USB760) but Connectify would blue screen my machine.  

I often don’t want my PC to have to be the gateway, either, so enter a Cradlepoint PHS-300 router.  The idea is that you take your tethered phone/modem and plug it into the USB slot on the Cradlepoint router.  The router then acts as a personal hotspot.  Your PC/devices then connect to it over Wifi.  This has a number of advantages – obviously, it allows you to share the connection.  Secondarily, though, it allows you to place the router someplace where perhaps the signal is better – for example, by a window or across the room.  While it’s not as compact/simple as a Mifi, I like the fact that there’s no added cost to use my existing devices (like any of us need another monthly access fee.)

A nice touch to the router is that it has a battery – so you could use it in a car, or put it in a difficult to access location.   The router is largely plug and play and can use many devices out there.   I’m at the beach for Memorial Day weekend, and I decided to put the PHS-300 through some paces. 

Plugging in my Verizon USB760 was effortless and worked great.  No issues with connectivity on the move, and setting it up was config free… it just worked.   After a series of speed tests, I found that the Verizon modem (3G) was putting around 600k/sec, taking roughly 14 seconds to pull a 1MB file, with a latency of around 200ms. 

Next I decided to plug my WP7 Samsung Focus into the device.  To do this, you need to access the diagnostics of the phone.  Doing this might also violate terms of service, so proceed at your own risk.   If you don’t have the diagnostics app in your app list, dial ##634#.  This adds the diagnostics app – from there, dial *#7284# – this allows you to switch the USB function of the phone; by default, it’s Zune Sync.  To tether, switch to “Modem, Tethered Call” – this will likely require a reboot of the phone.

Next, I simply plugged the phone into the PHS-300.  And it worked.  No configuration (didn’t need to dial *99***1#, connect to the Cingular network, etc. – the PHS-300 took care of all that).   Looking at the modem config page on the router, it recognizes everything correctly:

image

I was curious to test the speed vs. Verizon, so I ran some speed tests.   I have no love of Verizon over AT&T or vice-versa, but I have to say, AT&T spanked Verizon in terms of speed over the weekend at my location.   I wouldn’t draw any specific conclusions, but I’m going to make it a point to test locations as I travel about.   In this case, after many speed tests over the weekend, AT&T 3G averaged about 1.1Mb/s, downloading a 1MB file in about 7 seconds (twice as fast as Verizon) however the latency was higher around 500ms.

As for the router – I’m impressed with the PHS-300.  The inclusion of a battery makes it wonderfully portable, and while not as compact as a Mifi, I have the choice of either my Verizon modem or AT&T tethered phone – both of which (in theory) offer me unlimited data.   Another nice trick, especially if you’re sharing the router with others, is to make use of the QoS/traffic shaping feature to give your machine/devices higher priority.

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