Create a personal Wifi hotspot and more with this versatile gadget
Public Wifi hotspots are very convenient, but if there is no handy hotspot nearby, TP-Link's TL-MR3020 could be the answer. This connects to the internet using 3G mobile broadband, then shares the connection with any Wifi-enabled device.
To connect to a 3G network, the TL-MR3020 requires a 3G USB dongle, which cost around £30 for a pay-as-you-go model, or come free with many pay monthly deals. The TL-MR3020 supports most popular dongles (there are compatibility lists at http://www.snipca.com/X5224 and http://www.snipca.com/X5226. We used it successfully with two Three dongles (a ZTE MF627 and a Huawei E160G) that are not on the lists, so it is worth checking with TP-Link first.
It is very compact, measuring just 74x67x22mm. It is powered either via a USB cable, or the supplied AC power adapter although the included power cable is a too short. There is one network port, plus a USB port for the 3G dongle. A small switch selects one of three operating modes - sharing 3G, Wifi access point or a ‘Wisp' mode (for use with wireless ISPs, which are rare in the UK).
It should automatically detect and configure the 3G dongle, but this failed for us and we had to enter the 3G network details manually using information from Three - not a difficult process, but it might catch out less experienced users. The configuration menu, accessed via a browser, is easy to use and has plenty of help, plus a wizard to help with initial setup. All mobile broadband plans, whether pay-as-you-go or pay monthly, limit how much you can download each month. It's therefore handy that the configuration menu lets you restrict how much data connected devices can download, although this can be tricky to configure for inexperienced users.
Once running, PCs can connect to it just like any ordinary Wifi hotspot (it uses the latest 802.11n standard, but supports all older standards too). We found its usable range to be about 10-15 meters inside a building.
We tried it as an access point by removing the 3G dongle, connecting it to a router and turning the router's Wifi off. The TL-MR3020 needs no configuration when used like this, and it immediately added wireless capability to the router.
It can also add Wifi capability to any device with a network port, like a game console, or work as a range extender for a wireless router, although it only works in this mode with routers that support the wireless distribution system (WDS) standard.
It's a very versatile and affordable gadget if you frequently need a portable internet connection, and it isn't too difficult to use, although you will need to read the instructions carefully.
The TL-MR3020 is an affordable way of sharing a 3G broadband connection, and has plenty of other useful features
Easy to setup; low price; access point and range extender modes; decent Wifi range
Power cable too short; some instructions not clear; need to check dongle compatibility
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