Axim Communications' MR-108N 3G router is a product that's hard to beat when it comes to value for money: it's a versatile wireless router that can be used to distribute a 3G, cable or ADSL2+ connection.
Axim Communications is a new vendor in the Australian 3G router market. It's distributed by PC Range — the same folk that brought us the popular and good value for money Billion and Minitar product ranges.
The Axim Communications MR-108N doesn't have a modem built in, so you will have to use your own. However it will accept a wide range of 3G modems and any Ethernet-based broadband modem. There is a USB port on the side that can be used to plug in a 3G USB adapter, while the rear of the unit has a 4-port switch and a WAN port for an ADSL2+ or cable modem.
With a retail price of $259, the cost of the router isn't high and its street price should be closer to the $200 mark. This makes it a good option for a small business that wants to have a 3G fallback if its main Internet connection ever goes down yet doesn't want to buy a dedicated 3G router. The MR-108N doesn't have built-in 3G antennas, so the 3G connection will rely on the antennas of the USB stick that's used. The router supports 3G USB-based modems from Internode, Optus, Telstra, 3 and Vodafone, and can work on the fastest 3G network currently available, HSPA+ (Telstra's Next G network has HSPA+ capability).
We tested it with a Telstra Turbo 21 Next G USB modem and didn't run into any difficulties. Once the USB modem is plugged in to the side of the router, you need to manually change the connection type in the WAN1 section of the router's Web interface, select your service provider, enter your PIN, and save the changes. However, we found that we sometimes had to restart the router before we could actually connect to the 3G network.
The Internet indicator on the status panel of the router only works when a modem is plugged into its WAN port, so you will have to refer to the 3G USB dongle’s own status lights to see if it’s connected properly. For this reason, it would have been beneficial for the router’s USB port to be facing the other way. The port is mounted so that the top of the USB stick faces towards the back of the router, rather than the front.
Speeds were reliable during tests held in North Sydney as well as in the Sydney metro area, although they were faster in the former location. We achieved an average download rate of 2.63 megabits per second and an average upload rate of 1.18Mbps. These speeds will vary depending on your location, but they indicate to us is that the Axim Communications MR-108N 3G router can deliver reasonably good speeds in areas with good 3G coverage.
You can regulate the bandwidth by using the router's built-in 'intelligent dynamic bandwidth management' tool in the Web interface. It's easy to use as it allows you to manually punch in the maximum speeds (in kilobits per second) for downloads and uploads. This works with either a 3G connection or an ADSL2+ connection. You can affect the bandwidth as a whole, or you can restrict it based on IP address; it can be either a static or a dynamic restriction.
We ran an iiNet ADSL2+ connection through the MR-108N without any issues. We simply changed the connection type to PPPoE, entered our login details, and the router did the rest. The router was reliable during our tests and handled heavy peer-to-peer sessions as well as local file server traffic without any sluggishness.
It has an 802.11n access point built in, which can run at up to 300Mbps. It returned throughput of 3.98 megabytes per second in our close range wireless tests with a laptop using a Broadcom 4322AG wireless chip and 5.7MBps with a laptop using an Intel WiFi 5100 chip. You'll get good wireless speeds if you use a Centrino-branded laptop, which employs the latter chip.
Unlike many wireless routers we see, this one actually has the capability to run two wireless networks at once. All you have to do is configure two separate SSIDs and encryption and then log on to the network that you want to use. It's a good way to segregate devices from shared folders on wireless networks and have one network for guests and the other for regular users. However, shared folders located on computers directly attached to the router's Ethernet ports will show up on both wireless networks unless you enable the 'wireless isolation' feature.
Getting the MR-108N up and running is a relatively simple task. Its interface is well laid out and easy to understand. It has handy logging features so that you can track your data usage by the last two hours, day, week or month. Unfortunately, it seemed to lose all the data for the week when we unplugged it to move it to another testing location. It's not as good as a dedicated usage monitor from your ISP, but it can give you an indication of how much bandwidth your connection has been using.
One thing that didn't work well in the Web interface was the disconnect button for the 3G modem. Clicking on this icon didn't do anything. We had to unplug the USB device or change to a PPPoE connection in order to disconnect it.
With support for 3G as well as landline modems, full-speed 802.11n networking, dual wireless SSIDs, port forwarding, DMZ, a built-in firewall, and bandwidth throttling, the Axim Communications MR-108N router is a versatile beast and it performed well in our tests. Coupled with good ease of use, it's a worthwhile investment for anyone who wants a 3G backup for their landline but doesn't want to run a dedicated 3G modem/router.
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