SMC Barricade N SMCWBR14-3GN review
draft 802.11n, 4x 10/100 Ethernet ports
Mobile broadband is a great way to get online when you're out and about, but it's also a decent alternative to a regular broadband connection.
The only problem is that sharing a 3G USB modem between multiple computers is relatively difficult and inconvenient.
This is a problem that SMC's Barricade N SMCWBR14-3GN router aims to solve. As well as a standard Ethernet WAN port, which plugs into an Ethernet cable or ADSL modem, it has a USB port into which you can plug a 3G mobile broadband dongle. You can use the 3G connection as the primary internet connection or as an automatic backup should the fixed broadband connection fail.
The router comes without an installation disc, but a setup wizard is built into its web interface. The wizard helps you configure your internet connections and choose which is the primary connection. It also prompts you to configure your wireless security settings so that you end up with a secure network.
To configure the 3G connection, you need to know the correct dial command (*99***#1) and your mobile provider's 3G Access Point Name (APN), username and password. A Google search should provide most of this, but contact your provider if you're not sure.
The only other potential pitfall is modem support. Looking through the release notes for the latest router firmware on SMC's website (there's no easier way to check compatibility), we found that the router supports common 3G adaptors, including Huawei's E220, E169, E156 and E172, but not the E180 used by BT's mobile service. There's also little support for the ZTE modems used by 3. Each firmware release adds new adaptors, though, so this situation could change. If you don't have a compatible dongle, several shops sell the E220 for around £100, and you can find other models on eBay.
We tested the router with a T-Mobile Huawei E220 modem. Once we'd entered the 3G settings and the adaptor had connected to the network, we were able to browse the internet on all connected computers.
A downside of sharing a 3G connection is that it might make it easier to exceed your download limit. This needn't be a problem with the Barricade N, as a Budget Control option lets you disable the 3G connection after a set amount of time or according to a data limit.
The router did well in our tests, with consistently fast transfer speeds including 15.1Mbit/s at 20m with a Centrino 2 laptop. The Barricade N is a clever router with some great 3G features, but its USB modem support lets it down slightly. If you need a fast 3G router, Billion's dual ADSL/3G BiPAC 7402NX is easy to configure, with better 3G modem support, but it's expensive.