Wi-Fi widgets make homes free-range

Checking email on the go? Get fast Internet speeds with Novatel's Liberate mobile Wi-Fi hub.
Checking email on the go? Get fast Internet speeds with Novatel's Liberate mobile Wi-Fi hub.
Posted: March 29, 2013

WOULDN'T it be great to have Wi-Fi wireless Internet connectivity everywhere for our gadgets?

Someday maybe we will - if big guns like Google and Comcast and forward-thinking municipalities ever decide to build hot spots to totally blanket the town.

But at the moment, we can make do with freedom-breeding, Wi-Fi signal-spreading devices such as the D-Link DAP-1320 Wireless Range Extender and Novatel's aptly named MiFi Liberate mobile hot spot.

Plug 'n' Play

Designed for home use, the tiny D-Link plug-in booster does a pretty decent job of extending the signal range of your current wireless router, which improves the speed and stability of signal reception at "fringe" zones far removed from the wireless router.

Thick-walled basements and garages often fall off a home network Wi-Fi grid. Before I installed this $50 range extender, I was having issues downloading email and images onto an iPad in the bedroom - two floors and maybe 100 feet removed from the router in a home office. The iPad also was reluctant to perform its remote control (app) duties for a Sonos streaming music system.

You might think that a Sonos Playbar would be easily roused by an iPad in the same room, but the control signals from the tablet to the sound bar actually take a circuitous route through the router first. With the D-Link signal supercharger, volume adjustments are quick and butter-smooth, and song picks cue as slickly as if a club or radio DJ was controlling the tunes.

D-Link promises a super easy and secure "two button" set up for this range extender. Just push the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Service) buttons - identified with a lightning bolt symbol - on both modems/routers and the DAP-1320, which plugs into any power outlet.

But, oddly, the big WPS button on my Verizon FiOS router proved a dummy. "We haven't activated the feature, because there isn't enough consumer demand," explained a service rep. (Hey, I was demanding!) So I had to jump through a few manual setup hoops to get the router and extender to "handshake." By the way, the WPS button on Comcast modems/routers is "fully functional," according to a company spokesperson.

Liberate Me, Novatel

Novatel has been pushing the use of Mobile Wi-Fi "hub" devices for several years in partnership with mobile-phone service providers. These pocketable, portable Mi-Fi hubs are usually activated with an annual contract and sold at a subsidized, $50 price , though Virgin Mobile lets you pay more for the hub and then proceed with pay-as-you-go, month-to-month service.

Mi-Fis are 3G- and 4G-grade transmitter/receivers that act like mini cell towers. Multiple laptops, tablets, game systems and other wireless devices can be connected to it (and the Internet) simultaneously - for Web surfing, sending emails, playing online games and streaming short YouTube videos. (The service plans are way too small and pricey to warrant watching movies.)

Novatel's newest and sleekest Liberate is the first that comes with a big visual display - a bright, 2.8-inch color LCD touch screen that proves handy when you can't remember (or want to quietly share) the device's password, or need to check on your data bucket depletion. AT&T's basic monthly service delivers 5GB worth of data for $50; additional gigs cost $10 each. The hub can also be used outside the U.S with an international service plan.

The Liberate also lets you wirelessly share files and images loaded onto the device via a microSD card. And, most important, Liberate is the first 4G Wi-Fi hub running on AT&T's fast LTE network. As an added bonus, it boasts a very robust battery that keeps the device humming for at least 10 hours of continuous use, or for days in standby mode.

During tests both in my home and in public settings, as clocked with speedtest.net, the device averaged download speeds in the 2 Megabits per second to 7 Mbps range and often uploaded even faster. Other reviewers of the product have clocked the device downloading as high as 19 Mbps, but clearly your mileage will vary.

What really shocked me was that this wireless Internet connector regularly outperformed my fiber-optic cabled Verizon FiOs service, which charges for speeds "up to 15 Mbps" but never runs faster on Wi-Fi than 4 Mbps, For shame, Verizon.


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

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