The Netcomm Turbo 7 Wireless Gateway is an all-in-one device. You get a 3G modem, a router, a two-port Ethernet switch, an 802.11g wireless access point, a built-in firewall and support for VPN protocols. It can be purchased outright for $529 or obtained on a data plan.
A dedicated 3G router generally isn’t very useful for those of us who mainly access the Internet from a fixed line at home. However, it can be useful as a backup connection if your landline has problems or when setting up a distributed Internet connection at a convention, mobile kiosk or jobsite. Of course, it could also come in handy in remote areas where fixed-line connections are lacking. Netcomm’s Turbo 7 Wireless Gateway makes use of Telstra’s Next G network in an attempt to supply fast Internet access for users in these situations, and it is primarily aimed at business users.
With a metal case, three external antennas and an external heat sink, the Turbo 7 Wireless Gateway doesn't look like many other wireless routers on the market. The case and heat sink help keep the gateway’s wireless controller chips cool (they get noticeably warm after the unit has been running for a few hours).
In a break from tradition, the antennas are actually located on the front of the unit, the status lights on the top, and the ports and slots on the rear. The rear has a slot where you can insert your Telstra Next G-enabled SIM card into the gateway’s 3G modem. The modem supports tri-band operation for HSUPA, HSDPA and UMTS networks, as well as quad-band operation for EDGE and GSM networks. The Turbo 7 Wireless Gateway has two 10/100 Ethernet ports and a USB port, which can be used to share a USB storage device or a printer (although the device doesn't come with mapping software to make it easy to access storage devices). An RJ11 port is present, so you can plug in a good old analog phone to make and receive calls through the router using your 3G account.
Setting up the Netcomm Turbo 7 is meant to be easy, and it sort of is. It’s one of the few products we’ve seen that ships with a USB key instead of an installation CD. Not a bad idea considering many of us use laptops without optical drives. Not to mention you can reuse the USB key for storing your personal files (though it's only 256MB).
The actual set-up process is intuitive, as all you have to do is keep clicking next while selecting a few options along the way. It can detect whether your PC has a dynamic or static IP and alter its settings to accommodate the gateway, so you don't really have to know anything about networking in order to set it up. You can select your preferred LAN connection method during the setup procedure; you can use either 802.11g Wi-Fi or 10/100 Ethernet.
The wireless access point of the gateway is already configured with encryption enabled, and it sets up the security key automatically. You can change the wireless password, but if you will be setting up multiple computers, it's best to leave the default password so the set-up program on the USB stick can connect to the gateway.
At this point you are asked to set up the hardware and connect it. The gateway has three antennas: the outermost ones are for the 3G signal, while the middle one is for Wi-Fi. After the antennas have been screwed on, you must insert the SIM card, which should have shipped with your unit at the time of purchase. It’s at this point that you are allowed to switch on the gateway and attach the Ethernet cable to it from your computer (or connect wirelessly). The set-up process will then check that your computer can communicate with the gateway and will prepare it for use, as well as install the 3G connection manager software. This preparation and installation process shouldn’t take more than three minutes, but it can freeze your computer; let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a proper Telstra set-up procedure if it didn’t freeze and make you restart from scratch.
At the end of the installation, the Telstra Connection Manager will launch and automatically connect you to the Internet (launching Internet Explorer, even if Firefox is your default). The connection manager software will show you all the details of your connection, including the strength of your signal and the network you are connected to. Unfortunately, it can’t show you your data usage. Although it has a link to ‘View data usage’ this merely launches a browser to take you to the Telstra Web site where you can log in to get the usage details. Another thing it lacks is a connect/disconnect button, which actually makes it rather difficult to manage your connection efficiently.
The speed you will be able to attain with this 3G gateway will depend on the area in which you use it. Our tests in the Sydney metro area averaged a download speed of 1.49 megabits per second, and an upload speed of 90 kilobits per second. This download speed is fine for most tasks, but the upload speed is poor for anything except sending e-mails without attachments. Further tests conducted in North Sydney varied in speed, but we obtained an average throughput of 2.8Mbps for downloads and 1.2Mbps for uploads.
Overall, you could say the Netcomm Turbo 7 Wireless Gateway is an amalgamation of old and new technology. Having the ability to distribute your 3G connection over a wireless network is great, but 802.11n wireless networking would make this a more useful product, giving it slightly longer range and increased wireless speed over a greater distance. As it stands, you can transfer files at 2 megabytes per second using its 802.11g access point, and it has a usable distance of approximately 17m. These results will vary depending on your environment.
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