The Asante Smart HotSpot Wireless N Router AWRT-550N offers a public wireless hot-spot with a built-in log-in mechanism. However, for the router to be useful in the home or office, it's best to turn the log-in mechanism off to save time and frustration.
Other than that, it's a decent single-band router that has built-in support for USB devices. You'll need to install a piece of software on your computer before you can use the router as a connected USB device, and only one computer can do this at a time.
If you own a restaurant or a cafe and want to offer wireless connection, consider the AWRT-550N; otherwise, there are many other alternatives around the price of $110 that are easier to manage.
Design and ease of use
The AWRT-550N looks squarish and comes in an internal antenna design, making it seem more compact than a router of the same size. On the back it has 4 LAN ports (for wired clients) and a WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem). All of these ports are regular 10/100 Ethernet.
The front the router has an array of blue LED lights that show the status of the ports, the Internet connection, and the wireless connections. These LEDs are really blue and really bright. In the middle of them is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button that initiates the 2-minute window during which other WPS-compliant devices can enter the network automatically.
Also on the front is the USB port that can be used with external storage devices or printers. Generally we prefer this port to be on the back to help hide the USB cable from plain sight.
The router comes with a CD that contains nothing but a user guide in a PDF format. However, you don't need much help to set it up. Just plug it in, connect a computer to one of its LAN ports, connect its WAN port to your broadband modem and you're basically done with setting up.
However, using the router is a different story.
By default, the router has a built-in log-in mechanism via its Web interface. The first time you launch a Web browser from any connected computer, you will be greeted with this log-in page. The log-in process is required for both the ongoing management of the router and the establishment of the connection from the client to the router, depending on the type account you use.
For management, you will need to log in with an account that has administrative privileges, such as the built-in "admin" account. Here you can further customize the router's settings and functionality.
You can choose to use the router's "Easy Setup" or "Advanced Setup" on its Web site. Against our expectations, the Advanced Setup doesn't include everything that Easy Setup can do. This is kind of misleading, as the Easy Setup actually adds functionality.
You can use either method to customize your wireless network, including changing its name (or SSID), the encryption, and so on. If you use the Easy Setup, which warrants the log-in mechanism, however, it's recommended that you leave the wireless network open. Only the Easy Setup option allows you to create more user accounts, which are necessary if you want to get connected to the router.
As mentioned above, by default, any clients connected to the router will first need to log in using a Web browser before they can actually get access to the Internet or any other network resources. The log-in credential expires every 72 hours, at which point, the client will need to log in again. You can use one user account to log in from multiple clients.
This is similar to existing hot-spot services, such as those of T-Mobile or Boingo, which allow anyone to connect in order to access a Web page from which they can sign in or pay for service to get access to the Internet.
Though this method of security allows you to limit the access to the Internet and local network without having to encrypt your wireless network, it's rather cumbersome for a home network.