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Instant hot spot: Cradlepoint PHS300 morphs EVDO into Wi-Fi

Useful but limited, a new gizmo lets you install a hot spot almost anywhere.

The CradlePoint WiPipe, attached to a Verizon EVDO USB Modem Rafe Needleman / CNET

An odd little device made me a hero tonight. We were in the middle of a what turned out to be a 13-hour blackout in my San Francisco neighborhood, and my wife was getting antsy since she couldn't get her laptop online to work. She had some battery power left, but no connection. (My computer has cellular, but I'd rather let my wife drive my car than use my laptop.)

But I had brought home a demo unit of the Cradlepoint PHS300, a battery-powered cellular-to-WiiFi router. With a Verizon USB EVDO modem plugged into it, it turned my house into a battery-powered hot spot even though we had no power to our cable modem.

Setting it up took no time at all. Other cool features, which we didn't use, include a built-in chat function for people sharing the connection, and flexible security and administration utilities.

The use cases for this device are limited. It's an expensive networking backup, for example. While the device itself is $179, you'll also need a cellular data plan and modem to use it, and that usually costs about $60 a month. Individuals who need to guarantee themselves that they'll always have Internet access should get a laptop or modem that connects directly to a cellular data network; there's no need to use Wi-Fi as an intermediary. But if you need to quickly pop up a hot spot for several people to use, it's worth looking at.