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.
For example, wireless printers, game consoles and other devices you are likely to have at home don't always have a browser for you to log into. In this case, you can allow these devices to bypass the log-in by using the Easy Setup to add MAC addresses to the list of "non-computer users," but it's generally a pain to find out a device's MAC address and type it in.
Home users will also likely experience unexpected disconnection if a local resource has been idle for more than 72 hours, which is common for a home server. And generally, having to log in once in a while is frankly annoying, time-consuming, and confusing for many people.
The good thing is that you can use the Administration section within the Advanced Setup part of the Web interface to disable the Easy Setup feature. Now the router will work just like any other router: clients can get connected without having to log in and you should use the wireless encryption to keep unwanted users away. And this is the method we recommend if you intend to use the router at home.
The Easy Setup aside, the AWRT-550N has a standard set of networking for a single-band wireless router. It has a built-in firewall that you can further customize to block different types of attacks from the Internet. The router can also customize the Internet traffic for different applications via the Applications section of the Web interface. Here you can also forward certain ports to certain clients, making one an FTP or an HTTP server, for example. The Access Policy section offers a rather comprehensive restriction based on keywords, URL, or type of traffic.
For security, the AWRT-550N offers all the existing encryption methods on the market, including all the variations of WEP, WPA, and WPA2.
The router's support for USB devices is exactly the same as that of the Trendnet TEW-673GRU . You will need to install a software utility called "Asante USB Device Server Control Center" on each network computer that will use the router's USB port. This utility needs to run in the background so that the computer can connect to the device. And remember: you can have only one machine connected at a time. All of these little details, plus the fact the USB feature works only when the Easy Setup mentioned above is turned on, make the USB port of the router almost useless.
The Asante Smart HotSpot Wireless N Router AWRT-550N offered decent performance in our test.
In throughput testing, it scored 52.5Mbps, which is very good for a single-band router. At this speed, it can finish transmitting 500MB of data in about 76 seconds. In our range test, where the router was set 100 feet away from the client, it registered 28Mbps, which is about average. In our mixed mode test, where the router was used with different clients on both the N and G standards, it scored a good 45.5Mbps.
As expected, the router's network storage performance was much slower than that of a dedicated NAS server. We tested it with a high-speed USB 3.0 external hard drive and the router registered 51.2Mbps and 55.2Mbps for the write and read tests, respectively. These were about average compared with other routers that have the same feature.
The best aspect of the AWRT-550N's performance is its signal stability. The router passed our 48-hour stress test without resetting once. This means you can rely on its signal for applications, such as online games, that require a constant connection to the Internet.
Service and support
The Asante Smart HotSpot Wireless N Router AWRT-550N comes with one a one-year warranty, which is short but generally standard for most routers. You do need to register the product and show proof of purchase before you can benefit from the warranty. Asante offers toll free support from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. CST from Monday through Friday.