Announced as T-Mobile began a bigthe CellSpot is a great deal for T-Mobile users who don't get a cell signal at home. Not only is it free (after a $25 deposit, but with no monthly fees), it's also an excellent Wi-Fi router delivering excellent performance and a great set of features, rivaling the best home routers on the market. But that's to be expected, since it's the rebranded version of the , which earned CNET's Editors' Choice Award for super-fast performance and top-notch features.
And as a cell signal supporting device, the CellSpot (aka the TM-AC1900) worked very well with handsets that support Wi-Fi calling. I was able to make calls via the CellSpot's Wi-Fi signal, even in places where there was no regular cell signal at all, with great call quality.
All things considered, for T-Mobile customers, the CellSpot is an outstanding deal with no catches. MetroPCS customers will have to buy it for $99, but even they should pick one up today. For other great, though not free, choices that also support Wi-Fi calling well, check out this list of the top 802.11ac routers on the market.
Design and setup
The T-Mobile TM-AC1900 is first and foremost a standard Wi-Fi router. As such, any Wi-Fi-enabled device, from a laptop to a phone, can connect to it to transmit data. And of course, it also lets Wi-Fi calling-enabled smartphones, such as theor the new and , make regular calls.
As I mentioned, the CellSpot is basically the same as the Asus RT-AC68U. That gives it support for the three-stream setup of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard with a top speed of up to 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.)
On the back the CellSpot has four Gigabit LAN ports (for wired clients), one Gigabit WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem), one USB 3.0 port, and one USB 2.0 port. You can use these USB ports to host printers, external storage devices, and even a cellular modem. Other than the T-Mobile branding on the front, it looks exactly the same as the RT-AC68U.
It's very easy to set up the CellSpot. Out of the box, it comes with two preconfigured Wi-Fi networks (one for each band) with the setup information printed on its back. All you have to do is turn in on, connect its WAN port to the broadband modem, and you're ready to go.
(Note that the CellSpot works best for Wi-Fi calling when it connects directly to the broadband modem, and not via another router. However, Wi-Fi calling works as long as the router is connected to the Internet.)
To customize its settings, you'll need to use its Web interface. To do this, from a connected computer, just point the browser to the router's default IP address of 192.168.29.1 and log in with "admin" and "password" as the username and password.
Excellent feature set, Wi-Fi calling supported
Once logged in you'll notice the CellSpot has the same interface as the RT-AC68U. However, it has a slightly different feature set.
The CellSpot retains most of the RT-AC68U's features, including support for all common home network settings, a built-in VPN server, robust QoS features, a helpful visual network map, support for IPv6, and many other things commonly found in high-end routers. (For more on these features,.)
There are a few differences, however.
First, the CellSpot supports only four guest Wi-Fi networks (two on each band), whereas the RT-AC68U supports six guest networks. Secondly, the CellSpot doesn't offer Dual-WAN (the RT-AC68U does), a feature that turns one of the four LAN ports into a second WAN port so that the router can work with two Internet providers (such as cable and DSL) at the same time. This is not a big deal, however, since most of us don't need more than two guest networks or more than one LAN port.
And finally, the CellSpot has something the RT-AC68U doesn't have. It includes T-Mobile's Evolved Packet Data Gateway (ePDG) technology, and hence supposedly offers better support for Wi-Fi calling. In my testing it seemed the CellSpot automatically prioritizes its Internet bandwidth for cell-related services no matter how you customize the router. Normally, you need to configure the router's built-in QoS feature for Internet prioritizing; the CellSpot takes care of this for you.