Cellular routers are gaining attention as a solution for mobile work teams or emergency crews that need access to the Internet but have no permanent base. Another common use for these 3G/Wi-Fi routers is in commuter vehicles, such as trains or company buses, but if you're just hankering to be online with a few friends in the park, this could be a good, if expensive, solution. As with the Junxion Box and the Kyocera KR1 router, the 3G Phoebus is a Wi-Fi router that uses the cellular data network for a back-end broadband connection. Like the Junxion Box, the 3G Phoebus uses data PC cards, whereas the KR1 router can access the network via data PC card or an EV-DO-enabled phone, which could mean one less product for you to purchase if you already have an EV-DO phone with a data plan.
Right out of the box, the 3G Phoebus is eye-catching. In a departure from the standard boxy router, the 3G Phoebus is a small, glossy-black pyramid (it also comes in silver and white, though only the black model is available in the United States). Each side of the base is 8 inches wide and the unit stands about 6 inches tall. While aesthetically attractive, it's not practically designed: for mobile teams, space is at a premium, and this oddly shaped router could be difficult to pack in with other gear. Also, the pyramid shape precludes stacking other gear (such as switches or hubs) on top, though it can sit steadily atop other equipment on its four rubber feet.
The front of the pyramid has a silver power button and four LEDs (power, 3G network activity, Wi-Fi activity, and Ethernet). The two sides have vents near the base, while the back of the unit houses the PC Card slot, a single Ethernet port, a serial port, and a power port. The box is very lightweight, almost to the point of feeling chintzy. We'd advise against placing the 3G Phoebus on the floor; a solid kick is likely to crack the case.
The 3G Phoebus works with all the major 3G networks, including EDGE, UMTS, and EV-DO and supports a variety of cards from Verizon, Sprint, Alltel and AT&T/Cingular. (You can find the list of supported networks and cards here.) You'll have to check with the various network providers to see if your geographic area is covered by one of these high-speed data networks. We did our test run with the Novatel V620 from Verizon.
Setting up the 3G Phoebus was a snap: insert the PC Card and power up the router. According to the included installation guide, the network name should be the same as the serial number on the router's box. Almost: the serial number was MA16SG110989 and the network was called topglobal110989--close enough. You can also wire a single PC via the Ethernet connection or connect a switch/hub for multiple hardwired connections.
Once you've established the connection (which we did through the Windows XP network connection window), you can point your browser to the provided IP address to access the Web-based configuration tool. The tool is well designed and simple to use. Here, you can establish your security settings, which include WPA, WEP, an SPI firewall, MAC address filtering, and a VPN pass-through. Unlike the Junxion Box, the 3G Phoebus supports 802.11g clients, so the performance should be faster. In CNET Labs' throughput test, though, the 3G Phoebus showed only middling throughput speeds: 11.9Mbps at 10 feet and 7.98Mbps at 210 feet. While those speeds are slow compared to those of dedicated Wi-Fi routers, they should be sufficient for most users for basic productivity tasks. In our anecdotal tests, Web pages loaded a little slower over the 3G Phoebus's Wi-Fi than over our standard home Wi-Fi network. The lag was noticeable, but not annoying.
Top Global backs the 3G Phoebus with a one-year warranty. Free, toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Online support includes a tech support e-mail link (Top Global says you should get a response within 12 hours), plus there are firmware downloads and a user forum.