Tools Of The Trade: The Linksys 3G router

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Installing a 3G mobile data card is a convenient and quick way to connect a single laptop to the internet - for example, for staff who mostly work away from the office, or who travel a great deal. But sometimes small teams need to work together in places where there is no fixed internet connection.

Linksys, the networking hardware manufacturer, has co-operated with Vodafone to develop a device that bridges the gap between fixed and mobile networks.

The WRT54G3G works by using a single 3G data card to connect to the internet and then using wireless technology to create a local network. This allows a workgroup to share the cost of the mobile data service, but also to exchange files and share facilities such as printers or storage over the local network.

Possible applications include building sites, trade shows, large events and conferences - or indeed anywhere where it would be useful to share a fast internet connection without committing to a long-term broadband contract or making expensive arrangements for a temporary, fixed internet link. The only full-time infrastructure that the WRT54G3G needs is a power socket.

The cost of 3G data cards has fallen sharply recently, but this product still makes financial sense. Vodafone charges £25 a month for 250MB of data, or £45 for unlimited use. But there is no need to take out a subscription for a new card just to use with the WRT54G3G - any Vodafone 3G card will work.

If the Linksys hardware is not being used with the 3G network, it can also serve as a standard wireless router, so it is possible to set it up as part of a permanent network, and insert the data card in an emergency.

Setting up the Linksys router with a Vodafone 3G data card is incredibly simple: follow the "quick start" guide in the box and a network should be up and running in a few minutes. Finetuning the router's settings - for security, say - is also easily done using the router's web interface.

Performance, in a strong 3G coverage area, feels as quick as a basic broadband connection. Should a fixed network be available, the WRT54G3G will work seamlessly with that as well.

This is certainly a niche product. But for businesses that fit into its niche - from architects' practices to event organisers - it is a flexible, cost-effective and well engineered piece of equipment.

RATING: 5 out of 5.

PROS: cost-effective and simple way to share a 3G data account, or to set up a temporary network.

CONS: none.

PRICE: from £89.99 plus VAT (with bundled data card) to £110 plus VAT.