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Portable wi-fi nirvana is here

Broadband speeds are getting better and better in India, but they have still not spread their reach throughout the country. And in some places there are quality issues.

apps Updated: Feb 04, 2014 11:51 IST
Gagandeep Singh Sapra

Broadband speeds are getting better and better in India, but they have still not spread their reach throughout the country. And in some places there are quality issues.

You can always have a 3G mobile data connection, but not all devices work with 3G directly, whether it is your Internet radio, or your Apple TV at home.

This week we explore options that will work when you need to connect all such devices — on a single data connection.


Option 1: Use your cell phone as a personal hotspot
More and more of our cellphones are now 3G enabled, and with the recent change in hardware and software, our cellphones can turn into wi-fi hotspots, allowing us to share the 3G connection with wi-fi only devices, such as a tablet PC or an e-reader.

The catch is that cellphone 3G services are relatively more expensive and the phone also needs to be plugged into a charger if you use it a lot — as you will when you are turning it into a hotspot.

And then, if you are leaving home, your hotspot leaves with you! Not great when your family might want to surf the Net!

Option 2: Convert a 3G dongle to wi-fi
There are simple and complex ways to share a 3G dongle —the kind that plugs into a laptop or netbook. One is to get a wireless 3G router such as the TP-Link MR3040 that retails for Rs 3,199. The router comes with a built in battery backup, so that your Internet connection keeps working even when there is a power cut. The router works with most 3G dongles in the market and after a first-time configuration, there is not much to bother about.

Just imagine: put the router in your car and it becomes a hotspot. The TP-Link router supports the 802.11 n protocol, enabling you to have high speed wi-fi links between your devices, and also has parental control to block out a few undesirable websites. The battery lasts 4 to 5 hours and then you can always recharge it.

The catch is that you need to buy that router and also get tied to the 3G provider. If you need to switch service providers, you need to shell out an additional amount — anything between `900 and `1,900 on current reckoning.

Option 3: Converting a 3G SIM into a router
The most feasible of the options is to get a SIM card dedicated for 3G services. Most of the telecom providers will sell you such a card. Once you have it, you buy a dongle such as the Huawei E8231, for Rs 2,990. The Huawei dongle works with all the GSM cards sold in India, and comes with a USB and wi-fi built in. Want to use it on a single PC? Pop the datacard loaded with the SIM card into the PC using the USB port. Want to use it as a wi-fi spot?

Plug the datacard into a USB charger and you have a hotspot that can connect upto 10 people. With support for HSPA+ technology, you can get streaming data speeds of up to 21.6 Mbps.


The bottomline
There are other options as well. Tata Photon sells a wi-fi hub that is a datacard with a built in wi-fi but locks you into the Tata service. You can also set up a home router on your Windows or Linux PC and use a datacard to share the Internet. However, in our assessment, if you wish to avoid spending again and again on a dongle and get the best possible price, Option 3 is the way to go.