Technology

Kyocera KR2: Share and Share Alike


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Editor's Rating: star rating

The KR2 Mobile Router allows on-the-go professionals to easily share a cellular broadband connection

If your corporate environment is anything like mine, you know how frustrating it can be for visitors to connect to the Internet through the maze of firewalls and passwords required to keep hackers and other interlopers from accessing your company's network.

That's why, a few years ago, I was happy to stumble upon the Kyocera KR1 mobile Wi-Fi router, which lets you share a cellular broadband connection from Verizon Wireless and Sprint (S).

For those not familiar, most cellular providers offer a mobile Internet service for roaming professionals who need to connect their laptops more frequently than they can find a Wi-Fi hotspot at, say, a coffee shop or hotel. The service is pricey, often $60 a month, and requires a special modem that either slides into the laptop's communications card slot or, increasingly, a USB port.

The first Kyocera router featured a slot for one of those communications cards. By slipping the card into the router instead of your laptop, you could share the service with multiple users by Wi-Fi or with four Ethernet cable slots. It's a no-fuss way to quickly create an open wireless network, negating the need to type in passwords or install software.

But the original cellular modems, also known as PCMCIA cards, have been largely supplanted by smaller laptop "ExpressCards" and USB modems, both of which do not fit into the larger slot on the KR1. So when Kyocera contacted me to let me know the company had begun offering a new device, the KR2, I rejoiced.

Notable Features

A stylish white and gray with black rubberized bottom, the KR2 weighs less than a pound and measures 8.5-in. wide by 5.3-in. deep by 1.3-in. tall. Although these dimensions make the KR2 easy to carry around, it can also be used to simply share a single cellular broadband subscription among several people. If you plan on traveling with it, though, you'll want to pack the KR2 carefully since the three antennas on the back cannot be removed and do not fold completely flat.

The $220 device also improves on the KR1 by giving users the ability to share regular home and office broadband connections rather than limiting them to a cellular data card. There's an Ethernet port that lets you set up a wired or wireless network off your DSL or cable broadband connection. While the cellular broadband signal can penetrate indoors, a wired broadband connection is more steady. If your DSL or cable connection is not available, the KR2 will automatically "fail over" to whatever mobile broadband card you have set up.

The KR2 also features a wealth of connectivity options. There are two USB ports for plugging in cellular data cards or to use your cell phone itself as a modem. There are also slots for the original PCMCIA communications cards and the newer, smaller ExpressCards.

Another plus: The KR2 can handle the speedier cellular signal, known as EV-DO Rev. A, that both Sprint and Verizon have been rolling out around the U.S.

Improved Signals and Speed

But the biggest improvement with the KR2 may be the switch to the 802.11n flavor of Wi-Fi, which carries the wireless signal farther than the 802.11g transmitter in the KR1. In my tests at the office, the KR2's signal reached a few dozen feet extra. In places where the radio waves are unobstructed by walls and floors, you'll get even better range.

I tested it with Kyocera's blazing-fast KPC680 ExpressCard offered by Verizon. While you won't get the speed offered by a Wi-Fi hotspot, I found typical Web page downloads took just a few seconds longer than with my wired connection at the office. And when I downloaded a few video clips from YouTube, the cellular card and KR2 actually performed better, with none of the jerkiness caused by the corporate firewall interfering with the connection.

For the security-minded, the KR2 does offer the option of setting user passwords or tunneling through a corporate security firewall. It also supports the latest wireless encryption schemes.

The market for the KR2 isn't huge. Many mobile professionals can make do with Wi-Fi or a solo cellular data account. But it's a great option for those who want to set up a quick network or share access. For that, I give it a hearty recommendation.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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