You and your buddies are enjoying a beautiful hiking expedition through the mountainous wilds of whatchamacallit away from the clutter of modern civilization.
Finding a suitable place to camp, you pitch your tents, and, later that night, you are all relaxed around the campfire roasting marshmallows in one hand and doodling on your laptops with the other. Gooey marshmallow trails streak across the keyboards.
Suddenly, one member of the group has a thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could network our computers together out here in the middle of nowhere?”
You grin like a Cheshire cat as you reach into your bag and pull out the Zonet ZSR4174WEportable access point (AP) and router.
“Always be prepared,” you boast. Minutes later, you and your buddies are swapping files and networking under the stars, and everyone thinks you are a genius.
The Zonet ZSR4174WE (Zonet, for short) is superb for creating a wireless LAN for two reasons: it’s small (about the size of a pack of playing cards), and it operates from USB power so there is no need to carry an AC adapter. As long as you have a free USB port to supply power, the Zonet works. Also, the Zonet operates as an independent device free of any operating system, so it is compatible with Linux and Windows.
Appearances are deceiving, and this tiny device supports a wide range of functions to enable wireless networking. Rather than repeat the specifications here, have a look at the product specifications on the Zonet web site for detailed information.
What Does It Do?
The most obvious function is the access point. After setting up the router, you can network computers wirelessly using the 801.11b/g/n protocols complete with security and many settings too numerous to name.
However, there is more. The Zonet also supports Client+AP, WDS+AP, WISP, and wireless router modes. While I have little need to use any of these extra modes myself, they are present if needed. You can switch modes by pressing the small MODE button located on the side of the device, and blues LEDs on the top indicate which mode the Zonet is operating in.
How useful is the portable Zonet? One example is to provide wireless capability to a wired LAN. Suppose you are staying in a hotel that provides a single LAN cable for Internet access. With the Zonet, you can plug it into the wired LAN and access the Internet wirelessly from the comfort of an easy chair across the suite.
The Zonet is powered by USB using a standard USB A-mini-B cable. (One is included.) Simply plug the Zonet into your laptop or netbook’s USB port, and Presto! You have a wireless network. This one feature makes the Zonet valuable as a portable wireless router. No matter where you are, you can plug in the Zonet and set up a quick and easy wireless network.
Power consumption appears low, so even a netbook will provide a few hours of running time.
An AC adapter is included that converts AC power into USB power that then plugs into the Zonet through its USB connector. This allows you to place the Zonet in another location apart from any computer, such as higher up or around a wall for better reception. (Be sure to have a USB cable or an AC extension cable that is long enough.)
Small and Lightweight
This blue and black marvel is so small and lightweight that you can easily slip it into your shirt pocket and forget about its existence. It barely weighs anything. A pack of playing cards is larger and heavier than this.
Because of its small size and light weight, it is perfect for travel. Surprisingly, the AC adapter is bulkier and heavier than the Zonet itself.
All is not rosy in the Zonet rose garden. Surprisingly, this is a tricky device to set up due to the poorly written instruction manual that ships in the box. A better PDF manual is available that helps explain the modes and configuration, but either way, be prepared to spend some time acquainting yourself with the features. Indeed, it would be a good idea to browse through this manual to learn about the Zonet’s features before purchase.
On the bright side, once set up for a particular mode, such as AP, the Zonet remembers the settings unless you press the WPS/RESET button located on the side of the device which causes the Zonet to return to its factory defaults. Until that happens, just plug and go.
The RJ45 network connector on the Zonet is misleading at first. You need to use it to set up the Zonet and connect to wired LANs. You do not actually use it for networking like you would with a wired router.
The USB port shown on the Zonet only supplies power. You do not communicate with or configure the Zonet through USB.
Default IP is 192.168.2.1
Never forget this, and you will spare yourself many troubles. Of course, you can’t forget it because it’s written on the label on the bottom along with the default username and password in the event of a system reset.
Although you can change the IP to anything you like, I find it most convenient to leave it at 192.168.2.1 and let the 192.168.2.0 network ID exist for the Zonet AP. This makes it easier to administer all other devices intended to connect to the Zonet. I had to perform many resets when configuring the Zonet, and each time it reset to 192.168.2.1, so it was easier to just leave it at that IP instead of changing it.
All administration is performed through a web browser. To configure the Zonet, plug the network cable directly into the computer (or to a hub or switch) and log in to 192.168.2.1 using the default username and password from any web browser.
There is a plethora of settings available, so be prepared to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the configuration options.
The Zonet can operate in only one mode at a time, and you configure the modes. Each mode has its own settings that can be saved to a configuration file for faster retrieval.
If you ever forget the wireless password, then you will need to connect through the network cable to access the router settings because, obviously, there is no way to connect wirelessly without the wireless password. That is what the wired RJ45 network connector is for. However, if you forget the Zonet username and password too, then you have no choice but to reset the Zonet to its defaults.
The Zonet tends to feel slightly warm after heavy activity but nothing that would burn your finger or melt the plastic. Plenty of vents on the bottom provide ample ventilation.
In AP mode, you can filter devices by MAC addresses to allow only certain devices to connect to the Zonet. This is useful when networking deep in the mountains from the privacy of your tent. You never know who might be lurking behind the bushes.
The Zonet is not limited to traveling. From my experience, I have found this to be as useful and reliable as a dedicated desktop wireless router. The range might be smaller compared to a wireless router with an antenna, but I have never experienced any dropped connections. Of course, the connections dropped when the portable devices were moved beyond the Zonet’s range, but that is not a fault of the Zonet. For close distances, this is a handy device to have.
You could easily tuck this router behind a desk and hide it. Few would recognize its presence, though the AC adapter might reveal its location. It is functional enough to act as a standalone wireless router for everyday use.
Quite simply, the light weight, small size, USB power supply, and array of operating modes make the Zonet ZSR4147WE an excellent choice for a portable wireless router. With 801.11b/g/n protocol support, standard access restrictions (such as MAC filtering and access times), and wireless security up to WPA2, most wireless devices can connect while keeping most baddies out.
However, the Zonet is not perfect. Configuration can be a hassle and obscure at times. A few areas could use refinement, but once ready to go, it operates like any other wireless router and has always served me well for what it does.
The AP mode will probably be the most useful feature since it creates an impromptu wireless network without relying upon an AC outlet. All you need is one USB port to supply power.
Combined with a cluster of netbooks and a program like Retroshare, you and your hiking buddies can enjoy peer-to-peer filesharing and electronic communication while munching on trail mixes around a campfire deep in the mountains.
Always be prepared.