Most portable 3G routers — we're thinking here of models such as NetComm's MyZone, Virgin Mobile's WiFi Modem or Internode's MiFi — have tended to the smaller side, as befits their portable nature. AximCom's MR-102N is larger. Not huge, but where the other competitors are around the size of half a pack of playing cards, the AximCom is more like two thirds of a Nintendo DS. It's still portable, but at 10x7.5x2cm, it also won't easily fit into a shirt pocket the way most other portable routers will. Add in the fact that if you're using it in a totally wireless fashion with a 3G USB modem or connected smartphone and you're adding another few centimetres to its overall size, making it entirely impractical for carrying about your person unless you're the wearer of very large pants indeed.
The MR-102N is a portable 802.11n-capable router with connections for 3G USB modems or tethering-ready smartphones and 10/100 Ethernet. It's not full-strength 300Mbps 802.11n, however, as it's only rated for up to 150Mbps performance.
The in-built battery is rated for 2.5 hours of battery life, which isn't enough to get you through an entire working day but should be enough for sporadic access if you leave the power pack at home. It's rated as HSPA+ 42Mbps capable, which means in practical terms any given USB modem on sale in Australia right now should work up to its full speed capability, and most future modems should do likewise.
The MR-102N's set-up procedure involves a web-based configuration utility that's mostly self explanatory. We tested with a Vodafone K3520 USB modem, and while it didn't have that model listed under that name, a brief bit of prior research revealed that it's a re-badged Huawei e169. Selecting that modem profile and then the Vodafone profile was all we needed to do in order to enable wireless networking. Security is disabled by default, and while mobile broadband data has become significantly cheaper recently, it would still be a good idea to enable it.
We tested the MR-102N while it was in a bag, because as noted it's slightly too big to fit comfortably in a shirt or pants pocket. If all the naysayers are right about mobile phone frequencies and cancer, that could be potentially lifesaving, but the thing we noticed about this approach is that it's very easy to forget that it's there and that it's on. After a short burst of operation we also noticed that the MR-102N does get a little warm, although not worryingly so. With careful usage switching it on and off as required, we made it through a working day using just the unit, but if you needed consistent connection over a longer period of time you'd want to be near AC power.
The MR-102N is a mixed offering. On the one hand, the inclusion of 802.11n, HSPA+ and the ability to tether smartphones for data sharing gives it a lot of practical utility. On the other hand, it's large enough that you realistically need a bag to drop it into, unlike competing models that will comfortably fit into a pants pocket. At AU$199 we'd say it's fairly priced, as most competing units are either carrier-locked at that price point, or cost more for an unlocked unit.