For most intents and purposes, the Linksys WRT54G3G looks much like any of the other Linksys products we've reviewed recently, including models such as the Linksys WRT54G Router with SES or the Linksys WRT54GC. The big visual difference in the router comes in the form of a PC-card slot in the side of the WRT54G3G. This is where the router will accept a Vodafone Wireless Mobile card (AU$299 plus service fees, sold separately) with a Vodafone 3G SIM card securely embedded in it. Aside from this slot, the router is effectively a normal Linksys router -- 4 ports and a port labelled "Internet" for connecting up other high-speed Internet services.
Like other Linksys products, the ports are initially obscured by a sticker telling you to run the install CD first. Unlike other Linksys routers we've seen, however, this time the sticker is correct. We've bemoaned the fact that Linksys' router software is cable-modem centric previously, but in this case the automatic configuration works seamlessly for setting up the Vodafone 3G service. There's also the option to use an existing broadband connection in conjunction with the Vodafone connection if you're into network redundancy.
The router side itself of the Linksys WRT54G3G follows the exact same set of standards and options as much of the rest of the range; it's a four port wired router with 802.11b/g connectivity, wireless security, inbuilt QoS features for services such as VoIP and Internet Gaming and a simple, blue-themed interface that's accessed via any Web browser. The main difference with the Linksys WRT54G3G is naturally that's there's an additional tab for configuring the Vodafone 3G service, although as long as you get a signal up and running as part of the initial installation, you shouldn't particularly need to access the 3G/UMTS panel much in any case.
Signal strength of a wireless net product is always something that's difficult to quantify, simply because the combination of your location and the prevailing network conditions can make one product a dud in one area and a winner in another. For what it's worth, the Linksys WRT54G3G maintained a strong 3G connection throughout our testing period in far north Sydney, but your experiences may, of course, vary. Having used the PC card component of the router (which is supplied seperately and will cost you AU$299 plus access fees), we'll happily say that the Linksys WRT54G3G makes it a lot easier to run with Vodafone's 3G service, simply because it turns it into just another wireless connection; there's no messing around with installing drivers and setting up dialling services for the card when it's in the router.
We did hit one unusual side effect while using the Linksys WRT54G3G. If you've ever left a mobile phone near a speaker system for any period of time you'd be aware of the potential for the mobile signal to set off the speakers intermittently. This effect was extremely noticeable with the WRT54G3G, which caused a huge feedback loop while in operation in our test environment. As is the case with most mobile phones, moving the router further away removed the issue.
There's one other catch with the Linksys WRT54G3G, although strictly speaking it's no fault of the router itself. Unless you're utilising Vodafone's top-end "unlimited" Vodafone 3G data plan, you're looking at a very small data allowance of either 100MB or 300MB. Once you start sharing that out via wireless -- and especially if you're sloppy at setting up wireless security -- it'd be possible to burn through your allowance all too quickly and start getting into excess data usage fees. As is typical with most wireless services, these are anything but cheap, and there's no truly simple way to measure data usage through the Linksys WRT54G3G alone.
Ultimately the WRT54G3G is a pretty niche product; you've got to be a Vodafone 3G customer who presumably doesn't have a landline or access to ADSL services; you've got to (at the time of writing) be in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra metropolitan areas (or live close enough to Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth Airports to pick up signal -- Vodafone tells us that rollouts of the 3G service are continuing in these areas) and you've got to want to wirelessly share your 3G service. Within those rather narrow parameters, however, the Linksys WRT54G3G actually does an admirable job of simply and seamlessly sharing a 3G data connection.