The promise of Netcomm's m2 is that you can plug any USB stick into it and it'll automatically share it out via a secure WiFi network. That's not new in and of itself, but Netcomm's proposition is said to work with Telstra's 4G USB modems. Gizmodo Australia took one for a test run.
Why It Matters
To date, if you want to use Telstra's LTE '4G' network, you've had two official options; either the 4G USB Modem or the HTC Velocity 4G. In our tests, the USB modem has consistently outscored the Velocity 4G in download speeds, even in the same area, but being USB it's a one on one connection unless you want to go to the trouble of sharing out the connection from your laptop, which can be fiddly. The m2 sidesteps this, taking the USB modem and serving it out wirelessly to any securely connected client. It'll also work with other 3G USB modems if connected.
What We Like
The inbuilt security isn't just an afterthought; far too many routers ship with security disabled at first by default. The price of wireless data has dropped remarkably in recent years, but it's still nowhere near cheap, so keeping your system secure is vital. Here Netcomm's got a nice trick up its sleeve, as the default WPA2-PSK key is pre-printed on a card that's easy to slip into your wallet, making sharing your connection with others as easy as passing them the card.
I wasn't expecting much out of a router this size with no external antenna array in terms of signal. Then again, it'd be fair to say that most use cases for the m2 would revolve around using it in a small room. Setting it up in the middle of Gizmodo's open plan offices, I could easily get signal throughout the entire office; it dipped slightly in meeting rooms but only cut out when I stepped into the lift — as you'd expect.
Likewise, 4G reception — and therefore throughput to WiFi — was rock solid. As I've noted before, that can be notoriously variable, but given what I've grown to expect out of 4G performances within the office, the m2 performed well
What We Don't Like
Despite the WiFi security being good, the default admin console password is printed on the base. That's a minor matter, but if you were relying on it being secure it's a worry.
It's more of a "version two" kind of dislike, but it'd be immensely handy if it were battery powered; as yet if you want a portable 4G hotspot, the best you can do is throw an HTC Velocity 4G into hotspot mode and hope the battery lasts out.
The other problem I've got with the m2 is the asking price. On the face of it, $79 doesn't seem like too bad a deal for a small portable router, but then as I noted in the original writeup, this isn't a new product category. A quick search for the competing (but essentially identical) D-Link DIR-412 shows a number of outlets selling it for under $50 — although, to be fair, I've not tested the D-Link with a Telstra 4G USB Modem. Still, suddenly, $79 doesn't seem like such a bargain by comparison.
Should You Buy It?
It does perform well, but at an asking price that's slightly askew given the rest of the market for this kind of router. If its feature set works with what you do with mobile data it's worth keeping an eye on for the inevitable price drop.
Interfaces: USB, 10/100 Ethernet Network: 802.11n Price: $79