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Technology Today - August 2015 - Netgear's Around Town Mobile
By Robert Sanborn

During the spring, we used a Netgear Unite Mobile Hotspot Aircard on a trip south and during that trip, used up 1.1 GB of bandwidth on the trip. The good news was that it worked very well, the bad news was that you have to keep renewing the card each month or get disconnected. So the problem is that if we want to take a bunch of smaller trips throughout the whole summer, do I need to keep buying minutes each month? That is the problem we ran into as we got ready for the summer trip east and Netgear has come up with a solution for us there in their new Netgear Around Town Mobile Internet. The model number is AC778AT.

The features are terrific. You get LTE 4G speeds and can connect up to 10 devices on the B/G/N Wireless network. The LCD display is bright and even at 1.77 inch size, is quite readable. Best of all, no contracts to deal with and no expiration of the data; you just reload it when you need it. In the package is the unit, back cover, lithium ion battery, and the Micro USB to normal USB charging cable. They even included the AC to USB adapter at 5v and 1Amp so you can use it to charge other devices as well. The quickstart guide is small, easy to read with color images, and best of all, easy to follow.

Netgear Around Town

You log into the Around Town website to register the device and set up your account. The service will notify you by email when your data plan is running out and they will automatically refill it when it runs out at a cost of $24.99 per 1GB. Though it does appear that you can skip the auto renew feature which I did without any problem. It takes the system about 15 minutes to get things connected once you register.

Once connected and turned on, it displays your new SSID and password and will tell you how many devices are connected at any time. You also see the percentage of battery life remaining and it also gives you an indication of the signal strength of the Sprint LTE network and in my case, it was a single bar out of six showing a very weak signal in my home office.

The challenge for me will be to see how well it covers us as we travel throughout the eastern part of the USA. You can check out your own destination here on the Sprint website.

Sprint Service Map
Around Town Mobile Another cool feature is that it comes with two antenna ports on the bottom so that if you need more range out of it, you can buy a desktop cradle that includes integrated MIMO antennas. It also includes a faster battery charger.

You have a lot of options as well when you log into the Around Town hotspot which is really a very small networking router. First thing to do is to change the hotspot SSID and password so that it is not obvious what kind of device you are connecting to. One cool feature is that you can set up guest accounts with one time use passwords. As to data usage, you simply look at the main screen and it tells you how much is used. If you will be traveling a lot, you might consider setting up the auto renewal plan so you don’t run out of bandwidth at the wrong time. Like every device using the cellular phone network, this one also gets a phone number with a 500 area code. If you are traveling with the unit, you can hide the hotspot SSID and password from the display. If you do that, you might also change the default password and IP address. You can also download a very extensive user guide from the Netgear website.

While the trip into the Northeast went very well, sad to say, our service was incredibly spotty and if you look at the service map above, if you head northeast from Pittsburg, you will find a ton of white areas with no service and unfortunately for us, that was the area we were traveling in. within Indiana and Ohio, we did just fine and discovered that the unit really keeps a charge for a very long time which was a plus. Once we drifted into PA and upstate New York, we discovered that if you stick with the New York Thruway, service was ok, but off of that major highway, and into Vermont and NH, service disappeared.

I can definitely recommend the Netgear Around Town Mobile but you must check the service area before traveling. I really like the idea of not constantly having to pay to stay connected when you travel and on our trip of a month, did not use up the 1GB data plan so it is nice to see we are good to go for another trip later this fall.
You can buy it on Amazon for $189.99 and it comes with one gig of bandwidth, a one year warranty, and what is even better; a non expiring data plan so you can take as long as you like to use it up.

More from CES later.

 

Robert Sanborn

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