AirBox CM3 mobile broadband router review

2.5 out of 5
£250

For

Play Xbox Live at 100 miles per hour

Against

Expensive, dependant on 3G mobile phone signal for speed

Some ideas sound really cool on paper, and with the right headline can make your jaw drop for a second or two at least. So it is with the AirBox CM3 mobile router which promises to bring broadband into your car even at 100 miles per hour.

Wow, you might be thinking, a proper full speed internet connection while I'm on the motorway. Double wow, you could be contemplating, Xbox 360 Live for the kids in the back, how cool is that?

But put your foot on the brake for a moment and let your brain catch up with the reality of the situation. What the AirBox actually does is deliver the Internet by way of a 3G/HSDPA mobile phone data connection, if available, and dropping down to whatever is left where one isn’t.

This means that you could be lucky and get something approaching 1.8Mbps by way of a connection, although tests tend to suggest that something under 1Mbps is more realistic and if you happen to be driving through a rural area then your internet experience becomes more akin to the good old days of dial up.

The device itself is small enough at 18.3 x 15.5 x 3.2cm and weighs much the same as your average paperback book, which means it can be stowed away out of sight when not in use although obviously you will need to slap it on the dash or parcel shelf and fiddle around with positioning to get the best signal when you are using it. An optional antenna is highly recommended if you intend to make serious use of such a device, it has to be said.

You can connect pretty much anything that you can to a bog standard router courtesy of the two Ethernet jacks, and the 802.11g Wi-Fi brings wireless into your car if you prefer. The CM3 supports multiple simultaneous connections, limited only by the available bandwidth of course, so you could be checking your email (not while driving at 100 miles per hour on the motorway as that would be wrong on so many fronts) while the kids kill each other in the back, virtually speaking.

Because it has been specifically designed to be used in a moving vehicle, there are clever features like always locking onto the strongest mobile signal when more than one is available and constantly searching for those signals to be able to maintain a broadband connection.

But just how clever is all this, when you move beyond the wow factor and think about it? After all, doesn’t your mobile phone work perfectly well even at 100 miles per hour?

Can you not get the Internet on the motorway via your mobile phone already, without having to cough up £250 for a new device? Certainly users of high end smartphones such as the Nokia N95 or HTC TyTn II can enjoy high speed internet access at high speed from a very small device already. Depending upon your data plan and mobile device, you can even already use it as a mobile broadband modem for your laptop on the move.

For the business user, the limo companies ferrying executives around all day and perhaps the family for whom roof mounted DVD players are so passé that only Xbox Live on the M25 will keep them ahead of the Jones’s the AirBox CM3 could find a home.

For the rest of us, we suspect that the good old smartphone will be sufficient. After all, that has the advantage of taking the broadband internet out of the car and into your pocket wherever you may be going. And you will need that 3G data subscription in the first place to be able to get a signal into your AirBox, which makes us think that the value for money equation here is not a particularly great one.

Verdict

One for hardcore gamers and limo rental companies only, everyone else will manage just fine with 3G mobile phone for motorway internet access.