A few weeks ago, the folks at RavPower asked if I’d like to do a livestream review on their Facebook group for the newest version of their FileHub travel router/battery pack/micro-NAS device. Since I’d used previous versions and had a grasp of the feature set, I agreed to do it, and they sent me a free unit to test and discuss.
You can find the video of that 25 minute session here on Facebook. Skip to about 4 minutes in if you can.
The promo code originally offered in Spring 2019 has expired, but you can watch their Amazon listings for checkbox discounts on a regular basis. If you want to skip the video, you can purchase through this link.
Some of the advice in this post will apply to other routers, including some I’ve discussed in past blog posts.
The second part of this series covers the RavPower WD009 travel router in detail.
Disclosure: RavPower provided the review unit at no cost to me, and will provide a commission to me for any sales through my promo code. They did also share some use cases to focus on, but did not preview or edit the livestream or this series of posts.
WHY DO I WANT A TRAVEL ROUTER?
With a travel router, you’re able to connect multiple personal devices to a single Internet connection, with some level of security protection. And you can do this for all of your devices (or your family’s devices) without having to pay for extra device connections to your host facility’s service.
Some hotels still limit the number of devices or MAC addresses that can connect on a single account. Others may have mobile-unfriendly splash screens or access methods. And if your hotel’s WiFi uses your highly secure loyalty program password that is a pain to type on a mobile phone and can’t be auto-filled from your password manager, that’s going to be a headache too.
So with a travel router, you can authenticate to this device, and whenever you go somewhere, you connect to its portal and set up the Internet connection once. Everything else just connects in.
Some travel routers have additional features. Most have a battery built in so you don’t have to plug into the wall (and you can even charge your phone from it). Some have options for USB modems for cellular connections. Many offer some sort of media sharing and backup feature. Depending on your needs during travel, one or all of these features may be desirable.
SO WHAT IS A TRAVEL ROUTER? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM A REGULAR ROUTER?
You probably know that a router is a device with at least two network connections that acts as a gateway between those two networks. You have one at home if you have Internet service. It might be built into your cablemodem or DSL modem, or it might be a product that connects to that modem. It may even provide your WiFi access point too. For me, I have a Meraki MX84 for my home network, and my DSL backup uses the provider’s router with integrated wifi.
The problem with these devices for travel use is fourfold:
- They’re often expensive. A good home router is probably going to cost around $200, although you can get viable devices for around $100.
- They’re often heavy/bulky. My MX84 is a 1U rackmount device that would take up a lot of room in a suitcase. Many consumer devices have unwieldy-for-travel antennas.
- They almost always require wall power (although with devices like the Omnicharge battery packs with AC out, you could get around this).
- They usually don’t support WiFi-as-WAN, which is what you need to connect them to a WiFi network, whether in a hotel, a business center or conference facility, or even a coffee shop. Some do, but not all.
And since I ruined my intended threefold list, a fifth item is that if you pull your home router out to travel, anyone still at home is out of luck (or you need a second expensive device).
So here comes the travel router to save the day. Let’s run down the fit.
- They’re usually inexpensive. Think $75 or less for a full-featured device.
- They’re often light and manageable. Most of mine are the size of a box of bandages or a small block of cheese, and one would fit in about half of a Red Bull can. Not sure why you’d have a block of cheese or an empty Red Bull can in your laptop bag, but that’s fine.
- They almost always have an integrated battery, which powers the router and wifi functionality as well as offering an external charging source for your phone or the like. The few that don’t will use a MicroUSB connection to power them, so you can plug into a phone charger or your laptop for power.
- They almost always support WiFi-as-WAN, letting you log in once to the hotel or conference WiFi and run all of your devices behind it.
- Since it’s not your home router, nobody left at home will even know your travel router is gone.
So the take-home summary is that with a sub-$100 travel router, you can share a public and/or paid Internet connection with multiple devices, sharing media and connectivity between your own devices securely, and even back up your mobile devices on the road.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
This is the first part in a three part series on travel hubs. Check out the second part that goes into deeper detail on the RavPower FileHub WD009 (posted here), and keep an eye out for the third part covering another vendor’s travel hub that provides cellular hotspot and Ethernet bridging.
If you do choose to buy the FileHub WD009, use this link to Amazon (and it sends a couple of bucks my way). It’s $59.99 as I write this, with a $3 coupon on Amazon (and I’ve seen $3-5 coupons before).