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8/18/2005
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Review: JunxionBox Mixes Cellular And Wi-Fi

JunxionBox plugs into your cigarette lighter, giving you a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot.

Wi-Fi is everywhere, right? Actually, Wi-Fi is in a growing number of places every day, but that certainly doesn't equate to "everywhere." The JunxionBox (www.junxionbox.com) is a unique device that combines a cellular data card with a Wi-Fi router and runs on both 12 volts and 110 volts. This combination of features lets you establish a hotspot nearly anywhere you go—and even while you're on your way there.

The concept of using a cell phone as a modem connected to a laptop is not new. A growing number of BlueTooth-enabled cell phones can be pressed into service as wireless connections to the Internet. In fact, the throughput speeds of most cellular carriers is better than the standard dialup connection. I've been able to use a Treo 650 on Sprint's 1xRTT network to produce a 100kbs connection, that let me surf the Web, check email, and perform all the other normal Internet activities with no wires anywhere—and with the phone simply tucked in my pocket. Of course the phone can only be a modem or a phone at any given moment, so if I had wanted to make a call on my phone, I would have had to quit the data connection.

In comparison to that scenario, the JunxionBox is a router, meant to connect one or more devices, and doesn't interfere with your cell phone calls. And setup is a lot easier.

The Box

The JunxionBox is thankfully simple. It has one PCMCIA slot for your cellular data card, a connector for power (both 110 volt and cigarette lighter plugs are included), and two Ethernet ports (one for connecting directly to a computer, and another to connect to an Ethernet LAN). In addition, there are two LEDs, one power indicator, and one cellular connection status indicator. Even that short list makes the box sound more complicated than it is. To use the unit, simply plug it in to a power outlet with an activated cellular data card installed. The power LED turns red, then the connection light changes from blinking to solid green. At that point the unit is active and ready to use.


The JunxionBox links the cellular data network to your Wi-Fi network for a work-anywhere connection.

I launched a browser on my Toshiba Satellite M35 and pointed to the default IP address of the JunxionBox and signed in to the management page. The Summary page reported that the cellular data signal was 75dBm (2 bars out of 5) and showed the LAN IP information. Seeing that it was ready for use, I entered a Web address (www.smallbizpipeline.com) and was presented with the Small Biz home page. OK, at 100kb/s, it took a few seconds to display the page, but the magic of this connection is that I was sitting in my driveway—in my van.

Real Use

Attached to my van was my camper, and while many families camp as vacation fun, I use my camper as a portable office so I can combine work and travel. Many campgrounds advertise Wi-Fi availability, but my experience has been that very few have "usable" Wi-Fi. Most have simply installed a residential grade Wi-Fi router at the camp office, which means the signal doesn't reach 90% of the campground.

During our trips we stayed in four campgrounds, three of which claimed to have Wi-Fi access. True to form, none of the camps' access points reached our particular camp sites. On previous trips my only option was to pout, and carry my laptop to within reach of the camp office. There, with several other laptop users, I would sit, usually on a log or (on rainy days) crouched under the awning of the office. This time, I stayed in my camper and simply logged into my JunxionBox and enjoyed my private Wi-Fi connection.

The connection was private because I enabled security on the unit. When I first logged into the connection I checked its usage. The JunxionBox's administration page shows how many computers are connected, and mine showed two other people were already logged in. I could hardly blame them, but I couldn't spare the bandwidth, so next time they attempted to connect, they were met with the request for a pass phrase which, of course they didn't have.

The Right Environment

Having the JunxionBox available for my personal use allowed me to be productive wherever the cellular card could find a signal, including while traveling along the interstates. The JunxionBox's $700 price tag is overkill for a single-user environment where I could have just as easily slid the air card into my laptop. But for corporate environments there are several uses that could easily justify the cost of the unit, even for a single-user connection.

Conventions and trade shows are natural targets for the JunxionBox, where the cost of a single dialup line for a three-day show is likely to cost more than the acquisition price of the JunxionBox. Not only would you get the better connection speed to the booth, but you can have multiple connections for the same price.

I've done software training classes where the location we chose was dictated by the availability of a network and Internet connectivity. The JunxionBox can turn any conference room or classroom into an Internet enabled site.

I'm certain there are more uses that make sense for the JunxionBox, such as providing a backup Internet connection for critical environments like retail stores. This category of device is in its infancy, and hot spots are likely to emerge wherever user demand and financial incentives exist. For instance, Google (the company) has installed JunxionBoxes in its shuttle buses so its employees can connect and be productive while commuting from the parking lot to the office.

Options

My JunxionBox used the SierraWireless card connected to the Sprint 1XRTT network. But the choice of cellular card and provider are at the user's discretion. The box will accept any air card from any provider using any connectivity technology such as CDMA, UMTS, EDGE, etc. Travelers needing guaranteed connections can carry a variety of cards with them and simply slid the appropriate carrier's card into the JunxionBox depending on their location.

Most cellular carriers offer unlimited data plans for $80 per month. These generally assume single-device connections, so it's possible that as this market matures, carriers will begin to offer premium plans that recognize (and bill for) multi-user cellular connections.

Next time you're riding the commuter bus or train, check your laptop for an available Wi-Fi connection. You may be able to connect through the JunxionBox riding along with you.

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