You don’t have to wait to turn your iPhone into a mobile hotspot

Earlier this month, we exclusively reported that Apple’s new Personal Hotspot feature is coming to all iPhones with iOS 4.3. The feature, which was popularized by Android phones like the HTC EVO 4G, will allow devices to share an iPhone’s 3G data connection via Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, more cautious carriers like AT&T are likely to take their sweet time enabling the service for subscribers. Jailbreakers can purchase one of several apps that enable Wi-Fi tethering, but not everyone wants to bother with the cat and mouse game that inevitably arrives with each subsequent iOS update. But patience is a virtue not everyone possesses, and some of you might not feel like sitting around while AT&T puts the new mobile hotspot feature through its paces. Well, you’re in luck.

Taiwan-based AXIM Communications, or AXIMCom for short, reached out to us not long ago and told us about a nifty little product it launched last year. Dubbed MR-102N, the device is a powerful mobile router that can perform a variety of functions. For the purpose of this piece, we’ll focus on one of them: the MR-102N can turn your iPhone or Android handset into a personal Wi-Fi 802.11n hotspot compatible with HSPA+ networks up to 42Mbps.

Put simply, it’s better than integrated mobile hotspot solutions and it’s better than the dedicated “MiFi” portable hotspot devices carriers are selling these days.

First of all, AXIMCom’s box works with a huge range of networks and devices. The MR-102N works with HSDPA, HSUPA, EV-DO, UMTS, GPRS or any other type of connectivity thrown its way, so users won’t have to worry about switching devices if they choose to change carriers. If you own a carrier-branded mobile hotspot or aUSB modem, you’ll need to make a new purchase and sign a new contract in order to switch carriers.

Another huge benefit of the MR-102N is battery life. Whereas integrated portable hotspot functionality will tear through a smartphone’s battery in no time, this device will actually charge your phone’s battery while it’s connected. It packs a 1700 mAh battery that we found lasts for several hours of usage.

Perhaps the most important advantage over other solutions is the fact that AXIMCom’s MR-102N is cheaper than other portable hotspots. Purchase a MiFi from a carrier and you’re looking at spending $35, $50, $60 or even $80 each month on top of your cell phone’s data plan. With the MR-102N, however, you can simply add tethering to your current smartphone. On the iPhone, for example, tethering runs an extra $20 each month, though it is worth noting that subscribers with grandfathered unlimited plans will not be able to add tethering without downgrading to a capped data plan. AT&T ‘s 2GB data plan costs $25 each month ($45 with the $20 tethering add-on) and overages will run $10 per gigabyte. AT&T iPhone owners who want to keep their unlimited data plans while tethering will need to jailbreak their devices.

We tested the MR-102N AXIMCom gave us with an iPhone 4, an iPhone 3GS and an HTC Hero, and it worked perfectly in each instance. With regards to speed, we regularly saw between 4 and 5Mbps when connected via the iPhone 4, and around 4Mbps when connected via the iPhone 3GS. Since the device is capable of theoretical speeds up to 42Mbps, no modern 3G network will ever come close to pushing this box’s limits.

The MR-102N setup requires you to connect the box to a PC or Mac to configure the device, though it’s relatively straightforward and painless thanks to AXIMCom’s “iShare” feature. You’ll definitely want to download the english documentation from AXIMCom’s site, however. Also of note, the device is compatible with several phones as well as a huge range of USB modems.

The AXIMCom MR-102N is available immediately direct from the manufacturer for $129, which includes shipping to the U.S.

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