Even though I don’t carry a big amount of devices with me when I travel, nowadays almost all electronic devices somehow want to be connect to a network or the Internet. I normally have the following devices with me:

  • iPhone
  • MacBook Pro
  • e-Book reader
  • media player (e.g. Amazon FireStick or RaspBerry Pi with KODI)
  • Garmin sport devices

 

I could share my iPhone’s wireless hotspot with these devices. But this is cumbersome because connections often get lost and then you have to fiddle around with the settings of each device. Furthermore, the devices can only communicate with the Internet, but not directly with each other.

Another solution would be to connect the devices to the local available (wireless) network, e.g. the hotel network. But often the number of devices that can be connected to such networks are limited and/or you have to enter an access code every time you want to connect. Furthermore, depending on the configuration of the network, the devices might also not be able to communicate with each other. However, the biggest disadvantage of this solution is security. You can easily expose your devices to various kinds of attacks.

For me, the ideal solution would be that I have my own travel router that provides a secure wireless network for all my devices while my iPhone provides the Internet connection to the router so that all devices that are connected to the router can also connect to the Internet.

If you search the Internet for such travel routers you will find tons of products. However, nearly all of them aren’t able use an ‘iPhone Hotspot’ as their Internet provider. Most of these products either have a SIM card slot or the possibility to use a USB 3G/4G dongle.

If I travel in a country where my mobile provider of my home country does not provide free data roaming, I always buy a local (prepaid) SIM card with a sufficient data package. However, if I used a travel router that needs his own SIM card, I then would have to buy two SIM cards. One for my iPhone and one for my router. Nope, not a good idea.

If you want to solve this problem as well, I have two nice solutions for you. The first solution requires only one travel router. The main disadvantage of this solution is that your iPhone needs to be connected to the router by a USB/Lightening cable to share the ‘iPhone Hotspot’. The second solution requires two travel routers (little bit more expensive!) with the advantage of great flexibility and wireless ‘iPhone Hotspot’ sharing. Let’s have a look at these two solutions.

Solution 1: Setup with one travel router

Excellent travel routers at very competitive prices can be bought from GL.iNet. The device that fits my needs quite well is the GL.iNet GL-MT300N-V2, aka ‘Mango’. The main features of this product are:

  • Interfaces: 1 WAN, 1 LAN, 1 USB 2.0 (external storage support), 1 micro USB for power charging (5V, 1A), 1 Reset button
  • WLAN: 802.11 b/g/n, 2.4 Ghz, 300 Mbps
  • Dimension: only 58*58*25mm, 39g
  • Operation modes: Router, Bridge, Repeater
  • Internet access: cable, WiFi repeater, 3G/4G dongle, smartphone tethering
  • based on OpenWRT (Linux-based, open-source operating system for routers)
GL.iNet GL-MT300N-V2
GL.iNet GL-MT300N-V2

Based on OpenWRT GL.iNet has built an easy to use web interface (GL.iNet Admin Panel) in order to manage the basic settings of this router. The setup is straightforward. If needed there are also good instructions on the website of GL.iNet about how to setup the router for the different Internet connection scenarios such as by cable, by WiFi, by dongle or by tethering.

Two additional hints regarding the tethering setup. As mentioned, tethering with your iPhone only works when your iPhone is connected to the USB 2.0 port of the router with a Lightening cable. When you connect the two devices your iPhone will ask if you trust this computer. Click on ‘Trust’ and enter your iPhone passcode if asked. After that on your iPhone you will have to go to ‘Setting – Personal Hotspot’. If the switch ‘Personal Hotspot’ is already turned on, turn it off and then on again. After a few seconds you will see the blue banner at the top of your screen indicating that the iPhone is now sharing its Internet connection with the router.

If you want to configure advanced feature of this router, you can also access the OpenWRT web interface (Luci) by choosing ‘More settings – Advanced’ in the ‘GL.iNet Admin Panel’. The password of the root user is the same as the password of your admin user.

To cover the same use case you can also buy other routers from GL.iNet, such as the GL.iNet GL-AR750 or GL.iNet GL-AR750S. These products have a more powerful CPU, an additional LAN port, dual-band WiFi (2.4 and 5.0 Ghz) and a microSD card reader.

Solution 2: Setup with two travel routers

For two reasons the solution described above is not ideal for me. First, the iPhone must be physically connected to the router at all time in order to share the internet connection. Second, the ‘Mango’ is small and cheap, but it lacks dual-band WiFi.

Money can solve the second problem. But the first problem was actually the tricky one to solve. The only solution I was able to come up with is the following: Use one router with the open-source software dd-wrt to handle the WiFi signal form the iPhone, and a second router to provide the normal functionality of a local (wireless) network.

As Open-WRT, dd-wrt is also a open-source, linux-based router operating system. I found a not so well documented feature of dd-wrt which allows to forward the internet connection of an iPhone to the WAN port of another router.

GL.iNet GL-AR150 and tp-link AC750 TL-WR902AC
GL.iNet GL-AR150 and tp-link AC750 TL-WR902AC

To make a long story short. For this solution, you need a router that allows the installation of dd-wrt. This router only handles the Internet connection of the iPhone. The second router can be of any brand or model. The only requirement for the second router is a WAN port.

The smallest and cheapest router with dd-wrt capabilities I was able to find is again a product from GL.iNet. It’s the GL.iNet GL-AR150. It has the same form factor as the above mentioned ‘Mango’. To install and configure dd-wrt on this device, you have to go through the following steps:

  1. Download the dd-wrt firmware for the GL-AR150. The firmware archive of dd-wrt is accessible under ftp://ftp.dd-wrt.com/betas/. I just downloaded the latest version at the time of installation (January 10, 2019). However, I have read that it is not guaranteed that the latest versions are always 100% working (beta software!). Therefore, you might have to use an older version than the latest one. Download the file which contains ‘uimage’ in the file name.
  2. Setup your computer with a manual IP address (e.g. 192.168.1.2/255.255.255.0).
  3. Set your GL-AR150 in the ‘Uboot mode’. This mode allows you to upload a new firmware to the device even if the firmware on the device is corrupted. You have to hold the reset button, then plug-in the power cord, wait for the red LED to flash six times and then release the reset button. Details about this process can be found on this blog post from GL.iNet.
  4. Visit 192.168.1.1 in your browser and upload the firmware that you downloaded in step 1). Wait about 5 minutes. If the router doesn’t restart by itself unplug power and restart again.
  5. Visit 192.168.1.1 again. Now you should see the web interface of dd-wrt. If it didn’t work, go back to step 3) and try with another (older) firmware version.
  6. Create a admin password.
  7. Go to ‘Wireless – Basic Settings’ and choose the following settings (leave all other settings in default)
    • Wireless Mode: Client Bridge (Routed)
    • Wireless Network Mode: Mixed
    • Wireless Network Name (SSID): <<name of your iPhone>> (on iPhone see ‘Settings – General – About – Name’)
    • Network Configuration: Bridged (unfold ‘Advanced’ to see)
    • Hit ‘Save’
  8. Go to ‘Wireless – Wireless Security’
    • Security Mode: WPA
    • Network Authentication: WPA2 Personal checked
    • WPA Algorithms: CCMP-128 (AES) checked
    • WPA Algorithms: TKIP checked
    • WPA Shared Key: <<iPhone Wi-Fi password>> (on iPhone see ‘Settings – Personal Hotspot – WiFi Password’)
    • Hit ‘Save’
  9. Go to ‘Security – Firewall’
    • SPI Firewall: disable
    • Block Anonymous WAN Requests (ping): uncheck
    • Filter IDENT (Port 113): uncheck
    • Hit ‘Save’
  10. Go to ‘Setup – Basic Setup’
    • Local IP address: 192.168.1.1
    • Subnet mask: 255.255.255.0
    • Gateway: 0.0.0.0
    • Local DNS: 0.0.0.0 (Alternative: use Google DNS 8.8.8.8)
    • Hit ‘Save’
  11. Go to ‘Setup – Advanced Routing’
    • Operating Mode: Router
    • Hit ‘Save’ and then ‘Apply Settings’. Your router will restart.
  12. On your iPhone go to ‘Settings – Personal Hotspot’ and turn on the hotspot. If everything worked well you should see the blue banner at the top of your screen indicating that the iPhone is now sharing its Internet connection with the router within a few seconds.

Notes

  1. Even if your ‘Personal Hotspot’ on the iPhone is permanently turned on, you will have to go to ‘Settings – Personal Hotspot’ in order to initiate the sharing of the Internet connection. I guess this is a security measure of Apple to make sure the iPhone user is intentionally initiating the connection rather than the iPhone is doing it automatically without the knowledge of the user.
  2. In my experience the connection is very stable and will rarely be lost. However, the iPhone uses a lot of power in this state. So make sure your iPhone is connected to a power source.
  3. After you have successfully completed the setup of your dd-wrt you can forget about it. I have such a device up and running since over two years. And I never had to log in to the device once during all this time.

What is left? You will need a second router that provides the normal local (wireless) network capabilities. For my travelling I use a ‘tp-link AC750 TL-WR902AC‘ as my second router. It’s a reasonable priced dual-band travel router also powered only by a simple micro-USB connection. Just setup your second router as you would do with any other personal router and connect the LAN port of your GL-AR150 with the WAN port port of your second router with an ethernet cable. That’s it. You can configure all your networking devices at home, and whenever you arrive at a new place you will have your private network with Internet access up and running within two minutes. No more hassle with setting up your devices on various crappy networks.

What do you need?

As a summary, here all the products I use for my ‘Travel Network Kit’

 

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