You may have noticed that your network router has a USB port on the back, but you may be unsure what it’s for. The answer to that question depends on your router model, but that little port is incredibly versatile!
The Router Lottery
Before we look at the different things you can do with the USB port on your router, it’s important to understand that just because your router has a USB port doesn’t mean that you can use the port for every function we’re listing below.
It will depend on which features the router manufacturer has chosen to implement. Some types of USB features require more powerful hardware than an inexpensive router will have, so manufacturers don’t implement it.
In a few cases, the router’s hardware is up to it, but the manufacturer decides not to implement it in their lower-end devices to differentiate them. If that router is compatible with custom firmware such as DD-WRT or Tomato, it’s possible to unlock them, but as always custom firmware does come with the risk of “bricking” your router.
Check your router’s documentation to confirm which USB features it supports. If you’re interested in installing custom firmware you should check the compatibility list for your router model and whether those features can be unlocked in this way.
Configuring USB Router Functions
Before you can use a given USB with your router, you’ll likely need to activate and configure the USB functions on your router. The specific process will differ for each model, but the general process is the same. After connecting the device to the USB port, simply log into your router’s web interface or use its mobile app, if it has one.
Then look for a menu for the USB setting. The router should detect whether a supported device has been connected and let you toggle those features on. Then you’re ready to enjoy the expanded capabilities of your network.
Share a USB Hard Drive
While the best way to share a hard drive with everyone on your home network is to use a dedicated NAS (Network-Attached Storage) device. If you only need to serve a small number of clients, then connecting a USB drive to your existing router is a cost-effective solution.
Within your router’s menus, you are likely to have one or more options to share the drive. One possibility is that you can map the drive in your operating system. Another is that you can add the drive as an FTP source.
The router’s USB information page should provide all the information you need to access the drive from other devices. For example, FTP login details, so that you can use it with an app like VLC on an Android TV device.
Apart from sharing files among everyone on the network or media access, such an attached drive is the perfect place to make backups of your networked computers.
Set Up a Media Server
Some routers offer the option to act as a media server, which media player devices on the network can detect and play content from. How well your router works as a media server will depend on the speed of its processors, but for small-scale streaming to one or two smart TVs, for example, it could be an excellent solution.
Share a Printer on the Network
Wi-Fi or Ethernet-enabled printers aren’t particularly expensive or rare, but if you already have a printer that’s USB-only, your router may have the ability to act as a print server, allowing anyone on the network to print from their device.
If your router doesn’t have this function, don’t be too disappointed. It’s pretty easy to share any printer through a network-connected computer. The main downside is that the computer in question needs to be on for the printer to work.
Use a Cellular Modem
Your router most likely connects using DSL or fiber, but even these technologies don’t offer 100% uptime. If you can’t afford a disconnection because you work from home, or need to ensure you have access to your network from outside for remote desktop purposes, you can connect a USB cellular modem.
This USB router function is relatively rare and there are usually only a limited number of modems that are supported by a given router. That said, if you have the right router and modem combination, a cellular backup could make sure your critical network services never go down.
A Port’s a Terrible Thing to Waste
Router USB ports can add some truly useful possibilities to your network, so it would be a shame to leave the port unused. At the very least a little shared local storage can go a long way to relieving some of that low-space anxiety. You can even create a folder with documents for the whole family to access, with or without an internet connection!
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