How to pick the right router for 3G/4G broadband

Huawei B593s-22 LEDsPeople regularly ask me what router or antenna to get for mobile broadband.  Most people who ask are in rural areas that are stuck on a slow DSL or fixed wireless connection.  Before even considering a router or antenna, I recommend first finding out which networks are available in the area.  Then check whether 3G or 4G is available on each network.

This article will mainly focus on routers, see my other article for antenna advice.  I recommend that one first sees how they get on with a suitable router as an antenna may not be necessary. 

Most mains operated desktop routers have sensitive internal antennas, generally eliminating the need for an indoor antenna.  In fact, some indoor antennas perform worse than the built-in antennas of a decent router.

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Finding the right network

If undecided on a network, first check out my earlier guide.  It covers the largest 4G packages each network and virtual operator provides in Ireland.  All three major networks offer a prepay mobile broadband option, so I recommend getting a prepay broadband SIM with each. It’s a small price to pay to avoid the hassle of signing up to a broadband contract just to test the network, only to have to cancel it if it doesn’t work out.

Three, Meteor and Vodafone prepay phone SIMs will also work for testing.  The speed may differ from a broadband SIM, depending on traffic prioritisation.  For Vodafone prepay, the APN must be set to ‘live.vodafone.com’ to use a phone data plan with a router, otherwise it incurs out of bundle charges.

Performing test runs

Network signal infoGet a spare 4G capable phone to try each SIM with and configure it with the correct APN.  Most mobile broadband SIMs break apart into micro and nano size.  These snap together again to get the full mini SIM size that fits most routers.  Check around the building for the strongest 4G reception.  The app Network Signal Info (right image) shows a live decibel reading of the signal, ideal for finding the sweet spot.  Run some speed tests early in the day, before noon.  Repeat again between 8pm to 10pm (peak time) with the phone, preferably held outside an upstairs window.

If the phone remains in 3G mode, toggle the airplane mode on/off while holding it outside an upstairs window.  With an Android phone, see this guide to see if you can force the phone into LTE-only (4G) mode.  If 4G reception is still not possible even outside the window, then it is unlikely a 4G router or an external antenna will provide 4G on the network.  For 3G speed testing, first aim for the highest signal reading possible in the Network Signal Info app.

With a full signal reading, the speed tests on the phone generally corresponds to what a dedicated router will achieve.  If the bar reading is half way or higher, a desktop router will likely get a full or near full signal reading in the same spot without any external antenna.

The peak time speed tests will give an idea of what to expect in the evening with a dedicated router.  If the performance severely deteriorates during peak time, try a speed test in 3G mode.  4G coverage areas with high contention often have lighter 3G network load.

Choosing the right router

As mobile broadband is portable, there are a wide range of dongles, portable hotspots, wingles and routers to choose from.  I strongly recommend going for a mains operated desktop router.  Its internal antennas are far more sensitive than the tiny internal antennas in dongles and portable hotspots.  They also deliver greater Wi-Fi coverage, much like a DSL router.

3G and 4G band support

Before purchasing a second hand router or from an international seller, check the list of bands the router supports.  For example, many routers supplied on the US market lack most or all the Irish 3G/4G bands.

3G bands in Ireland

  • 900MHz – Widespread use in rural areas due to its long propagation.
  • 2100MHz – Primarily urban use.  Some older rural 3G masts put up before 2015 continue to use 2100MHz.

4G bands in Ireland

  • 800MHz (LTE FDD band 20) – Widespread coverage due to its long propagation.
  • 1800MHz (LTE FDD band 3) – Primarily serves urban areas due to its shorter propagation.  This band provides wider channel bandwidth.

4G+ coverage areas serve at least two LTE bands, i.e. bands 3 & 20 for networks in Ireland.  When an LTE 6+ capable router connects in ‘4G+’ mode, it actually connects to multiple bands simultaneously.  This is known as carrier aggregation.

The 2600MHz band (LTE FDD band 7) is not currently in use in Ireland.  See this Wikipedia article to see what LTE bands each EU country uses.

If in doubt on a particular router, leave a comment below mentioning the full model #.

Huawei B593s-22 or B315

Huawei B593s-22For those in a rural area, I recommend starting off with either of these two routers.  The B593s-22 is reported to have the most sensitive internal antennas, even when compared to newer routers.  This router is similar in size to Vodafone’s DSL router and provides 300Mbps 802.11n Wi-Fi, 4 Ethernet ports and built-in VoIP support with two telephone ports.

Both routers are very stable and reportedly very reliable.  The B593s-22 costs around €80 to €120 used, usually from Latvia sellers.  It will easily sell for around €100 if the user later gets another router.  The newer B315 is typically provided by Three, Meteor and Eir on their 18-month contract plans.

Huawei E5186 or B525

Huawei B525For users living in or near larger towns, consider getting the E5186 or B525, which provide LTE Advanced support.  If the network provider offers carrier aggregation in the area, this can deliver improved performance by utilising bandwidth from bands 3 and 20 simultaneously.  This can be useful during peak time where congestion varies between the bands.

The E5186 and B525 retail for around £150 to £170 on Amazon.  The B525 model is newer and provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi capability.  These are difficult to obtain second hand and in turn gives them an excellent resale value.

TP-Link Archer MR3420

TP-Link MR3420For users with an existing 4G USB dongle, this TP-Link router is a low-cost way of converting it into a standalone Wi-Fi network with Ehternet connectivity.  I know a few people who used this successfully for a few years.  As USB modems have a tiny internal antenna, I recommend getting an external antenna to improve the performance.

The TP-LINK Archer MR3420 typically retails for around £30, such as on Amazon.

ZyXEL LTE7410-A214

For those living in a fringe 4G reception area, this is a combination of an outdoor router and directional antenna in a single unit.  This operates similar the outdoor ‘dish’ or antenna provided by most fixed wireless operators such as Imagine LTE.  By having the radio hardware and antenna in one unit, this eliminates signal losses from long coaxial cable runs.

This outdoor router receives its power over its Ethernet cable, supplied using an indoor 48v PoE injector.  The total cable run between the indoor Ethernet switch and the outdoor router can be up to 100 metres without affecting the performance.

Notes: This router does not provide 3G connectivity.  Make sure there is at least one bar of usable 4G coverage with the desired network with a 4G modem or router.  See the cell tower range limit note below.

This router and similar outdoor 4G-only routers will unlikely work with iD Mobile broadband.  This network needs to connect in 3G mode for 5 to 10 minutes before the network hands over to 4G.

The SIM card goes in the outdoor unit, so careful positioning may be necessary to keep it out of pedestrian reach.  Ideally, it should be high enough to require a ladder to reach.

Cell tower range limit note

Cell towers enforce a fixed distance limit based on the signal round trip time.  The maximum distance limit can vary between cell towers and even between bands.   Even a powerful antenna with clear line of sight of the cell tower cannot overcome this.

Three also operates a shorter distance limit for data devices than for mobile handsets.  A 4G signal on a mobile phone does not necessarily mean a usable 4G signal with a modem or router!

Routers to avoid

3G modems and portable hotspots are considerably cheaper than dedicated desktop routers, but I recommend avoiding these as explained below.

Portable hotspots / MiFi

Huawei HotspotWhile these are tempting for their low cost and portability, avoid these for home broadband.  Based on my experience, the antenna sensitivity is often inferior to most mobile handsets and the Wi-Fi range is poor.  They have no network ports and the USB port will not work with most desktop routers, such as the TP-Link MR3420.  Running them continuously on mains power quickly deteriorates the internal battery.

One common mistake people do is try to use a portable hotspot with a WiFi extender/repeater.  The problem here is that these repeaters cut the bandwidth in half by repeating every bit of data across the wireless network.   Most portable hotspots do not offer Wi-Fi diversity, which further limits the Wi-Fi coverage and bandwidth.  Finally, I have yet to see a WiFi extender/repeater that does not intermittently drop out.

3G modems

3G ModemAll three major networks in Ireland provide diversity support on their 3G masts.  This can near double the bandwidth when used with a suitable modem or router that uses two antennas.  Unfortunately, very few 3G modems and hotspots support diversity.  Worse still, many older modems only support the slower WCDMA standards capable of 7.2Mbps or even less.  3G modems rated 21Mbps or lower or which have a single antenna input generally lack diversity support.

Most 4G modems and routers have two antenna inputs and support diversity with 3G masts.  This means that even if there is no 4G coverage in the area with any provider, a 4G modem or router is well worth considering.  I suggest going for a mains-operated desktop 4G router as this will provide better antenna sensitivity over USB modems.

Network branded routers

Three, Meteor and Vodafone all sell a range of routers, hotspots and USB modems, which unfortunately are SIM locked.  Unlike phones, no network will unlock their data device, regardless of the device age or accumulated top-ups.  Most newer routers are even difficult, risky or expensive to unlock with software or a third party.

One exception would be on contract with Meteor to reduce the upfront cost of the router.  With Three, their SIM only mobile broadband plans are available on a rolling 1 month contract.  Vodafone’s SIM only mobile broadband plans have a 12 month contract, compared to 18-24 months with a router.  Rural Wi-Fi does not appear to lock their router.

Mobile phone as a router / MiFi

Phone hotspotFor strong signal areas, a spare 4G phone can make a potential alternative to a portable hotspot or MiFi.  A 4G phone may also provide 4G connectivity to a Three mast, where the user is outside its distance limit for data devices.

Mobile phones do have several limitations. No antenna inputs, no network ports, limited Wi-Fi range, typical limit of 5 devices and slower to boot.  Some phones automatically switch off the hotspot mode after a set period or if there are no active devices.

Users with a dual SIM phone can potentially use the second SIM slot for the data SIM.  This can be very useful with Meteor’s 50GB prepay broadband.  At home, this can help supplement an existing broadband connection or data limit.  On the move, the phone can use the second SIM as its data connection.  This can eliminate the need for a data plan on the primary SIM.

80 thoughts on “How to pick the right router for 3G/4G broadband”

    1. Hi how you rate this Antenna, 4G LTE External Antenna – ATK MIMO SMA used in conjunction with a B525 router i have checked my signal with a 4g sim in my phone from my roof and i am getting 20mbps download and 7mbps upload .

      1. If your phone has Android 7 or later, check the signal reading with the app Network Cell Info Lite. It will give an RSRP and RSRQ readout. If the RSRP reading is around -90dBm or less negative, the cheaper single ATK MIMO antenna should be adequate. If the RSRP reading is around -100dBm or the RSRQ is frequently spiking more negative than -12dB, I would suggest going for the pair of ATK-LOGs as the antenna separation will improve performance with a weak signal.

        There’s a good chance you’ll get higher throughput rates from the router with the antenna than from the phone itself, depending on the contention on the mast and its uplink.

  1. Hi,
    I’ve got a Huawei 4G B310 from orange in Spain which I guess is locked. From what you say it won’t be worth trying to unlock it, right?
    Also, I was thinking of getting a signal booster for the mobile – I’m with Vodafone – as both voice and data fluctuate inside the house. If the booster enhances both, would it also improve the mobile router signal? Any advice on this, please.
    Thanks!

    1. From a quick check, this router can be unlocked, but requires a bit of soldering as shown here. DC-Unlocker charges €7 to unlock it with their software.

      For boosting the signal, I strongly recommend getting a dedicated antenna for the router (see this guide) instead of a signal booster. A signal booster (also known as a repeater) only amplifies one polarity which will half the bandwidth. They are currently not legal for use in Ireland unless provided by the operator. Many of the models sold through eBay have issues such as signal oscillation, which can severely disrupt the cell towers in the area and likely to be seized by ComReg or customs in transit. However, there is work on legalising compliant repeaters. There is one Irish manufacturer Stelladoradus that sells compliant repeaters, however, they currently do not ship within Ireland, plus they are rather expensive at over €300. Outdoor antennas that attach directly to the router are legal as they are purely passive.

      For your phone, I suggest two options – A Bluetooth handset such as this or a Bluetooth based DECT phone such as this Panasonic Link2Mobile. In this case, you put mobile in a spot where it picks up a good signal (e.g. Window) and you use the Bluetooth handset or the cordless phone to make/receive calls. The Bluetooth handset will work in the room and adjacent rooms to the mobile phone, similar to a Bluetooth speaker. The DECT phone will work anywhere in the house like a fixed line DECT phone, although the mobile phone will need to be in the same or adjacent room to the DECT base unit.

      1. Thanks a million Sean! That is much more info that what I was expecting to get.
        I’m not very good with this kind of stuff, but you’ve made everything much clearer to me.
        I’ll have a look at all the links!

  2. This may seem like a juvenile question, I’m not the best with this stuff. Am I right in thinking that these routers don’t need a fixed phone line to work? From what I have read I believe they have the ability for it? but I’m just wondering if that’s how they have to run. I’m looking into the B315 I just want to have all the information before signing up to anything. Apologies again if this is a silly question

    1. These 3G/4G routers including the B315 do not require a fixed phone line. They will work in any location that picks up the network signal (e.g. Three 4G for a Three SIM) and a power socket.

      Many of these routers have a built-in phone socket to provide VoIP capability, which is a totally separate system to a fixed phone line. For example, if you use Blueface, Freespeech, Goldfish, etc. you can configure the router with the login details and plug-in a corded or DECT phone to use that service. If you are not interested in VoIP, you can ignore this feature and its phone socket remains inactive.

      1. Sorry for piggy backing on someone else’s thread, this is a great article, just got a Vodafone R218h modem on 14 day trial, will be returning this and purchasing an unlocked router, could you list out the routers which have a dect phone connection, am signed up with Goldfish. Are any of these routers portable in that they have a back up battery for broadband on the go? Currently have 6mb download with vodafone but maybe able to get 4g with another provider, hence why changing to unlocked.

        1. All the Huawei desktop routers have an RJ11 telephone socket that can be configured for VoIP. For other 4G routers, check the specifications for an RJ11 port. These do not have a battery and are fairly large (like a DSL router), so certainly not something that would fit in a pocket. Then again, these are designed for home broadband with larger internal antennas, telephone and network ports. The portable ones are built for size. If you need it for a motorhome, the Huawei desktop routers and many other brands have a 12V 5.5×2.1mm DC jack, which can run off the motorhome’s leisure battery with a suitable adapter.

          My recommendation would be to get a desktop router and a portable hotspot. You can swap the SIM card across to the portable hotspot when you need to travel with it. Another option would be to get a separate SIM for the hotspot, such as Eir’s prepay SIM. They have a 50GB bundle for €30 that lasts 180 days, which works out at €5/month. You can use an App such as CSipSimple to use Goldfish while out and about.

          1. Thanks for the update Sean, went with a tp link ac750 4g LTE dual band, very difficult to locate a b593 here, at least with this, I have a three year guarantee, have set it up and still unsure about quality I’m getting, I think the mifi r 218 that Vodafone supplied had a better signal, it was hovering between h+ and 4g, no indication of anything other than 3g with this, I may have some settings wrong, did change the apn as you suggested here for Vodafone broadband. Will give it a week and see how it performs, have connected my dect phone.

          2. You can try forcing the router in 4G mode – In its web interface, go into ‘Advanced’ at the top menu, then in its left menu go into ‘Network’ followed by ‘Internet’. In here change the ‘Network Mode’ drop-down to ‘4G Only’ and save the changes. If it fails to connect, you can change this drop-down back to ‘Auto’.

            The 4G networks here use a combination of horizontal and vertical polarisation for 4G. Position one antenna straight up and the other sideways. For 3G, aim the two antennas straight up. On the router’s Status page, it shows the signal strength as a percentage. Try rotating the router, adjusting its height (e.g. on a book) and moving it a bit to improve this percentage. It’s surprising how little movement/rotation can affect the signal.

          3. Have changed the position of antennas as suggested, one vertical and one horizontal, left network mode at auto and 4g coming in, signal strength is two bar, may get back to you as unsure about some of the other settings, will try the eir 50gb as Vodafone 7.5 is pathetic.

    1. Actually Sean I realise I do have a question for you. I’m in one of the rural areas only served by a three mast running 800 Mhz LTE. The contention in the evenings is quite bad as more people switch over to using this mast after our lovely govt pulled the rug out from under the rural fixed WiFi providers who see no point in trying to upgrade their systems for extra demand. I can see from the specs that the Huawei B525 does do 800 Mhz. Do you think it would be worth getting an unlocked one versus a B315 speedwise, or not worth spending the extra £50 or so? I presume the carrier aggregation feature is just irrelevant on the rural masts so although it may be faster in the mornings, the evenings will still be slow? We have tried Mimo aerials and these do provide extra signal strength in some situations, but generally a B315 with batwing aerials and high and/or clear view of the mast seems to be the best solution at the moment.

      1. So far I have yet to try the Huawei B525, so am not sure whether it is any more sensitive compared to the B315. However for connectivity within the house, the B525 has Gigabit network ports and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The B315 has 100Mbps ports and 802.11n Wi-Fi. If you have multiple devices that share files with either other such as a NAS, the B525 would perform a lot better. You will also get better resale value.

        Unfortunately, a better router will do little for Three’s congestion. When the router’s modem gets a better signal to noise ratio, its coding efficiency improves and in turn can transmit/receive more data per timeslot with fewer retransmissions. Unfortunately the Three network does its traffic prioritisation somewhere upstream rather than just relying on the mast to divide up the bandwidth on the user’s sector.

  3. I bought a booster from Stelladorus 1800Mhz + 2100Mhz 18 months ago in the UK and have been running the old style EE 4G router with a 50GB plan since then as well as tethering with 30GB on my phone on Three.
    I’ve found that the range of the Stelladorus drops off after about 4 metres and struggles with walls. No problems for the router which is right by the indoor antenna, and popping my phone next to it to tether, but not so good using my phone around the house for calls.
    I’ll still recommend it despite costing around £500, the roof antenna picks up a decent 4G signal whereas I was unable to get any at ground level around our home, and nothing indoors before.

  4. Hi Sean, you site is great – many thanks.

    I live on the Donegal / Leitrim border very close to Kinlough and only 10 or so miles from the North.

    I get a varied signal from 3 on my phone and occasionally get metor. I’m looking at either the Huawei 315 or the 325 with an appropriate aerial. Is there any real difference between the two. I’m looking for wifi in my house. I don’t have line of sight of the Kinlough mast. Many thanks

    Chris

    1. Chris

      Start by looking up what masts are around your house on this map: http://siteviewer.comreg.ie – you can zoom right in then click on each mast option. If you are looking for Broadband the mast needs to do LTE not just UMTS or GSM.

      Best wishes
      Imogen

    2. I assume you mean a Huawei B525 as the second option. The B525 provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which provides more bandwidth for file sharing within the home, e.g. home media server or transferring files from PC to PC. The B525 also supports carrier aggregation, although this is mainly offered in larger towns such as Letterkenny. The B315 on the other hand is cheaper to purchase and is unlikely to offer much benefit over the B525 in rural areas, unless you run a home media server/streamer.

  5. Sean

    Thanks for the update

    Imogen thanks for the map

    Looks like I have a few LTE masts in the area so I’ll start moving the aerial

    Many thanks

  6. Hello Sean,
    Thank you for a very well written useful article. We are planning on doing online work in Bolivia, South America and are curious about which router you would suggest for rural area 3G umts 900 1900.
    Any feedback will be much appreciated!
    Anna

  7. Hi Sean,
    Great article, and good website. I am presently using Three at home on their B593 router. The router is very good and signal carries around all of the house. However, I am only getting speeds of 2mb or less during the evening (using SpeedTest App). I find Netflix buffering etc. As I get very good speeds in the mid-morning, I assume this is a contention issue. I also happen to have a Vodafone mobile and I can get 5mb Plus on this phone.
    I am out of contract, but Three will not unlock their router.
    I am in a rural area but have access to 4g from Vodafone/Three and maybe EIR. I am looking to switch carriers, but I am wondering which router shoud I purchase or go with the routers supplied by the phone companies?
    I need parental controls and would like to use VPN to access BBC Iplayer etc.
    Any recomendations on a Router would help.
    Can I get a WiFi dongle and plug this into a mains powered router?
    I am looking at the EIR €50 deal for 6 months, as this may suit my needs.
    Any help is appriciated
    Brian

    1. Unfortunately, that’s clearly a contention issue on the Three network. If Netflix is the main issue you would like to improve, you can try downloading the shows/movies for offline playback. For example, download the next episode or two of each show you would like to watch early in the day. This way they’ll play back without buffering in the evening: https://help.netflix.com/en/node/54816

      Unfortunately most mobile routers do not support parental controls, so it would be difficult for me to make a recommendation on this. A VPN will also defeat any router based parental controls. I also don’t recommend dongles (apart from portability) as they tend to have much weaker sensitivity than full size mobile broadband routers. You may be able to unlock your B593 with the DC-Unlocker software, which charges €7 to unlock the B593: https://www.dc-unlocker.com/huawei-b593-detect-and-unlock-guide

      VPN can be hit & miss on the Eir network, unlike the Three network. Give a prepay Eir broadband SIM a try to see if your VPN works. On Eir, prepay is the same price (€30 for 50GB), but with the advantage of not having a contract and being able to buy a 50GB add-on at anytime without waiting for the end of the month. If you don’t already have a VPN subscription, another option would be a Smart DNS such as GetFlix.

  8. Brian

    You can buy unlocked routers suitable for use with three from Germany (where rural 4G is tending to be replaced by fibre) for around €100 depending on model. We’ve bought several from eBay. You can contact me imogen@ctc.ie and I’ll dig out old invoices and let you know who from. Hope that helps.

  9. Sean

    I am in a rural area with 3 masts available, Vodafone 3 miles away with direct line of sight. Eir 4 miles away and three 5miles away, all say I am in a 4g area. Now I do live in a timber framed house which is wrapped in the foil of death so a external antenna is a must.
    I have tried vodafone latest router B528 I couldn’t get a signal even standing outside. then three with the b315 and a directional antenna that gave me 15 to 30 gb and Ive not tried Eir yet. I was wondering if it was worth going to the extra expense of the Huawei B525 over the B315. Thanks

    1. I have carried out tests between the Huawei B593s-22 (previous model to B315) and the current Huawei B525 using my same external antenna setup. In the signal readings, the RSRP signal reading is 1dB lower and the RSRQ is 1dB better on the B525 compared to my old B593s-22 router. I have not noticed any difference in upload/download speed between the two, however, with Three’s high contention in our area, it’s difficult to compare.

      If you have multiple devices on your home network, the B525 does have the advantage of gigabit Ethernet ports and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. This will give faster throughput between devices such as sending files between a phone and laptop over Wi-Fi. If you have a hard disk shared over the network (NAS), this would perform much better. However, as far as Internet performance goes, it will unlikely perform any better than the B315 unless Three upgrades the local mast to 4G+.

  10. Hello, I am in the market for a new pocket WiFi. Seems that salt water is very corrosive to electronic devices. I notice that there are many pocket wifi’s on the market with 2×2 MIMO. My question is…….do these pocket wifi’s have 2 internal antenna’s? My last one only had one internal antenna. I like some of the specs on the Huawei’s available on Lazada. Thanks.

    1. As far as I’m aware of, all the current 4G models have two internal antennas, usually one along a side and the second along the top or bottom. If the unit is laying flat such as on a table, it may operate on one antenna only. To use both antennas, stand the unit up vertically, as this will ensure one internal antenna is facing vertical.

      Unfortunately, most of the pocket Wi-Fi devices are not water resistant. If you need to use it outside or on a boat, I suggest putting it in a Ziplock bag to keep it dry, preferably with a packet of silica gel to adsorb any moisture that gets inside.

  11. Hello there, thanks for the clear advice! Not in Ireland but in rural France where the challenges are similar I presume.
    We want to upgrade from a Huawei 3G dongle which has worked very hard for us for two years ( plugged in constantly) and know needs a rest. I am considering the Huawei B315 but I’m little concerned after reading some reviews about not being able to configure for Skype ( which just worked automatically with the dongle). Skype in itself is not too much off an issue for me ( who needs to see people!) but I DO need to be able to use wats app and don’t know if that might have the same difficulties.
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks in advance.
    Jo

    1. So far I haven’t heard of anyone here having issues with using Skype over this Huawei router, it should work automatically. For VoIP calls (I’m not sure if this affects Skype), SIP ALG usually needs to be turned off. On the Huawei B525 (probably similar for the B315): Go into the Settings menu on the top menu, then into Security on the left menu, followed by SIP ALG Settings. Clear the “Enable SIP ALG” checkbox and Apply.

      We regularly use WhatsApp, including for video calls and it worked automatically with the Huawei B525 without any configuration.

  12. Sean
    I’m trying to optimise mobile broadband for use in mountainous areas. Is there a 4g router that can take two or more sim cards.
    Thanks

  13. Hi Sean. I am nearly blind from reading stuff about hotspots and routers. I’m not of the tech. age (born in the 60’s) and find it most confusing. At last I found your article and I can (fairly well – for me) UNDERSTAND it. Basically, I need to put wi-fi into three holiday houses. They are 2 semi-detached and 1 detached. The site on which all three stand would be approx. 90 feet x 30 feet. I was about to purchase Huawei hotspots but am afraid they might be too “portable” if you get me. I don’t mind spending a bit initially to get the right hardware. If one good router did all three houses, I’d be well pleased. I think we only have 3G – we are in a rural town in Co. Clare. I hope to buy a data only sim from 3 @ €20 per month – pay-as-you-go. (I only need it during the holiday season). I will offer the service free of charge and if visitors can access e mail / do some holiday research – they should be happy. I would GREATLY appreciate any advice.
    Geraldine

    1. For the mobile broadband router, I suggest going for the Huawei B315, which is currently around £100 on Amazon. This functions much the same as a DSL Wi-Fi router, with the exception that you insert the SIM card instead of attaching a phone line. I recommend getting just one to start with as this way you can check whether all three houses get a decent signal/connection before ordering another one or two.

      To set up a new Three phone SIM, I recommend placing it in an unlocked phone to start with as they will send it an SMS to register for MY3. Once set up, top it up by €20 to activate the “all you can eat” plan and check that data works on the phone before placing it in the router. Just note that Three do not officially support using their phone SIM in a router, which means once it is in a router, they will no longer offer technical support. However, it’s the only way of getting their unlimited data plan on prepay.

      The router should not need any configuration, i.e. just insert the SIM card, try it in a few spots to get the highest signal reading. The Wi-Fi password will be printed on the back of the router, which you can provide to your guests.

      If the router refuses to connect, go into its web interface by typing http://192.168.8.1 in a web browser. Login with ‘admin’ for the username and password, then go intto Settings (top menu), then Advanced settings (left menu) and Profile Management. Click ‘New profile’, enter ‘Three data’ for the name, leave username/password fields blank and ‘3ireland.ie’ for the APN. Click ‘Save’, then choose ‘Three data’ for the profile name drop-down and click ‘Apply’.

      1. Hi Sean,
        I have installed the Huawei 315 router in one of the semi-detached houses and the signal is good – supplying wi-fi to both houses.
        However, the signal is very weak in the detached house. One of our German guests suggested getting an “amplifier”. Is this also know as a range extender?
        I have checked on Amazon and there are several types available. (More confusion for me!). What do you recommend, Sean.
        Again, thanks for your help.
        Regards
        Geraldine

  14. Hi Sean,

    Just curious, have they released any 4G SIM routers yet, that carry LAN network ports higher than a gigabit connection yet? Specifically, a 10Gb port.

    Regards,
    Brian

    1. So far I’m not aware of any 4G router with any 10Gb ports. With 5G demos of 10+Gb speeds (some info here), I would expect 10Gb ports to be standard on upcoming 5G routers once 5G standards are finalised.

  15. This report is top class. Well done.

    I fully researched your articles on this site, and went for B315 and 3Pay sim.
    Just got the router today, first thing I did was made sure the sim was working in a phone, registered for My3, then inserted into the router, logged in, changed password, checked for 3G/4G only.

    Works a treat atm, but this is in the afternoon, waiting for the evening/weekend. Speeds from 50-80 down, 10-30 up.
    Massive difference to what I was on around 5.0.

  16. Hi Sean.

    Great site. Thanks for all the information.

    I have a quick question about the Huawei B525. Slightly tangential to the topic but I thought given your experience you might be able to help out. I have the router set up and working fine with a 3 PAYG sim. Unfortunately a VPN I use perfectly everywhere else isn’t working when connected to the router. I can actually connect fine but nothing “flows”. I know it’s the router because I’ve put the sim in my phone and the VPN works fine there through the 3 network. I’ve tried changing settings in order to open up the port but on the B525 I don’t really know what I’m doing and I can’t find good guidance online.

    If you could help I would really appreciate it. If not, no worries.
    Thanks

    1. I’ve run into this issue before, particularly with using a VPN over Eir 4G. With Three it seems to be mast related rather than the device, where some masts use a smaller MTU size. For example, your phone may be connecting to a different mast to the router.

      1. Connect your VPN
      2. Open up an administrative command prompt (Start Menu -> Windows System, right-click “Command Prompt”, then More and “Run as administrator” and click ‘Yes’)
      3. Type the following and press enter:
        netsh interface ipv4 show subinterfaces
      4. Look at the ‘Bytes Out’ column for the highest readings. The largest reading is your main Internet connection and the second highest reading is likely your VPN.
      5. Replace the name text on the following step with that shown for the second highest Bytes Out reading:
      6. Type the following and press enter:
        netsh interface ipv4 set subinterface “name” mtu=1300
      7. If it says ‘Ok.’, then this change was successful. If not, check the interface name, e.g. for my VPN it would be:
        netsh interface ipv4 set subinterface “Ethernet 2” mtu=1300
      8. Disconnect and reconnect the VPN and check that traffic flows. If not, try repeating the above steps, but with mtu=1200
      1. Thanks Sean. I appreciate your reply. Very helpful. You sent me on the right track with the MTU size. I got the VPN working.

        How I fixed the issue, for anyone else with this problem, was to set the MSS to 1420. In the OpenVPN file (.ovpn) on my PC I just added this line: “mssfix 1420”. On my android devices where I use the “OpenVPN for Android” app, in the VPN in question’s settings I went to the Advanced tab, there under “Payload options” is “Override MSS value of TCP payload” which I ticked and in “Set MSS of TCP payload” I set it to 1420. Everything seems to be working perfectly now when I connect to and use the VPN.

  17. Hello Sean

    Fantastic article.

    Would you recommend a b525, b593 or tp link archer mr200 for a rural dwelling. Getting anywhere between 0.5 to 8 mbps using my phone as a hot-spot esp bad in evenings. I have used an app and comreg to see cell tower location and it seems I’m not connecting to the nearest available mast that my operator has.

    My mobile provider says if I bought router my phone sim will not work because it needs an mmb card. Is this true……..? Do I have to register phone sim with provider for it to work in router. My current sim is unregistered.

    I’m a little wary of paying 150-200 for a router and it won’t work.

    1. For the router, I would suggest going for the Huawei E5186 which is around £80 at the moment. The internal antennas of desktop routers are generally a lot more sensitive than in a phone. It would also let you attach an external antenna you are able to mount an antenna outdoors. If you later no longer need the router, put it on eBay or DoneDeal as listings within Ireland tend to sell quickly.

      As far as I am aware of, all the Irish phone SIMs except Lycamobile will work in a router, regardless of what the operator states. Three is literally plug and play, i.e. just put the SIM card in and switch on the router. For the other networks, see my APN article for the APN name. Vodafone needs careful attention to the APN – If you have a phone data allowance and try using the hs.vodafone.ie APN (intended for routers), it will gobble credit.

  18. Sean, as others have said, your article and responses are by far the clearest explanations of the issues around use of 3/4g routers.
    I’m currently using a B593-22 but have found that the Wi-Fi range doesn’t seem to be as great as even the 4gee mifi it has replaced. I’ve now got issues on the other side of the house, but am unable to move the router from its current location due to the layout of the property and power points positions.
    I understand the issues with Wi-Fi extenders halving bandwidth, is there any other way that I can improve the Wi-Fi range of this device please?
    Many thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge, Ian

    1. I would avoid using a Wi-Fi extender if at all possible. I’ve had bad luck with them in the past as they seem to randomly drop out after a while, even with various brands and models I’ve tried. The exception would be if you get one that connects to the router on one channel and broadcasts on another, however, these tend to be very expensive, such as the Netgear EX8000.

      As you mention you had better Wi-Fi with the MiFi unit, I reckon a wireless access point that has external antennas would also help, such as the TP-LINK TL-WA901ND. I wouldn’t worry trying to get a 5GHz ac capable access point as the 5GHz ac band signal does not travel as far as the 2.4GHz n band. Plug it into your router, turn off the router’s built-in Wi-Fi and then configure the access point with a WPA2 Wi-Fi password.

      Another option would be to get a HomePlug Wi-Fi kit, such as the TP-Link TL-WPA4226KIT. This functions as a Wi-Fi access point and uses your home’s electrical wiring to connect back to the router. The speed will depend on the wiring and what outlets you plug the individual units into. From my experience, the AV600 typically carries around 40Mbps to 60Mbps. You can configure the access point with a separate Wi-Fi channel.

  19. Sorry, to add to the question just now, if extending the range of the B593 isn’t practical, do the later model Huawei routers have greater Wi-Fi capabilities?
    Thanks again, Ian

  20. Sean great article thanks for all the time and effort you have put into it. I would realy appreciate some advice. I have landline BB in my yard at less then 1mb upload and 8mb download. I will keep the landline BB but Iam wondering can you recommend some method of uploading my CCTV cameras for live viewing at home. The 0.7mb upload I have now is very patchy and images freeze. Something with wan port as cameras are not wifi. They are viewed live for roughly 3 maybe 4 hours per day seven days a week. Iam not looking to use this method of BB for anything else.It would be dedicated to uploading the CCTV and very little downloading just maybe commands to the cameras.

    1. Three is probably the only mobile broadband provider that may work with a CCTV due to the high amount of data usage this will consume and it is the only mobile provider that offers a public IP address. Based on my own Three connection, it occasionally connects with a private IP address, so you may need some remote way of rebooting the router if this happens (e.g. asking someone on site.)

      A 1Mb upload consumes 450MB per hour, so 4 hours every day for a month will consume 450MB x 4 x 30 = 54GB per month. A 3Mb upload would triple this to 162GB per month. The Three Unlimited plan will cover this, however, it will also depend on getting a consistent 4G signal.

      The Huawei B525 router Three provides has 4 LAN ports, so you can connect a wired CCTV or DVR directly to the router. It also supports port forwarding. Eir’s mobile broadband router also provides 4 ports and Vodafone’s provides just one. However, Vodafone only provides a Public IP address for business customers and Eir no longer offers a public IP address on mobile broadband products.

      If the cameras upload to a cloud or offsite DVR, they usually can work without port forwarding (check to be sure), in which case they would work with any mobile broadband provider. However, as they usually record 24 hours a day, you would quickly run into data consumption issues with both Eir and Vodafone. For example, a 1Mb upload running 24 hours a day would consume 316GB every 30 days, so a 2Mb average upload would be about the maximum rate you could upload with Three’s Unlimited (750GB) plan.

  21. Sean thanks so much for the time and effort. I now understand exactly what I need and the consumption rate I may experience. All the cameras are on the DVR and visible on my phone except one PTZ which has a large sd card in it. This is the only camera I want to see on the desktop at home. The camera will require port forwarding so is this a big deal to do ? because even though I pay Vodafone for a static IP they were no help to explain how to port forward when setting up before and at that stage they used to provide 3MB upload which was perfect. Now its reduced to 1MB without giving me any understandable reason why.

    1. I’m surprised they reduced the uplink speed that much. Have a look at your DSL router’s DSL information page to see if it mentions the maximum (attainable) upstream rate. If that is lower than 3072Kbps (or just slightly above it), it could mean there is more noise on the line than before. Another possibility could be a degrading DSL filter or circuitry within the router. When I previously had DSL, the maximum profile my line could handle was 3072Kbps down / 384Kbps up and every time I asked my ISP (Digiweb) to try a higher profile, they insisted that was the maximum my line could handle. When I later upgraded my router (the old one didn’t even have Wi-Fi), it still connected at 3072Kbps, but I noticed it mentioned the attainable rate was higher. For curiosity, I asked Digiweb once more if they could do anything about my speed and they said they see my line can now handle 5Mbps and put me on a higher DSL profile, which gave me 5120Kbps down / 512Kbps up right up until I switched to Three’s 4G service.

      If you sign up to Three’s broadband, the port forwarding is reasonably straight forward. Go into the Huawei router’s B525 web interface and log in. Go into the Settings menu at the top, then into Security and Virtual Server on the left. Click Add and here you can specify the port # to forward along with the IP address to forward to.

      I am not sure if Three still provides the option to get a static IP address. However, even if they only provide a dynamic public IP address, you can still use a DDNS service that will give you a sub-domain name that you can use instead. This router supports both DynDNS.org and No-IP.com. The No-IP service is free. These services don’t work with Eir or Vodafone’s home 4G broadband as they no longer provide a public IP address with their consumer 4G products.

  22. Thanks again Sean you are very detailed with the info. I don’t need my static IP but iam stuck with it until early next year then its gone. Vodafone have been out twice this year, second time was last week when the engineer said my line is perfect but my problems are caused by the higher speed so it has been reduced to 10MB download in the exchange which also means lower upload. Less then 1MB. I would be delighted if port forwarding is as simple as you say. The particular camera I want to see is Axis branded and they provide their own free DNS service. http://www.axiscam.net/ so I don’t have to worry about that cost.

  23. Sean I built a new house beside my mother. I’m on the tesck network and get excellent speeds in my mother’s house but can barely get reception at home. The house has foil insulation and concrete upper floors. Should s 4g router improve my reception and what router would you recommend.

    1. I assume you mean a Tesco mobile phone. If you have an Internet connection within the house (e.g. DSL, Fibre or cable), I suggest using the phone on its Wi-Fi connection for data, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. If you are looking to improve the phone signal for calls and texts, you will need a mobile repeater. This consists of an outdoor antenna, which picks up the signal outside, a repeater to amplify it and an indoor antenna to provide the signal inside.

      Unless you don’t have any Internet connection within the house, I suggest going for a 900MHz GSM repeater, such as the StellaDoradus SD-RP1002-G. This will provide a GSM or 3G signal for calls and texts. There are multi-band repeaters available that can also provide 4G, however these tend to have a shorter range or cost considerably more.

  24. Dear Sean

    My wife and I are buying a house in West Cork. I am registered blind so it is very difficult to read through all the information.

    Would it be possible to talk to you directly? The house I believe gets a mobile phone signal, I think it is 3G but it could also be picking up a 4G signal. There appears to be 2 Vodafone masts nearby on the Comreg site.

    Digital Fordge cannot serve the property and am checking Rapid Broadband as well as BigBlu. Assuming there is a mobile reception, I am also considering an external aerial with a 3G/4G desktop rooter.at This is where I really need some advice as I do not know how this technology works, how to set up and what my options really are.

    Could really do with the help and advice, hope this makes sense and please let me know if we can communicate directly?

    All the best
    Feargus

  25. Great page!
    Is the TP-link MR6400 4G dual band router a good choice for an urban area with a Three tower within 750m?

    1. To date I have not used any TP-Link 4G router, so am not sure what its sensitivity is like compared to Huawei routers. I have used TP-Link equipment such as Wi-Fi access points and USB Wi-Fi connectors and they generally perform well.

      For an Urban area, I suggest going for a Cat 6 capable router if possible such as the Huawei E5186 (similar price) or wait for the Huawei B525 to go on sale (Amazon occasionally does a lightning deal for around £100). Most Three masts in urban areas are 4G+ enabled which mean they operate on both 800MHz and 1800MHz. A Cat 4 router such as that TP-Link will only connect to one frequency. This can be an issue if there is high contention on the mast and the router decides to connect to the more congested 800MHz band.

      1. Excellent advice, so went for a Three Huawei B525 deal. I only get 1 bar on my iPhone6 (Three) around the house (bungalow) but up the road I can get 26Mbps down on the phone.
        Could you please suggest suitable external antenna.

        thanks again Peter

        1. That type of antenna is omni-directional, which will provide the equivalent to placing the router outside where the antenna is. The first thing I suggest is check how your phone performs where you intend placing the antenna, such as run a speed test while up a ladder against the gable. Going by what I can tell, the cables are sold separately with that antenna, which will cost $37 for a pair of 10m cables on that website.

          The following antenna on that website would be my suggestion. This needs to be aimed at the mast and will take longer to set up if you don’t know which direction the mast is. However, it will give a stronger signal than an omni-directional antenna as well as reduce interference coming from other directions:
          https://www.eurodk.com/en/products/lte-outdoor-antennas/3g4g-lte-14dbi-outdoor-panel-antenna-800-2600mhz-duplex-cable-10m

  26. Hi Sean,
    Great article, thanks for the info! Quick one for you – I’ve recently had my contract with Vodafone cancelled due to poor service; I was on the 150gb a month package with the Huawei B528 router. They let me keep the router, which I’ve unlocked and put a Three €30 a month sim into – and it works great! I need another similar setup for the office, and was looking at the 4 Huawei routers you have listed above, with the Three sim again. Three are offering the B525 now on a decent deal, but that goes against the point you made about using a network branded router.. Purely from a performance point of view (ignoring the normal contract issues) am I better going with a 2nd hand, unlocked say B593s-22 as opposed to the Three branded B525? I have line of sight to a Three LTE mast, which is less than 1km away, and option to use an external antennae if required.
    Thanks,
    Will

    1. I suggest going for either the Huawei E5186 or a B525. Both are Cat 6 (4G+) capable, offer the faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi band and have Gigabit network ports on the back. The E5186 is an older model, which is often available for under £100. The B525 costs around £150, although Amazon occasionally does a lightning deal on it for a little less.

      For a test run, try bringing the B528 router to the office to see how it performs there. Check on the main screen to see whether it mentions 4G or 4G+. If it’s regular 4G, the B593s-22 would be worth considering if you have a tight budget. If you get 4G+ or Three upgrades the mast, you will get better performance with the B525 or E5186 as 4G+ operates on multiple bands simultaneously (carrier aggregation). The B593s-22 and B315 can only connect to a single band.

  27. Hi. We have used B525s and B593s22s at the same location. B525s are over 10% faster in real practical use on the three network and probably more like 15-20% faster. Good luck whatever you decide!

    1. Imogen, Sean,

      Thanks for the replies. Just to clarify – any issues with using the Three branded B525 as opposed to unlocked? (apart from simlock and being restricted on a contract)
      Thanks,
      Will

      1. As far as I can tell, the only difference is the Three router has some Three branding and no VoIP configuration. They don’t seem to restrict anything else, for example, I can change the APN if I want, port forward, check the signal read-outs, use external antennas (it also comes with two screw-in rabbit ears), plug-in a USB HDD to share, etc. For VoIP, you can use a separate VoIP adapter. I use an old Fritz Box 7360 plugged straight into a LAN port of the B525. Both Goldfish and Blueface VoIP seem to work fine over Three 4G even with plenty of traffic, unlike my former 5Mbps DSL connection.

      2. Three send the B525 routers out locked to using the Internal aerial only, so you must log in to the router via ethernet cable and change that option to your external aerial. Easy once you know you need to do it…

  28. Hi Sean. This weblog is a great resource. Keep up the good work. I am trying to find out if the Three or vodafone mast in my area is lte+ enabled. I have tried contacting both companies. No joy. I get moderate 4g signal on my b593 router with 15-20mbps speeds. I am going to get an outdoor antenna. I was also thinking of upgrading my router to b525 or similar lte+ enabled device but would seem little point if the mast is not lte+ enabled. I am 1.8 miles from the cell tower with direct line of sight.
    Ps com reg site viewer is still showing the three mast as 3g only so I assume its database is pretty out of date..
    Thanks

    1. I suggest going for an outdoor antenna first, such as a pair of wideband LOG antennas. Assuming the 20Mbps top speed you are getting is not down to high contention on your mast, you are more likely to get a speed improvement than upgrading to the B525, which you can do later on.

      If you have an Android 7 or later 4G phone (non 4G+ is fine), install the App Network Cell Info Lite and check what band it’s on where you pick up the strongest 4G signal outside your house. If it shows band ‘3’, then I reckon there’s a 90% chance it is a 4G+ mast. Just above everywhere my phone uses LTE band 3 on Three, it shows 4G+ on the top. It was the same also when I was with Vodafone. However, Three seems to have a lot more band 3 masts than Vodafone (which also serve band 20 for 4G+), at least around here in Co. Donegal.

  29. Hi Sean,

    Will a Huawei b593u-12 work just as well as the b593s-22 when using a Three broadband sim?

    Thanks,
    John

    1. As far as I can tell, the B593u-12 should work fine as it supports both the 800MHz and 1800MHz 4G bands that Three uses. The main difference between the two routers is the B593u-12 lacks VoIP/telephone capability and it’s CAT3 LTE rated instead of CAT4 LTE. If you need VoIP support, you can use a separate VoIP adapter such as a Grandstream HT802. CAT3 connectivity supports up to 100Mbps maximum 4G throughput, however, even with the B593s-22, its ports only support 100Mbps maximum and very few Three masts can even deliver 100+Mbps, especially in the evening.

  30. Hi Sean. Quick follow up question. I Got a huawei b525 and an external antennae as you suggested. I have noticed a much more stable connection
    When setting up the router it gives the following wan options in the settings menu
    1) dhcp (suitable for hotels)
    2) pppoe (suitable for home broadband)

    Whats the difference, dhcp seems to be the default and connects automatically but when I try to use pppoe it asks me to input a username and password. I am using a 3 mobile sim. Any ideas where to find these?
    Thanks
    Conal

    1. Choose the DHCP option. PPPoE is only for a fixed home broadband connection, such as if the user later repurposes the B525 after getting in VDSL or cable. In that case the router’s WAN port connects directly to a VDSL or cable modem. However, as you are using it for mobile broadband, PPPoE does not apply.

  31. Sean, Any idea how to configure the huawei b525 router to allow me remote acces to the router. I’m using a three mobile sim. I have set up a DDNS account with noip and configured the b525 with my details. But still can’t seem to access the router webpage remotely.
    Thanks for any advice

    1. As far as I can tell, the router’s web interface can only be accessed within the network. I think this is also due to the lack of https on the router, which most routers use for remote access to its web interface to avoid the login details being eavesdropped upon. If you have a PC that you leave on while away, I suggest setting it up for remote desktop access, e.g. Chrome Remote Desktop. When you need to access the router’s web interface, establish a remote desktop connection and then log into the router’s web interface from its web browser.

  32. Hi Sean, The more i read the dumber I become. I am with 3 with my phone and was hoping to use it for internet. I can get 2 to 3 bars on phone in 1 room only. It was suggested by a friend to look at Asus or Tl routers but the sheer amount of whats available is mind boggling, and given most aren’t cheap and I don’t have the slightest idea what I should be looking at. I realise everyone’s circumstances are slightly different. The brand doesn’t really matter to me as long as its reputable, easy to use and does the job, and possibly has the ability to add an external aerial….Impartial advice is hard to come by and could see me being a soft touch to a salesman. Any help would be appreciated

    1. Personally, I’ve only had experience with Huawei’s mains-operated 4G routers. The Huawei routers are generally quite stable and I’ve only had to reboot my B525 a few times since getting it in March. They also tend to have the most sensitive internal antennas, often giving better performance than some external omni-directional antennas in the same spot.

      At the moment, the B525 is on sale on Amazon for £117, probably due to Black Friday week as usually it’s around £150. A cheaper option would be the B315, which can be got for around £80 used. The newer B525 does 4G+ and faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi. I suggest going for the B525 if you can for the 4G+ capability. Both the B315 and B525 have two antenna ports, so you can attach an antenna later on. However, I suggest seeing you get on first with just the router positioned where you get the strongest signal.

  33. Hi there,

    Is the B593s-22 still best for rural locations with low signal?

    I live in Rural Wales and have 4G on my Three mobile – so am considering the Three unlimited data/tethering plan atm.

    However Three say there is no 4G coverage where I live (at all), but my phone indicates otherwise – so I will be using the 14 day return policy to check coverage.

  34. Hello Stephen. I’m sure Sean will reply but here’s my practical experience. The B525 used by Three is about 15% faster than a B593S. Both work on 3G signal too. If you have 3 bars of 3G you should get a speed of 8-10 Mb/s download for your broadband.

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