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.

Article content

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 voice or 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, Eir 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 SIM cards 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 apps network Network Cell Info Lite and 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.  For HTC phones, toggle to WCDMA only and back to GSM/WCDMA/LTE Auto to lure it to 4G mode.  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 more sensitive internal antennas than the B315 and many other brand routers. For users that are far from the cell tower (e.g. 20+km), choose the B525 as it’s less likely to run into the 4G range limit issue

This router is similar in size to typical standing 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 from European sellers.  It will easily sell for around €80 if the user later gets another router.  The newer B315 was provided by Three, Meteor and Eir up until 2018.

Huawei E525 or E5186

Huawei B525For users living in or near larger towns, consider getting the B525 or E5186, 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 B525 is available new for around £120 to £150 on Amazon.  Both Three and Eir provide this router with their broadband contracts.  The B525 is newer than the E5186 and provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi capability.  These are less common second hand and in turn gives them an excellent resale value. 

Huawei offers many higher end routers such as the B618 and B715s-23c.  At this time of updating (9th January 2020), no mobile operator operates higher than LTE category 6 in Ireland.  Three and Eir both offer the B525 and Vodafone offers the B528 with their mobile broadband plans.

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.

Outdoor Router

MikroTik LHGFor those living in a fringe 4G reception area, an outdoor router such as the MikroTik LHG LTE kit offers 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 and only needs a single cable.

This outdoor router receives its power over its Ethernet cable, supplied using an indoor 24v or 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.  For those that previously had a wireless Internet service provider (WISP), it may be possible to reuse the existing Ethernet cable and mast. 

Notes: Some outdoor routers do not provide 3G connectivity.  Make sure there is at least one bar of usable 4G coverage with the desired network with an LTE-only modem or router.  See the cell tower range limit note below.

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.

The distance limit appears to vary between LTE category 3 / 4 devices and LTE category 6+ devices, possibly due to better LTE timing advance precision on devices that support carrier aggregation, i.e. 4G+.  For example, with a high gain antenna, I can pick up Eir 4G (band 20) from a mast over 25km away with my B525 router, however, my B593s will refuse to connect to it despite showing the same signal reading.  A 4G signal on a mobile phone does not necessarily mean a usable 4G signal with a category 3 or 4 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, Eir 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 to reduce the upfront cost of the 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 Three’s prepay “All You Can Eat” or the large 80GB allowance on Eir/GoMo.  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.

Note: For those considering getting a mobile repeater to boost their 4G signal, repeaters do not provide MIMO.  This means the maximum 4G speed may be half that of using a MIMO antenna with two coaxial leads to a 4G router on the same network.  The repeater will need to boost 800MHz for most rural 4G masts or dual band (800 + 1800MHz) to provide 4G+ in urban areas. 

Article last updated 9th January 2020.

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

  1. Hi Sean, A very good insight on 3g and 4g routers.

    I live in UK and soon will be getting Vodafone unlimited 4g data plan. Looking to buy the Vodafone Huawei 4g gigacube B528s-23a from eBay. There are quite a few deals in eBay from European sellers (e.g Ireland) so wondering whether it will be compatible with UK Vodafone network? Thanks Mani

    1. The B528s-23a supports all the 4G bands the Vodafone UK network currently uses. Vodafone UK also sell this same Huawei model with their mobile broadband plans which they rebrand as the GigaCube 4G. Just make sure the router you intend purchasing is unlocked.

  2. Hi Sean,

    Awesome arcticle – we’re likely moving to a house with only 4G signal, so very helpful indeed. Quick one – would the routers recommended above still be recommended in 2019, or should I research for better alternatives?

    Thanks in advance,
    Sean

    1. The Huawei B525 and B528 are still the most common here in Ireland for 4G. The higher end ones don’t really offer much benefit for 4G reception I’m not aware of any Irish network using anything better than LTE category 6.

  3. Hi

    I am using the Huawei from 3 at a ground floor holiday apartment in the south east. It works OK with 25 down and 6 up. It is located on a window sill with the two antenna tested at every angle. If I walk about 50m across the carpark and get out of line of another block between my phone and the local mast… I get 50+ down.
    I then tried putting a wall of aluminium foil in an arc behind the modem… Download speed increased slightly but upload increased by a factor of 5 to over 30!! How can I get the download rather than upload boost?

    1. It’s quite possible you are picking up interference inside from the signals bouncing about. The window likely has a low emissivity coating, which reflects radio waves also. As for the upload speed, the aluminum foil is likely helping direct more of the signal towards the mast, however, this will not help the incoming signal if the issue is caused by it bouncing about the building interior. You would need to move the actual router to see if there’s another spot where it picks up less reflections.

      To start with, position the antennas so they are cross-polarised, i.e. 45 degree angles to the left/right in a V shape or with one antenna facing up and the second antenna sideways. Then try moving the router to different parts of the room, including trying other rooms to see how the speed compares. With modern windows, the router usually performs better away from the window, such as next to an outside facing wall.

      1. Router tried in every location ( not many in a typical apartment) and currently resides in the spot with the best numbers. I would readily swap the download for the upload values!!

  4. Hi Sean

    Thanks so much for this information, based on it we’ve been using the Huawei B593s-22 for about 18 months now with the Three inlimited data plan. Coverage here isn’t great but we were getting up to 30 mbs download speeds at times. The last few months we’ve seen a drastic change in speeds, i flick between 4G and 3G at peak times and also use the 3G/4G auto setting. However this isn’t improving. Just wondering if we should update our modem? Anything you could recommend would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again!

    1. If the speed change happened very suddenly, it’s quite possible Three set up another mast on the same band that is now causing interference. To start with, I suggest testing your router along an facing wall at each end of the house in case just moving it helps isolate it from the suspect interference.

      If you are able to install an outdoor antenna the next option would be to get a pair of LOG antennas (such as these). This this will improve your signal and help isolate your reception from masts in other directions. An outdoor antenna will more likely improve your speed than upgrading the router. These can mount on a vertical pole or two small TV antenna brackets side by side.

      If you would like to upgrade your router, I suggest going for the Huawei B525. This will also let you try locking your router to band 3 (using the LTEInspecteur utility) to see if it picks up that higher capacity band. The B525 also offers Gigabit LAN ports and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so a worthwhile upgrade if you have multiple devices on your Wi-Fi network or do in-home streaming such as from a network satellite receiver.

  5. Hi Sean,
    Would you have any thoughts on the TP-Link TL-MR6400.
    I’m considering picking up a 4g router for quick installation and this seems to be only option really available nearby…

  6. Brilliant advice, well done.
    I’ve had 3 years excellent 4g from Three on a Huawei B593s-22 from Latvia. Typically 10 Mb/s daytime, 6 Mb/s evenings, no dropouts.

  7. I have just purchased a Huawei B593 from Latvia. I have no experience with setting up routers, and I (naively!) expected that when I inserted my SIM card (Tesco Mobile) it would just work straight away. I can connect to the router via ethernet or over wifi, but it won’t connect to the internet. I suspect that I need to change the APN as the router was originally used in Latvia? Can anyone point me towards a step by step guide as to what I need to do to set it up?

  8. Hi Sean – I bought a B593s-22 based on your advice here and it’s been fantastic so far using Eir Wireless Broadband. Ranging from 10 – 25 MB down and no issues with dropouts. I had a buddy over yesterday who had a phone on the Three network and had him test it out. He was getting between 50 and 70 MB down on 4G+.

    I’m assuming it makes sense for me to go after a 4G+ compatible router in that case and sell the B593?

  9. Just to add to above – I’ve tried a Three sim in my router and I’m getting between 10 and 35 MB down depending on the time of day so far. Continuing to test today.

    1. In this case it’s worth getting the newer Huawei B525. Amazon currently has the white model for £100 and it’s possible it may go lower over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday week. In the meantime, I suggest trying your router in a few spots to see if it locks on to the faster band 3. As the B593s-22 lacks 4G+, it will just use one of the two bands and often it’s the slower band 20 as the router is much more sensitive on this band than phones are.

      With the Huawei B525, you can force it to lock on to band 3 (e.g. using the utility LTEInspecteur). Then move the router around to find where it gets the highest signal reading, in which case in auto mode it will likely use band 3 as the main band in 4G+ mode.

      1. Hi Sean I have the huawei b525 with 3. thinking of going sim only I was offered tenda 4g lte router and 4g booster aerial have you heard of tenda or should I just get a 4g aerial speed drops to 1 meg in evening

        1. The speed drop is mainly down to network contention, much like rush hour on a motorway. Unfortunately, changing the router will not overcome contention, much like how changing to a Ferrari will not go any faster than the average Ford on the same congested motorway.

          If you pick up 4G+ on 3 (B525’s main page shows ‘4G+’ instead of ‘4G’ while downloading), first try using the utility LTEInspecteur to lock your router to band 3 (1800MHz) as this can make a big improvement to the download speed. To undo the change select the 2100MHz band, which will display an error and then it will revert back to the regular aggregation (4G+) mode.

          If you have clear view around from the roof-top, a directional 4G antenna (such as this) will likely help as there is a good chance you can pick up an alternative mast. If you managed to improve your speed by locking your router in band 3 mode, a directional outdoor antenna will very likely improve the speed further as the higher frequency band 3 does not penetrate walls or building material very well.

  10. On our caravan site WiFi is rubbish on all networks most of the time.
    We do not get 4g.
    Does the huawei B525 work on 3G

  11. Excellent article Seán – is the B593s 22 still the way to go ( I notice the article is from 2017). Was going to try a GoMo sim instead of hot spotting my phone all the time
    Thanks
    E

    1. I suggest going for the B315 or the B525 if you can afford it as it has 4G+ support, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and better signal diagnostics. If you find a B593s-22 much cheaper than the B315, it is also a good option as it tends to be more sensitive in weaker signal areas compared to the B315. The newer B525 also have very good signal sensitivity.

      The main thing to watch out for is the 80GB limit on GoMo as they throttle excess usage to a near crawl until the next billing cycle.

  12. Hi Sean great article. Have you tried or used the TP Link routers? I have the TP Link MR600 but struggling to get it to work on 3G or 4G , it works sometimes with virgin, but can’t get it to work with Vodafone or gomo. any suggestions

    1. I have not used a TP-Link 4G router yet. With GoMo, the router needs to be set up with both the SIM pin and the APN to connect. With Vodafone, it needs the APN set to ‘live.vodafone.com’ to connect with a voice SIM or ‘hs.vodafone.ie’ to connect with a mobile broadband SIM.

      I posted a guide here for the GoMo SIM based on steps that worked for someone else:
      https://confusedbird.com/thread-12.html

      1. The two routers are identical apart from what the cellular bands they support. Both support LTE bands 20, 3 and 1, which the Irish networks use. The B525-65a also supports band 28 that the networks have temporary spectrum (along with band 1) until April 2021.

        Unless you need VoIP support, I suggest checking the Huawei B535, which also supports the four LTE bands including band 28. If you can afford to spend more, I suggest going for the Huawei B818 which can aggregate more than 2 bands, depending which are available in your area. For example, if Three is operating on bands 1, 3 and 20 in you area, this router aggregate the 3, potentially giving faster speed than the B525 or B535 models.

  13. Hi Sean, we are just 1.85Km from a 4G+ mast and 2 from a LTE, unfortunatly both mast are not in direct sigt due to hills. To have a higher change of faster speeds would you advise the B525, LHG LTE or something else like a RUT240. I’m planning using Three Internet and don’t mind investing in some hardware. Thanks

    1. Of the three routers you mention, only the B525 does 4G+. The Mikrotik LHG LTE (which looks like a satellite dish) and the RUT240 are both professional grade and more likely to give a more stable connection. With my own Huawei B525, it drops the connection roughly once a week, requiring a reboot to get back online. Apart from that, I’ve no other issue with it and seems more stable than our previous DSL connection. You will need a directional antenna to try isolating one mast from the others.

      The Mikrotik LHG LTE is effectively a combination of a router and high gain band 3+7 antenna in the one unit. While it lacks 4G+, the additional gain it gives on band 3 will likely give you better speed than the Huawei B525 on its own, especially during peak time when band 20 gets heavily congested. You will need to mount it outside on a wall (e.g. TV antenna mount). As it works over Ethernet, it just needs a single Ethernet cable run to it, which can be up to 50 metres from its indoor PoE injector. You will also need a wired Wi-Fi router to provide indoor Wi-Fi.

  14. Hi Sean,
    I was wondering if you could advise me on a suitable 4G set up for my situation. I want to buy some new equipment to improve my home BB however I have come across a lot of confusing information on what set up is best in terms of routers and antennas. I think your blog possibly provides the best information on the internet for someone trying to figure this out.
    I have outlined my situation in more detail on the following link: https://bit.ly/4gBroadbandSetUp

    1. For your situation, I suggest getting the following antennas, which cover both 800MHz 4G (band 20) and the 900MHz 3G (band 8): https://smile.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CP21R43/ These antennas are the most sensitive that I’ve come across on the 800MHz band, especially with how weak your signal is outdoors. They don’t pick up the 1800MHz band 3 (may not work with 4G+), in case anyone else is reading this comment. However, if your nearby mast later gets 4G+, you will probably not need any external antenna for it.

      Those antennas come with adapters that will fit the antenna slots on your modem, so you can see what the signal is like before going for Vodafone’s larger package. From what I’ve heard, Vodafone is supplying an earlier B3500 plug-in router due to difficulty in getting new stock of B528’s with their 300GB 4G package. With the B3500, you can screw the antenna leads into the back of the router. With the B528, you attach two TS9 to SMA adapters provided with the cables to attach to that router.

      Ideally the two antennas should be mounted side by side as shown in the picture. You can pick up a wall-mounting bracket, double pipe clamp (like this) and some metal tube at a hardware store. You will need to drill 8mm holes to pass the antenna cables through the wall. The SMA connectors should fit through this hole size.

      All Huawei routers and modems that I’m aware of have separate internal Wi-Fi antennas and do not use the antenna sockets for Wi-Fi. With TP-Link 4G routers, the two antennas are for mobile data which you can swap with the antenna leads. These also have separate internal Wi-Fi antennas. I’m not sure about the Tenda brand 4G routers as I had difficulty confirming. If you upgrade to Vodafone’s 300GB 4G package, I first recommend seeing how you get on with the router they provide with it, which will likely be their B3500 or B528 (both plug-in desktop routers).

      1. Thank you Sean, that’s very helpful.

        I haven’t actually ordered anything yet as but I did discover the MikroTik antenna only has a gain of about 4.75dB at 800MHz (https://i.mt.lv/cdn/rb_files/LHG_LTE_kit-190304104239-1583493654.pdf)

        I actually had a local wireless broadband company out who recommended trying the 4G MikroTik dish before moving to their wireless broadband but I think I will give the yagi antenna you suggested which has great reviews a go first.

        My latest research is pointing me towards using 800mhz boosters (https://www.irelandbooster.com/product/mobile-booster-voice-4g-lte-300-sq-m/ ) and I was wondering if they would be more effective again to boost speed or if they could be used in conjunction with the two antennas. It looks like I would need one for each antenna to do this right (Yagi antenna x2 > Booster/Repeater x2> 4G router x1).

        Obviously there would be a considerable investment in two boosters and I was wondering if you were familiar with a set up like this? I’ve noticed very different prices on boosters from reasonably priced Lintratek boosters on eBay to €500+ boosters elsewhere.

        I also saw you mentioned Vodafone was going to cap the 4G 300gb package speed at 10mp/s which is a new cause for concern given this is not the case with my phone data and as a test I actually drive to within 1km of the mast I am using and got speeds in excess of 70mb/s down and 40mp/s up.

  15. Hi Sean, I have similar issue to most people , trying to improve broadband. HAve a Huawei B315s with 3, speeds before Covid-19 were ok 2-4 Mbps, higher usage by everyone in the area I presume and also in our house cause speed to be mostly below 1Mbps. With GoMo few months and have greatly improved phone reception in back of house especially as can see Eir mast. (This mast is 3G) However the Gomo sim only worked intermittently in the router. Never an issue hotspotting on phone. Neighbour has 20-30 Mbps with Imagine, I was going that route until I came across Novatel. Currently have ordered
    Poynting XPOL-2-5G – 11dBi WiFi/4G/5G Cross Polarised MIMO Outdoor Antenna for Router/Modem
    and
    Teltonika RUTX11 – Dual SIM LTE Router with WiFi/GPS/GLONASS & Gigabit LAN Feature
    plus Tenda mesh wifi extenders which will come to over €600.
    I will try Eir mast and 3 which are further away and not LOS. Only saw your page since, wondering about your opinion as it’s hard to get advice on this. Novatel sales rep refused to give any indication of what improvement to expect. Imagine is expensive and plenty unhappy customers on Boards.ie with slow speeds, in a contract and no satisfaction from Imagine support, so that is why I am trying this first, can return if not happy.
    Thanks for the time you have put into this, great to see people sharing their knowledge to help others.

    1. It needs a 12V DC power supply with a 5.5mm plug and a positive centre tip. These are quite common power supplies, so you may have one laying around from an older router. Just make sure it’s 12V, at least 1A and a ‘+’ tip (sometimes shown as -C+). If you use the USB port for an external HDD, the power supply needs to be at least 2A. Don’t use a heavy transformer type, such as the one supplied with old Eircom Netopia routers.

      If you’re unable to find any, the following on Amazon should work:
      https://smile.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07QKV9NGZ/

  16. Hi Sean,

    My speed has dropped significantly overnight. I’ve gone from speeds ranging from 2-10mb download to less than 1mb consistently for the past week. I haven’t moved my router and we’ve had a mix of good and bad weather since it’s dropped so I don’t think that has caused it. The drop in signal has coincided with 2 things. 1) I downloaded a pretty big file (PS4 game) and 2) the end of my 14 day cancellation period with my provider (Three). Do you know if either of these 2 events would have casued them to reduce my speed or is it likely that something else has caused it?

    1. Neither of those two events should have caused the speed decrease. In fact, Three is obliged to deliver up to 10Mbps, which I believe is something ComReg recently enforced:
      https://www.three.ie/legal/terms/mobile-network-speeds/

      I suggest contacting Three support, even to see if there is an outage in the area. If they are unable to help, ask them for a formal complaint number so you can open a case with ComReg. If Three is unable to fix the issue, the escalation with ComReg may let you cancel your contract. Just a pity about the timing.

  17. Hi Sean. Thanks again for this very helpful article and answers to my previous questions. I’m just wondering if there is much difference in the performance of Huawei B535 vs a Huawei B525?

    1. On the Irish networks, the B525 and B535 should perform roughly the same, although this could change during the upcoming spectrum auction if the 700MHz band #28 becomes available for 4G use. The three networks currently have temporary 4G spectrum on the 700MHz and 2100MHz bands for the Covid, so if you happen to be in an area that the network has set up a temporary cell on the 700MHz band, the B535 would perform better as the B525 doesn’t support the 700MHz band. This temporary spectrum is due to expire on the 8th October, although could be extended. The B535 also has a faster upload capability, but no Irish network has the upload spectrum available to offer it.

      The B525 on the other hand has a telephone jack that the B535 lacks, so if your landline is with a separate VoIP provider (e.g. Goldfish), you can configure the B525 for the VoIP and plug a corded telephone or DECT base into it.

  18. Hi Séan, thanks for the recommendation on the Huawei B535. From my recent experiences they are far superior to the TP Link 4G routers.

    Can you recommend a 4G router for more urban areas? One that is more affordable than the B535. It doesn’t need to have scope for external antennas.

    The Huawei B593s-22 or B315 mentioned above are hard to find these days.

    Thanks, Aidan

    1. The Huawei B311 is the new replacement for the B315 and costs around £60 new on Amazon. The B315 and B593s are often available used on eBay and have 4 Ethernet ports. Generally most are in very good condition as they are left untouched for most of their life just like a DSL router. Unfortunately like most newer Huawei routers, the newer B311 only has one Ethernet port, so you if intend getting it, you will need a network switch if you want to connect more than one Ethernet cable to it.

      When I get a chance, I will check what the main current routers are easily available and update the article. For example, I’ve since tested the portable Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 and the business-grade MikroTik Chateau LTE12. The MR1100 is surprisingly unusable in my area (keeps getting stuck connecting to out-of-range band 3 masts) and the MikroTik Chateau has the same issue causing the LTE link to keep flapping up and down, although usable with some technical workarounds.

      1. Thanks. I’ve had issues with the TP link M6400 in my area as well. I’m 400 metres from a 3 mast and the TP link gets me around 10Mbps download speeds. The Huawei B535 gets 30-50Mbps. Depending on the time of day.

        I’m very curious about the Mikrotik antenna’s. I know a large scale 4G broadband installer that only uses Mikrotik. My colleague has tried the Mikrotik LHG LTE a few times but it stops working after a few days.

  19. I use a Mikrotik SIX Lte external antenna, I get excellent speeds and i am about 10 km from the 3 mast 70Mbps to over 100 Mbps.

    1. That’s very impressive speeds especially since you’re so far from the mast. Can you send me the link to the product on Amazon or wherever it can be bought please? I can’t seem to find the Mikrotik SIX one.

  20. Hi Sean,

    Thanks, Very comprehensive article. I have a B315 in a remote area, signal in one spot in the attic only, I’ve tried to use an external aerial, so far this has not helped, I think this is because the external antenna option has been disabled by the supplier-Eir, do you know of any work around for this?

    Thanks,

    Séamus

    1. Have you gone into router settings? Usually on auto so should be ok but can select external. Is it onmi or directional aerial, I have same router, found omni usless, directional good

  21. Thanks Patrick, yes I have gone into the settings, using omni, reluctant to buy another until I’m sure the external antenna hasn’t been disabled, which I have seen on some board comments. Did you get your router from a Telco or did it come unlocked?

    1. I have one of both(3 &unlocked) my omni test showed no change despite being up on the roof with it! Would recommend a Poynting 4G directional from Novatel.ie €150, boosted me from 10Mbps to 30, and if needed a RUTX11 router €320 got 70Mbps with this which I was shocked at. Can’t understand how the tele companies do not promote this option as they are losing broadband business to likes of Imagine.

    1. Most (if not all) 5G routers support 3+ carriers, so in 4G+ areas where the mast operates on 3 or more bands, the router can aggregate them. The Huawei B525 and B353 can only aggregate two carriers. Up until recently, there has been little benefit in getting any router that can aggregate more as the networks here were only operating on bands 20 (800MHz) and 3 (1800MHz).

      Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when ComReg released temporary additional spectrum, the operators have started operating 4G on bands 28 (700MHz) and 1 (2100MHz) in some areas. If you are in such an area, a router capable of 3CA or higher can potentially deliver faster speed by combining bands 20+3+1 or 28+3+1. Three also operates a second band 3 carrier in some areas, where it acquired the spectrum from buying out O2, so it may also connect with bands 3+3+1. If you’ve seen people share speed tests close to 300Mbps, this is very likely from a phone that is connected with 3 carriers.

      I haven’t tried any 5G router yet and probably will not get one until they become more affordable. However, I do have two 3CA capable routers (NetGear MR1100 and MikroTik Chateau LTE12), which deliver substantially faster speed than my Huawei B525 due to being able to pick up a mast running on bands 20+3+1. If you can afford a 5G router, it would be worth getting as Three has just launched their 5G network. Otherwise I suggest going for a cheaper 4G router such as the Huawei B818, which is capable of aggregating up to 5 carriers.

      1. Hi Sean. I stumbled across your blog whilst troubleshooting why a repurposed Eir Huawei F2000 was working for a while but then would lose internet connnectivity. When you tried to access a web page it brought me back to the Eir router admin page and android would just not connect saying ‘no internet’. Anyway…hoping it’s the RA settings that were causing it. Great blog btw.
        I hope you don’t mind me semi-hijacking this conversation but was wondering if you have come across any good 4G modem/routers that can go into full bridge mode. The idea is to put them into bridge mode and then use an edgerouterx for vlaning and other network segmentation. I bought a netgear 2120 but it wouldn’t go into full bridge mode. It ended up giving the lan interface a pseudo wan IP address and any traffic that left the network would do a double nat to get out and back in again. The performance hit wasn’t too bad but I wanted to be able to do some port forwarding to access cameras but this wasn’t possible because of the double nating. I’ve read somewhere that this is probably down to the carrier (in this case it was gomo/eir) and the way it works. Just wondering if you have seen this before or could recommend a device that would go into full bridge mode and let the router behind the modem do the authentication and other nice router functions. Thanks and sorry once again for the semi-hijack.

        1. Unfortunately port forwarding is not possible with Eir or Vodafone as both operate a carrier grade NAT. No bridged router will overcome this with either network as it will just lead to the carrier’s NAT IP address being assigned to whatever router it is bridged with. The Three network is the only mobile network I’m aware of here that still issues public IP addresses, but even they are gradually doing away with public IP addresses. In some areas, the masts now only issue NAT IP addresses, sometimes catching people people out that one day had a public IP address and then a NAT IP the next day.

          The only workaround I can think of is to use a VPN service that provides a static IP address or set up your own VPS to do this. You would then configure your router to connect to the VPN, but configure it for incoming traffic, i.e. any incoming connection on the VPN’s IP will carry across the VPN to your router, which you can then forward to a host. This is not something I have done in a while, but certainly can be done.

  22. Hi Sean, I’ve had a read through these comments and am bowled over by how much advice you’re able and willing to give – thank you!

    I live in France, and have a Huawei B528-23s (not a 525), and despite the mast being on the hill directly behind my house, just a few hundred feet away, the speeds are dire compared to my mobile phones (fastest being a Huawei P9, and the other being a slightly slower iPhone7 – all connecting to the same mast).

    I’m wondering if there are any settings I can tweak to try and get speeds closer to those of my mobile phones?

    Or is there a better mobile router you could recommend?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. I’m quite surprised at the speed difference between your Huawei P9 and the Huawei B528-23s as both have the same 4G+ carrier aggregation capabilities. One possibility is that the B528 has older firmware as I recall the B525 performed poor in 4G+ mode with previous firmware versions.

      As a start, I suggest try locking individual bands with a utility like LTEInspecteur (for Windows) or huaCtrl (Android App). Try selecting these bands one at a time, running a speed test before trying the next: 7, 3, 20, 28. If you get no signal, then that band is not in use on your mast.

      As upgrade options, these would be my suggestions, particularly as the French networks are using tripe carrier aggregation in some areas:
      Huawei B818-263 – Probably the fastest 4G router on the market due to its wide range of 4G band aggregation capabilities and supporting 4×4 MIMO (4 internal antennae).
      MikroTik Chateau LTE12 – Professional grade router and supports both band and cell locking, useful for forcing it on to a specific cell. It gives me 2-3x the speed of my Huawei B525, mainly due to my mobile network using triple carrier aggregation here.

  23. Hi Sean

    We have a 3 huawei router for mobile broadband. Sometimes it works amazing like 18mb we are very rural the next minute it stops working for days. We have looked and it appears the router is working as we can connect to it but the signal coming in is no good. What would you recommend for me to do please.

    1. I suggest getting the Android App HuaCtrl to display the signal readouts from the router. The main readings to check are the RSRP and SINR. The RSRP is the signal strength shown as a negative number, e.g. -100dBm is better than -110dBm. For the SINR, a positive figure is better, preferably above 10dB. Try placing the router against an outer wall facing the direction of the mast. If you’re not sure which direction the mast is, test it against each outer wall. To test in a Window, try it at each edge and in-between glass panes. Don’t place it against the glass as most modern glass panes have an energy efficient coating that blocks signals. You can also try it in the loft.

  24. Sean

    Looking to get some advise on the best router and external antenna for a 4G+ signal from from a 3 mast approx 3 miles from house, reason looking for external antenna is our house is very well insulated mobile coverage signal strength drops off indoors also wondering if you have any experience of a mesh system that you would recommend currently using two boosters to get signal around the house with a drop in speed

    1. For the router, I suggest going for the Huawei B818-263 if you can afford it as it can aggregate 3 carriers. If that mast operates on 3 or more carriers (e.g. 20, 1 and the two 3 bands), it can potentially deliver much higher speed than the more common dual carrier 4G+ routers. The Huawei B535 is a cheaper alternative as what Three supplies and can aggregate two carriers for 4G+. For the antenna, I suggest going for either the LowCostMobile 700-2600MHz or the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0002. The LowCostMobile has longer leads (10m vs 5m), whereas the Poynting is better known for its performance and sensitivity. At that short range, both should perform roughly equally well as you are basically just trying to get past the home’s insulation.

      For the Mesh system, I currently have the Tenda Nova MW6-3 mesh kit. I am very happy with their power performance and stability. Each node has two Ethernet connections, so you can attach your PC directly to a node to get the direct Wi-Fi backhaul to the main node. From running iperf3 speed tests between two PCs, one attached to the main router and the other attached to a node, it gets between 200 and 500Mbps depending where I place the second node. The connection is more stable than any USB Wi-Fi adapter I tried to date. I suggest setting them up in Access Point mode, so everything is on the same network like with the repeaters.

  25. Hi Sean

    I live in North Co Dublin where the only broadband service I can avail of is 4g. Signal strength can be a challenge and through trial and error among the service providers we ended up with eir 4g / B315. The signal is just ok. During the early summer following advice from yourself I moved the router up to the attic and installed a TPLink mesh wifi system. This greatly improved the distribution of the existing signal around the house.

    Recently my wife returned from maternity and now with both of us working from home the performance is very poor most especially if we attempt video calls with work.

    My question is this; Given the second working connection (as opposed to numerous casual connections that has always been the case) has negatively impacted bandwidth on our existing eir 4G connection; is there any value in purchasing an additional separate eir 4G connection and router and segment both of our working machines onto different SSIDs? Or is it a case that both modems would be “fighting” for the same signal strength in our house?

    I hope this query makes sense.

    John

    1. One thing that would be worth trying is getting the Huawei B818 router. Eir, Three and Vodafone all have been granted temporary spectrum on bands 1 and 28 until April 2021 due to the pandemic. Both the B315 and B525 do not support band 28 and the same with many older mobile handsets, so if Eir is using band 28 in your area, there is a good chance it has less congestion. The Huawei B818 can aggregate 3 carriers, so it also has a better chance of improving your speed as you get a combination of the available capacity of bands 20, 3 and either 1 or 28 if in use there.

      You can try asking Eir if you can upgrade to the Huawei B818 for free, which would start a new 12 month contract, but worth it as the router costs around £200 to purchase on its own. If they are unwilling to, you can try signing up a new mobile broadband plan which comes with the Huawei B818 router, then cancel your existing mobile broadband subscription.

      Technically you could run two routers on the same network, where each would get its own time slice of the network, however I suggest trying a newer router first as this could avoid having to pay for two separate subscriptions.

  26. Hi Sean.

    I have an unlocked b593 router with a choice of 48.ie and Gomo Sims. I can get decent speeds some of the time via 4g, with the internal antenna showing 4 of the 5 bars. I recently bought a directional dish ( https://www.eurodk.com/en/products/lte-outdoor-antennas/3g4g-lte-24dbi-outdoor-parabolic-antenna-1800mhz) . But when I point it at the local cell tower I only get 2/3 bars and while the download comes in pretty much the same speed as the internal antenna, the upload is slower. From reading here I believe that the newer Huawei routers are capable of greater speeds on 4g+ and might be a better match for the dish. Is there any way of telling if my local towers support 4g+ and do you think I would benefit from a newer Huawei router. Ideally I’d like to use it without the external antenna as I get a good signal on the b593 without and I’m really in a very exposed site for such a large dish. However I’ve read that the newer Huawei routers don’t have internal antenna as powerful. If you email me I can give you my postcode if it helps.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Technically that dish should be able to give a substantial improvement gain in signal, however, it is a challenge to correctly aim it as the signal will sharply drop off once it’s a few degrees out. As the dish is offset, it needs to face roughly 44 degrees towards the ground (assuming a typical 22 degree offset dish) to pick up a terrestrial signal. If it’s bumping against the pole, you can try mounting it upside so that it faces roughly 45 degrees up.

      Unfortunately with the B593, there is no simple way of telling which band it’s connecting to. However, I suggest upgrading it such as to the Huawei B535 or the B818 if you can afford it. If you pick up 4G+ in the area, this router can aggregate the bands, which can give a speed boost compared to just connecting to one at at time that the B593 does. Hopefully it’ll give enough to work on its own.

      If you would like to try again with your satellite dish with the newer router, you may also be able to hone in on a distant band 3 mast, e.g. use the Android App huaCtl to lock the router to band 3 and view the SINR reading (The B593 doesn’t have a SINR reading). Tilt your dish 44 degrees (or 44 degrees up if upside down) and then slowly turn it and monitor the app to see if it catches a band 3 cell. Make sure the dish is well secure as an 80cm dish catches a lot of wind.

      1. Thanks Sean for the advice. I will try the dish again using the alignment method you suggested. I also think the fear would be the wind catching it on my exposed site.I think I will also upgrade the router to see if I can get good 4g+ without the dish. My phone sometimes connects to band 3 on the three network, so hopefully it would do the same on the router with 48 or gomo. I think the b818 is a good bit more expensive than the b535. Is it worth the extra?

        1. With the huge price difference between the two, I suggest going for the B535. When I last checked a few weeks ago, there was only about £50 difference between the two, but now the B818 is around double the price of the B535 on Amazon. If the Eir network is operating on 3 or more bands there, the B818 would be quicker until April 2021, but probably not worth chancing given the huge price difference now. All three networks have temporary 4G spectrum on bands 1 and 28 until April 2021 for the pandemic, but once they cease, the B818 may not provide much benefit on the Eir network. With the Three network, the B818 still has the advantage as Three haw two carriers on band 3, giving the possibility of connecting to bands 20+3+3 if the mast operates on all three carriers.

  27. hi Sean

    Was talking to a Three customer support guy today about 5G home broadband. They have two technical setups in their equipment…one to serve mobile and the other for routers. 24 month contract @€45 per month . Was supposed to launch yesterday but will be this week. Way to go?

    1. If you have good line of sight with the 5G mast, it should provide a substantial improvement over 4G as the 5G network has very little traffic at present. They have a choice of two routers, the Huawei 5G WIN FWA and the Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2. The WIN FWA is an outdoor router that you mount high up outside and run an Ethernet cable inside. It requires a separate indoor router or a Wi-Fi mesh kit to provide indoor Wi-Fi coverage. The Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2 is an indoor 5G router that works much the same as Three’s 4G router offerings, i.e. just position it near an outside wall facing the mast and plug it in.

      As there’s a 14 day cooling off period, I suggest ordering it via the website instead of in-store and give it a good test run around the house. This way if it doesn’t work out, you can return it within the 14 day period before the full 24 month contract kicks in.

      1. There are two versions of the Huawei 5G CPE…the older one is ref 372 ( New unlocked €289)and the pro2 is 373 ( Unlocked €400 ish)…https://blog.router-switch.com/2020/03/buyer-guide-huawei-5g-cpe-pro-vs-huawei-5g-cpe-pro-2/. Clearly the speeds on wired and wifi are slower but are they good enough to show a good improvement of my 4g huawei Three modem? Or should I just bite the bullet for the Pro2..

        Selling the old modem should cover half the extra at least!

        The heaviest use is single device streaming 4K.

        Thanks

        Peter

        1. For 5G, the additional speed on the Pro2 model comes from aggregating multiple 5G bands. The networks only have a single 5G band, so both routers should gave the equivalent performance until the networks get additional 5G spectrum in a future auction.

          For 4G, the Pro2 has additional carrier aggregation capabilities, so depending on what bands you are picking up, you could get faster speed with the Pro2, particularly with the Three network. For example, on some masts Three has two band 3 carriers (one Ex O2). The Pro2 model can aggregate both band 3 carriers in addition to a third carrier (e.g. band 1 or 20), which the Pro 370 model is unable to do. I’m not sure about the Pro 372 as the cacombos site does not list the 372 model.

          The Pro2 does have one drawback however – It does not have any antenna ports, so if the 5G signal is weak inside, the only way to attach an external antenna is to mod the router (see this post), which carries a risk of damaging it and will void its warranty.

          1. Hi Sean

            So my unlocked Pro2 373 is on the way from black Friday sale ( £380). I intend to do some tests with my existing Three 4g sim versus my B525…wifi and hard wired. I am in Dalkey so have a few Three masts within 1-3 Kms. If I can get a steady 60mb/s down I will be happy…if not I will try upgrading to 5 g sim
            Three have postponed 5G broadband launch until December.

  28. Hi Sean, brilliant article
    i have a Huawei 525 on 3
    i previously had Ripplecom and the dish is still in situ
    is there any way to use it as an external ariel to boost the signal??, only getting 2/3 download in the evenings with router

    1. Unfortunately, there is no way to reuse a fixed wireless broadband dish for 4G, in much the same way it can’t be used as a satellite dish. Unlike a 4G antenna, the cable running to that dish is likely an Ethernet cable, which does not carry the signal like a coaxial cable does. An outdoor 4G antenna has two leads running to it to carry the cross polarised signals.

  29. Hi Sean,

    Ive had a look at adverts & done deal and havnt found too many routers/ modems.. Are you defo sure that any of the new/ used Huawei b535 Huawei B525 modems will be compatible with any of the 3 20e PAYG sim or the 30e SIM Only Broadband deal or even the Vodafone X PAYG SIM??

    I have read how you really think Huawei 818 is the way to go but this is over 200e whereas I could probably get either the Hua B525 or Hua B535 for 110-125e…. Could I buy these modems in an ordinary electronic shop i.e carphone warehouse or somewhere or can these unlocked router modems ONLY be bought online?

    Also after visiting both 3 and vodafone shops today I have noticed the Vodafone X PAYE SIM.. Could this b a valid option because I think I saw this was just a deal for students and besides all that Has anyone actually tried the Vodafone X PAYE SIM in a vodafone (probably locked) modem,…. I know several people have confirmed it is indeed possible on a 3 20e monthly top up SIM/ modem but I have never heard anythin about a similar action with Vodafone…
    Im on the outskirts of a realitively large town so I think either 3 or Vodafone coverage will be quite good but just need to make a decision on this by Tomorrow so any definitive advice is very much appreciated..

  30. Sean,

    would you recommend a TP Link Archer MR200 AC 750 for use with a Broadband unlimited internet SIM or would TP Link Archer MR600 AC1200 Mbps 4G + Cat6 be much much more recommendable??

    thanks

    1. Of these two, I would go for the MR600 for the Cat 6 capability. However, one thing I don’t particularly like with the TP-Link 4G routers is that they don’t report the RSRP or SINR readings, which makes it difficult to find the ideal spot, particularly if your reception is weak. It just has a basic signal level reading.

      An unlocked Huawei B535 or the B818 (such as on Amazon) would be my preferred as they have better technical readouts. E.g. you can use the Android App huaCtrl to view the RSRP and SINR readings to find which place in the house gives the best reading, particularly the SINR reading, which the TP-LINKs don’t report.

      A Vodafone X SIM will work in the router when configured with the APN “live.vodafone.com”. However, I heard mixed reports of people only getting 10Mbps or less. They also state on their website that the maximum speed is 10Mbps on the Vodafone X plan.

  31. Thanks for this great informative piece.
    I’m living in France and have been looking for something with B1,B3,B7 and B28 you have confirmed and finalize my search .

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