How to compare routers for 4G WAN
There are many 4G routers on the market, offering a wide variety of features. You need to make sure that the router provides functionality and flexibility for your solution needed. Here are the main things to consider when you a compare 4G routers for your business.
For speed and reliability in a 4G WAN connection, you’ll need a router that supports more than one cellular connection. This is usually referred to as multi-SIM. Look out for a router that supports this.
The performance and throughput of a Multi-SIM router is ultimately limited by the number of simultaneous cellular connections it can support. This is usually referred to by the number of SIMs it can accommodate. However, be aware of the difference between connections and SIMs: a router may allow you to insert two SIMs in case one of them fails, but not be able to use both at the same time. We normally choose a router with the SIM capacity required for your expected usage (eg 6 SIMs). Some routers can be stacked to allow more SIMs (we’ve often used 18 SIMs) in heavy usage scenarios.
Most routers today support a version of the 4G standards called Category 4 LTE. Some manufacturers are rolling out support for Category 6 LTE, which uses two chunks of spectrum rather than one, to double the theoretical maximum download speeds from 150 Mbps to 300 Mbps. Cat 6 LTE is still being rolled out by the mobile carriers, so it isn’t available everywhere. However, it’s worth considering routers that support it, in order to future-proof your investment. There are a number of interchangeable terms: look for Cat 6 LTE, LTE-Advanced (aka LTE-A) and 4G+.
A router that can bond (ie combine) the traffic streams from multiple SIMs into one, will allow you to have a faster, more reliable connection to your company network. This is essential if you’re planning to connect a multi-user site to your company network using 4G WAN, and especially if you need a very reliable connection for sensitive applications (see Managed Hubs). The rationale for bonding is primarily to provide a reliable and stable connection, with performance as a by-product.
Alternatively, a router that can Load Balance can spread the usage of several separate users and sessions across several SIMs. This can provide flexibility, but no single session can be faster than the SIM its using can support, and if any single cellular connection drops out, the reconnection time can be measured in seconds, which the user will notice! Find out more here in our blog: 4G WAN Bonding vs Load balancing.
Typically found in single-connection routers, SIM failover allows two SIMs to be inserted, so that the second can be switched-in if the first fails (or if the first is blocked when usage climbs too high).
Prioritisation by traffic type
Some routers can be set to optimise the performance of your 4G WAN connection. They might prioritise (and de-prioritise) different traffic types. They might route those traffic types over different cellular connections according to the real-time performance of the connections (eg latency and reliability of the connection). If you have performance sensitive applications, or if you are delivering traffic using performance sensitive applications like Citrix, you will need these features for optimum results. This is only really relevant when bonding, because bonding allows you to control priority in both directions, both to and from the site. If you load balance on multi-sim, you can only control priority in one direction (outbound) – you cannot influence the inbound priority.
Some routers will allow you to cache data. When multiple users access the same intranet pages or stored files, for example, caching allows them to access it faster and with less data usage.
Other WAN interfaces
Some routers will allow you to connect an additional WAN circuit that can be used alongside the cellular connections. The rationale would be to allow the use, where available, of a connection that is faster, cheaper or has more capacity than the cellular connections. The additional connection might be a DSL, EFM or satellite circuit, or perhaps the ability to connect into a WiFi hotspot. It might be implemented as an Ethernet port, or perhaps a dedicated DSL port.
Some 4G routers provide WiFi, access for users, reducing the need for additional equipment in small installations. Some will provide isolated guest access. Some will provide private corporate access as well a public guest access via a captive portal to enable you to force guests to provide details about themselves.
Some routers can act as the WiFi controller for a number of WiFi access points, simplifying WiFi deployment and extending the coverage in larger installations.
Some router manufacturers use fixed router configurations, keeping the deployment as simple as possible. Others employ a modular design in which cards are inserted for the particular application. For example, two 4G cards might be installed on one occasion and a 4G card plus a DSL card on another. This can be helpful if you envisage re-using the device in different locations. It can also allow you to install with 4G and then later to migrate seamlessly to a fixed circuit (eg DSL or EFM) once that is installed. This is particularly useful if you need to install rapidly and/or if you would like to retain the 4G card for backup once a fixed circuit is installed. See our Rapid Site Deployment for a next day infrastructure delivery.
Power over Ethernet (POE)
Some 4G routers can provide Power over Ethernet, to devices that are plugged into their Ethernet ports. This allows you to provide power to Wireless Access Points or IP phones without having to buy separate power over ethernet switches or power injectors.
Some devices provide detailed reporting on cellular usage, including information on which devices are driving the usage. This can be very helpful in managing costs.
What Hardware do we use?
Having explored the features to compare in a 4G WAN router, the question is: “ What is the best router?” We have built up a lot of experience from deploying 4G WAN technology to hundreds and hundreds of sites. Over the years we have settled on two manufacturers for the majority of our installations.
These routers allow us to offer:
We use Peplink when we need
We use Viprinet when we need
Whatever your needs for a router, it’s also worth considering how you will deploy, configure and run the device. There are a number of activities that will need to be undertaken, such as:
- Sizing the device
- Selecting SIMs and Carriers
- Choosing the site for the device (for optimum cellular coverage)
- Choosing appropriate aerials (eg Mag Mount for use outside Portakabins, directional antennae for remote sites)
- Tuning the connection to work with latency-sensitive applications
- Monitoring the connection in-life for performance
- Monitoring for availability
- Break-fix maintenance
- Usage reporting
These activities require that you deploy a number of different roles and skill-sets at different times. You may achieve a faster, more reliable and cheaper result by using a managed service to do this for you. This is especially so if you envisage the installation being temporary, since a managed service can avoid the need to purchase equipment outright and remove the equipment when you have finished with it.
Find out more about our Managed Services
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For an informal chat to explore how we could advise or help you, please request a call with Rob.
Editor's Notes: Last updated 10/12/2018