Article: Since cancelling my old DSL internet connection I have changed to 4G Home Broadband. 4G and 5G are mobile technologies, delivering very high speed internet without wires. 5G is not yet available in my area so this article is focused on 4G. This article also applies in general to 5G, although 5G will be capable of delivering higher speeds still. 4G is the same signal on your mobile phone, the difference is, the SIM card is inserted into a router. Although available from more than one company, my choice of provider was Three, as they use 256 QAM modulation and provide a ZTE 286D Router reviewed here. This pages contents can be accessed by the shortcut cut links below.Contents
4G Home Broadband Overview
So what is 4G Home broadband ? Essentially its a broadband service available to your home that offers, high speed internet, ethernet and Wi-Fi and USB networking facilities, without any wires. The signal arrives as a radio wave (mobile 4G or 5G) to the router. The router contains a SIM card (very similar to your mobile phone) which connects to Three's mobile (or celluar) network. Broadband is available as a Wi-Fi signal on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and also via four high speed (1GB) ethernet ports.
Three have both 4G and 5G networks. This is a review of cellular 4G broadband (up to 300Mbps downstream and 150Mbps upstream ) on a home network. In case you're wondering why this article is not about 5G home broadband , its because 5G is not available at my location.
You've probably heard the term 4G and 5G and seen the letters LTE on your mobile phone, but what does it mean? Simply put, 4G is the fourth generation (4G) of mobile networks, while 5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile networks. A mobile network uses transmitters arranged in a cellular configuration, allowing communication and networking between two or more devices without wires.
The letters LTE (Long Term Evolution) indicate an enhancement of the cellular network. LTE was first introduced in 2008 and new features include high peak data rates, high spectral efficiency, low latency and flexibility in choice of frequency and bandwidth. The technology is continually evolving and on cellular hardware, that support LTE, speed, latency, battery usage are all optimized. Although many Countries in the world now use 5G, 6G is being developed in Asia, with even greater performance.
If you've been disappointed with the performance of your broadband connection, or cannot afford cable or full fibre then 4G Home Broadband may be an alternative solution. For home 4G Broadband, you need a 4G capable router. The router comes with a SIM card and plugged into an electric outlet. Within a few minutes you will be online, the signal enters your home as a wireless 4G signal, and is radiated out as a Wi-Fi signal. The routers also have ethernet ports which can also be used to connect any device that does not use Wi-Fi.
A 4G router has all the features of a conventional router, Wi-Fi, ethernet, firewall and networked media but has some advantages. One, it can be turned off when not needed, you can't do this with conventional broadband as it will create a fault. Two, it can be moved around your home or garden, so if your Wi-Fi is weak, position the router closer to your device. Three, in many cases the 4G (up to 300Mbps downstream) will equal or be faster than most hybrid fibre connections. No engineer is needed, the cost is cheaper, and its immune to temperature effects and electrical interference. However, 4G will only work if the signal is available, although you can connect external 4G antennas for better reception.
Three 4G Hub Specification
|Antennas||4x4 MIMO and 2 External SMA Connectors|
|Speed Rating||CAT 12|
|External Antenna Sockets||2 SMA|
|Ethernet Ports||4 GE|
|Telephone Ports||2 RJ11|
|Wi-Fi||Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz)|
|Maximum Connected Devices||64|
|Dimensions||180 x 170 x 30 mm|
|Power Consumption||5 Watt|
Installation and Setup
The front panel LED's show power, Wi-Fi, 3G/4G and Signal Strength. The 3G/4G LED should flash to indicate you are receiving a 4G signal.
Now connect to the Router via Wi-Fi and you are online or a computer via the supplied ethernet cable and you are online. The Wi-Fi code and password are printed on the bottom of the router and also in the manual.
How to Improve Reception
A number of speed test sites are available such as speedtest.net, fast.com and
My first test upstairs was done using the supplied CAT5e cable to my desktop PC. The hub was placed on the floor. The results are shown right ( or below if you're viewing from a mobile). The first test with the hub on my bedroom floor was very impressive. Both upload and download speeds were excellent and ping time comparable to current hybrid fibre. The signal strength on the 4G hub was -89dBm.
As upstairs was significantly faster than downstairs, then this is where I would keep my router. Moving off of the floor and onto my printer, results were better again. A ping time of 22ms (lower is better) and a downstream throughput of 140Mbps+ was fantastic.
I then tried various locations and finally settled on top of my tower case computer. This position was more practical as I could use my printer without moving my router out of the way, and as a final tweak. I turned my router to point in the general direction of the 4G mast. Several more tests were run with download speeds ranging between 100 and 250Mbps. As all the UK Internet traffic passes through Telephone house, choosing a test server closer to London will result in a more accurate test.
Some tests around the world. On the left, a test to Berlin, while on the right, a test to Hong Kong. There is a fibre optic link between UK and Europe, while the route to Hong Kong, is probably via satellite, hence a pig increase in ping. The results though are are still very good. One advantage of speedtest.net is that you can perform a test anywhere to any Country. Speedtest.net has multiple servers in different countries. At any time, day or night, your test will be running simultaneously with thousands of other tests. Results will therefore vary. If you test early morning to a local server your result will be different than at peak times.
Please note that speed test are an indication only and not 100% accurate. They represent current conditions for the website at the time of the test. To be 100% accurate, the speed test website would have to be capable of handling multiple, unlimited connections, have infinite bandwidth, and have a dedicated route with little to no latency. As none of these conditions are true, use the readings as a guide only.
To get a better speed and improve reception log into the router with a laptop, tablet or mobile phone and make a note of the signal strength. Then run a few speed tests and record the results. Then try moving your hub to a new position or different room and note any changes in signal strength. Maximum signal strength is -40dBm while weak signals will be lower than -90dBm. Placing the hub upstairs, or in a loft for example can often lead to an increase in signal strength. Also try a location near a window. Signals will travel easier through glass than walls so, it is worth experimenting. Finally try angling the router towards the transmitter. Signals are directional so this may help. Houses made from thick stone walls or concrete are notably bad for Wi-Fi. The 4G and 5G signals are a slightly longer wavelength so may penetrate better than Wi-Fi. If reception is still poor then a 4G external antenna may be a solution. 4G antennas are available from many outlets, a search on google should help. If the antenna is omnidirectional, then it will pickup signals from every direction, if not then the antenna needs to point towards the 4G transmitter.
Identifying your Transmitter
As a cell tower contains antennas for more than one company, its important to know if your mast provides a service from Three. The link below will tell you if Three
is available in your area.
Can I get 4G or 5G in my area? The following link allows you to enter your post code and check availability: Three Availability
Cellnet signals are directional and operate on line of sight (LOS). While holding your mobile and viewing the top panel on Network Cell Info Lite, slowly turn around. There will be a point where the signal peaks, this is the direction of the transmitter. Sometimes you may be between transmitters and have peaks in two directions. Also try the utility upstairs, and in each room to find the best signal strength. The best position found can be a suitable place for your Three Router, it only requires a power socket.
Other Abbreviations on the Network Cell info app can be found here
Mobile Broadband Networks 4G 5G LTE
Mobile broadband networks form a radio communication link between your device (mobile phone, 4G/5G router) and the internet. More commonly referred to as 4G or 5G, the radio link carries high speed data between devices does not require a fixed line. Often you will see the abbreviation LTE (Long Term Evolution) on your mobile phone. 4G refers to the fourth generation of mobile networks, which has download speeds up to 300Mbps and upload speeds up to 150Mbps. 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks, and is capable of 10Gbps download and 1Gbps upload. A major upgrade of 4G and 5G over the previous 2G and 3G technologies is that multiple frequency bands are used. If one band cannot be received due to interference, then other bands usually get through. The radio spectrum has reserved portions dedicated for mobile broadband Also transmitter power is reduced to around a few hundred milliwatts, as receivers have become more sensitive. Transmitter signal alone, is not enough to form a communication network, the data is modulated onto the carrier signal, and decoded again at the reciever. More on modulation below.
Modulation 64QAM and 256QAM
Not all mobile networks are equal. The radio signal from the transmitter is modulated to carry a data signal. The type of modulation varies between providers. The modulation technique affects how the data arrives at your device, and has a large impact on speed. Modulation techniques are many but common systems in use are 16 QAMO, 64 QAM and 256 QAM. More on this in the links bottom of page. The QAM stands for Quadrature Amplitude Modulation. This technique sends four (quad) AM signals modulated as one radio signal. This is picked up by your 4G router and converted back into data. Its operation is very technical but look at the illustration left. The number before QAM refers to the number of bits per signal. Imagine that the traffic flowing on a motorway is light, this represents a 64 QAM signal.
The picture on the right is a much busier motorway. Think of the vehicles like data packets and the lanes representing the quad AM signals, and you get the idea how 256 QAM works. Any network using 256 QAM can get more data packets through to your device than a network using 64 QAM. Both transmitter and receiver must use 256QAM. The speed on 4G/5G depends also on the signal strength to your router. Signal strength is dependent on the distance to the transmitter, height, direction and number of obstacles in the way. A stronger signal allows the router to use more channel bandwidth and utilise more resource blocks. Again this is very technical and a link is provided. The final part in the equation for speed is the number of MIMO antennas, two in the case of the ZTE256B. The following is a link for an LTE throughput calculator
Conclusion and Reliability
The ZTE routers are very fast, the ZTE 286D boots in 51 seconds. I am 750m line of site from my Cell Tower, and speed over the last 8 months has been consistently good, download in the range of 100Mbps to 250Mbps and upload from 25Mbps to 35Mbps. The router can be turned off at night, or when not needed to save energy. There have been just two outages since I had 4G broadband, and both in the same week. This was due to a thunderstorm. The router was on, had normal LED lights but no data? Switching off, waiting 10 seconds then power on again, resumed normal service in under a minute. The service has been solid for the last 9 months.Its great for streaming TV, downloads, zoom meetings and anything else you can do on the internet. I do not own a playstation or Xbox, so can not comment on gaming. I do however play speed chess on the Internet which requires a fast and low latency connection.. At around a third of the cost of normal fibre it is worth a try. Speed and value for money are excellent. If your mobile signal is good then 4G or 5G may also work for you. Three offer a 30 day money back guarantee. If you already use Three Network on your mobile phone, then a speed check should be a good indication of how this router will perform. Once 5G becomes available the download will increase to 1Gbps.
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