Algarve Connection Mobile Internet Equipment - 3G / 4G Router Buying Guide
Update: January 2016 due to popular demand here are our latest recommendations to the best full size unlocked 4G routers (with ethernet ports to directly connect Smart TV / IPTV boxes). These router will work anywhere in Europe.
Most peoples first experience of mobile internet is via a USB dongle or a Modem Card supplied from the network provider. As the development in the 3G and 4G (LTE) network has massively improved the speed and useability of mobile internet, it is a good idea to look at upgrading to hardware capable of delivering maximum internet speed and reliability available.
Algarve Connect would only recommend purchasing a router that has a built-in SIM card module, other (potentially cheaper) routers allow you to plug in a USB dongle from your service provider (ie Vodafone Portugal, MEO etc) and share the connection via the dongle. Routers with these built in SIM modules are usually the domain of the more expensive routers used by enterprise and service providers - this is changing thanks to companies like Huawei and D-Link, as more and more vendors follow suit we will see the price of routers and hotspots reduce rapidly.
There are a few considerations here:-
- 3G / 4G / 4.5G (LTE-Advanced) - these terms can sometimes be confusing also, especially for our UK clients, the availability of 4G mobile internet in Portugal can be surprising. 4.5G (LTE-Advance) uses the same radio spectrum as 4G and can deliver 300Mbps (fast!) internet speeds - currently it is only available in Lisbon on Vodafone.pt.
Basically 4G is faster than 3G with far superior latency - this is perfect for internet streaming TV, video and potentially gaming. 4G is available in the majority of the Algarve and networks are investing in this technology. If you are going to buy a mobile internet router for use in Portugal - you should select a 4G capable device. Currently we do not think it is necessary to spec up to a 4.5G enabled device as the network infrastructure and provider deals need a few years to catch up with supporting the increased speed/bandwidth - if you have any questions about this, please contact us.
- Network Independent (Unlocked) - in our opinion, this is most important factor in why we would select to buy routers from hardware manufacturers (DLink, Huawei, Netgear) rather than from mobile network service providers. If you take out a new 3g or 4G Mobile Internet contract, it is likely your network provider will offer you a router (usually a mini MI-FI router), of course these look good value however these devices will not work with any other service provider in Portugal (or any other country). If you purchase a router with the manufacturers firmware installed, it will operate on any mobile internet network in Portugal (Vodafone Portugal, MEO, NOS, Kanguru, WOW etc) - we refer to these devices as "network unlocked". As well as being a master of your own destiny, this feature will allow you to take advantage of the highly competitive Portuguese Mobile Internet market - often you will get the first 6 months of a 12 month contract at half price, saving you a considerable sum. At the end of the 12 month contract, with your unlocked 3G or 4G router, you are free to shop around and get the best deal on the market with any provider you choose :-)
- Pay As You Go (PAYG) - users looking to avoid a contract mobile internet service can top up with data using a Pay As You Go SIM and account. Here in Portugal, all the service providers offer full speed 4G for all PAYG users. Users looking for PAYG are best selecting a network unlocked router (see above) allowing them to select the best deal at any given time. Often these users are here on holiday in the Algarve for 1 to 2 weeks at a time, you can select the best current PAYG SIM only deal from ANY 3G or 4G provider, top up and away you go.
- Built-in SIM Card Module - this feature removes the requirement for USB drivers to be updated to allow the router to talk to the USB dongle (Mobile Internet Companies are always updating their equipment and you can never be sure your router will operate with the latest USB dongle). Investing in a SIM only router will ensure you equipment is "future proofed" and will not become redundant when the next generation of dongles appear from your service provider.
- MIFI Routers - MIFI is a term used generally used for a router that shares a 3G or 4G mobile internet connection via wireless connection. These have become VERY popular over the last couple of years due to the size and relevant price point. Generally they are not much bigger than a mobile phone, they are portable (take it to the beach when on holiday in the Algarve :-0) generally with around 6-8 hours of battery life. You can ONLY connect to these MIFI routers by wireless and sometimes the cheaper models have a device connection limit (see below). Despite their size, these devices (like Huawei e5776 and D-Link DWR-932) can provide impressive 3G 4G speeds AND wireless coverage for your connected devices. They are easy to set up - just plug them in, and easy to carry around in your suitcase.
Our recommend unlocked 4G MiFi router - these things are amazing for their size! This router will work in Portugal and throughout Europe:
Huawei Unlocked E5377s-32 150 Mbps 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot (black)
- Number of connected devices - some cheaper MIFI devices have a very low limit of potential connected devices by wireless. If you total up the number of wireless devices you have (or your potential holiday home guests may have), if your router can only handle 8 clients then it could prove a problem (laptops, smartphones, tablets, wireless music devices, smartwatches etc etc). This problem will only become more prevalent as time goes on and more and more "things" become internet enabled). If you foresee a large number of users on a network these smaller MIFI device may struggle to handle the traffic - consider upgrade to a full spec'd 3G / 4G router (DWR-921 etc).
- LAN (Ethernet Cable ports) - the popular MIFI routers do not have any LAN ports, if you have a VOIP phone or a desktop computer without a WIFI adapter you will not be able to connect to a MIFI device. We can supply you with an access port or you can by a full spec router with LAN ports.
- Easy addition of service improving antennas - buying a full feature router will 99% of the time result in you being able to add external antennas and aerials that, depending on your location, can dramatically improve your internet speed and response times. Don't forget, you are paying your Mobile Internet company the same amount of money every month... why not get the most out of your contract?
Already have a 3G or 4G router?
If you already have a mobile internet router from your service provider then we can advise on a suitable aerial (and adapters if necessary) for your location and mobile signal mast positioning. Check out our "4G and 3G Mobile Internet Antenna - BUYING GUIDE"