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Cradlepoint MBR1000 Mobile Broadband Router Review

Cradlepoint MBR1000 EVDO / HSDPA 3G/4G Router Review

Cradlepoint MBR1000 EVDO Router

HOT TIP: Interested in bridging WiFi between remote buildings? or using "Campground" WiFi as internet source for yo cradlepoint? or maybe you want to use available WiFi as failover for your home/office? check out our Pepwave Surf Review.

UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.6.9 supports Sprint U301 and more. Click for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.6 supports MiFi 2200 . Click for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.5.1 supports 4G/WiMax devices. Click for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.5 supports even more 3G devices. Click for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.4.2 supports BlackBerry Storm & USB760. Click for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.4 supports ATT Mercury, Alltel UM175, more. Click for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.3 enables LOAD BALANCING. Click here for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.2 enables HSDPA device support. Click here for more info.
UPDATE: MBR1000 Firmware 1.1 enables HSDPA device support. Click here for more info.


General Information/Features
Following up on the success of its first two EVDO routers (the CTR350 and PHS300), Cradlepoint Technologies is ready to let loose to the world the third model in the series -- the Cradlepoint MBR1000 -- the first 3G router of any kind with a native ExpressCard slot and WiFi/802.11 'N' technology.

Unlike the CTR350 and PHS300, the sleek, shiny and very black MBR1000 targets the more 'stationary' crowd rather that those folks who are always moving around. The MBR1000 is a larger unit at 7"x 4.8"x 1.2" and its size allows for more hardware features than its predecessors.

The Cradlepoint Tower of Power: MBR1000 with CTR350 and PHS300 resting on top.
The Tower of Power -- photo shows all three current Cradlepoint EVDO Routers:
Top left is the PHS300 and top right is CTR350. (WiFi antennas are MBR1000's)

Key features of the the MBR1000 include two USB ports, one ExpressCard/34 slot, five ethernet ports (one WAN, four LAN), three WiFi 'MiMo' antennas, and ten LEDs that provide feedback on things like whether or not you have an active EVDO or WAN connection, or how many ethernet LAN ports are in use. The router ships with a 110v A/C to 12v D/C power adapter, and the router's case features recessed screw-mount holes underneath the unit to make it easier to wall-mount the router.

MBR1000 Front Side LEDs
Photo above shows the WPS/SGNL buttons on top, and 10 LEDs on front of MBR1000
MBR1000 back ports
Photo above shows the 12v DC jack, recessed reset button, 1 of 2 USB ports,
single WAN ethernet input port, 4 LAN ethernet output ports, and wifi on/off switch

The MBR1000 also comes with interesting hardware features that have never been seen on any 3G/EVDO router before:

  • One button on top of router is labeled "WPS" which stands for "Wireless Protected Setup". This button allows for simplified setup of a secure connection between the router and another device that also supports similar WPS functionality.
  • Another button on top of the router labeled "SGNL" provides a way to see what signal strength an attached EVDO device has, but to make it happen you have to learn the secret 'signal strength dance routine'. Do the dance just right and you can see the signal strength of a disconnected EVDO device represented by a series of LED lights. Ultimately this allows a user to find the best location to put a router in their home or office, but the process of seeing signal is unintuitive and inconvenient, to say the least.
  • On the back of the router is a WiFi radio on/off switch. At first, most people are going to think this is a conventional On/Off switch for power to the router, but you quickly realize as you switch it on and off that it has no affect on the router's power. All it does is turn the WiFi radio inside the router on and off. This can be a useful tool for administrators working through a troubleshooting issue, and will be a major attraction to RV customers who are finding more and more campgrounds that have policies disallowing any RV customer from operating any wifi routers for fear they may cause conflict with the system the campground operates. Of course there is still an admin setting for enabling/disabling wifi, but this hardware switch overrides the software setting.

Here's a flash animation showing all sides of the MBR1000. Click nav arrows to move it around:

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Device Support
The Cradlepoint MBR1000 supports a wide variety of 3G and 4G modems. Be sure to check our 3G/4G Router Compatibility Chart that lists compatible devices before you purchase a 3G router.

NOTE: there is no PCMCIA slot on the MBR1000. That may disappoint some folks with existing EVDO cards, but it doesn't bug us much... we've already said we think PCMCIA is a dying breed.

Target Audience
This complement of hardware features clearly targets an audience that includes businesses, SOHO, and homeowners -- but it will also be a favorite of roadwarriors like full-time RVers, who are turning to EVDO in droves as more and more EVDO coverage finds its way into areas once covered only by dialup or satellite.

We anticipate that many will be torn between choosing which of the three great Cradlepoint routers they should choose from... We feel your pain!

The way we see it, the two truly portable routers have one big difference: the CTR350 has an ethernet port and no battery while the PHS300 has a rechargeable battery, but no ethernet. So if you MUST have an ethernet port and want portability, then your best option is CTR350. If you do not need ethernet, then the PHS300's battery makes it the better choice.

What about the MBR1000 as a 'portable' choice? Well, before the CTR350/PHS300 came out, lots of people bought MBR1000-sized routers and kept them in road kits. The MBR1000 is not so large/heavy that its that big a deal to pack for travel, and it will be a better router choice for business events like expo/convention booths.

What Does It Do?
The main purpose of an MBR1000 router is to allow its owners to share the connectivity of a supported EVDO ExpressCard or USB Modem with multiple computers through its ethernet ports or wirelessly through WiFi 'N' -- but the MBR1000 also has a WAN input which means it can accept more conventional wireline internet connectivity like DSL or cablemodem. In fact, the MBR1000 can be set to automatically 'fail-over' between multiple sources of internet connectivity and lets an administrator decide which source should have priority.

Automatic-Failover is a great feature for small businesses who use wireline DSL for primary connectivity, but want to use EVDO as emergency backup. This router is also great for new businesses just getting set up who need to wait weeks or months for DSL to be installed -- use the MBR1000 with EVDO at first, and then DSL when it finally becomes available. Company staff can then use the EVDO device on the road until its needed for emergencies back at the office.

For 'maximum connectivity', you could get crazy and attach one Sprint ExpressCard, one Verizon USB modem, and one AT&T HSPA Modem (when supported), as well as a cable/DSL connection, and then set up your failover priority to whatever order you want. With that setup, its hard to imagine you would EVER be without some kind of internet connection. Don't laugh! We know at least one of our customers is going to do this, and suspect that Emergency/First Responders would see this is a MAJOR feature!

MBR1000's Failover interface
Screenshot shows WAN input and three different EVDO devices


MBR1000 - Fully Loaded with 3 EVDO devices and DSL via WAN
Fully Loaded! Photo shows three EVDO devices and simultaneous WAN input.
The devices are V740 ExpressCard, and CDU680 / UM150 USB modems.

 

Easy Setup
Setup of the MBR1000 is pretty easy. Once plugged in and operational, computers running all major operating systems like Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS/OSX and Linux, can connect via ethernet cable to one of the four LAN ports, or connect wirelessly via WiFi B/G/N by selecting the wireless station ID that starts with "MBR-" and ends with the last 3 characters of the unit's MAC address, conveniently located on a label underneath the router.

Unlike most other brands, Cradlepoint routers do not ship 'totally unsecured' and 'wide open' to anyone who can see its wireless station ID. Even Cradlepoint's default settings would still require someone to provide a default password through their web browser before they could surf the internet while connected to the router. This makes Cradlepoint's routers more secure than all other brands, right out of the box.

While the default configuration provides for a minimal level of access security, most owners of an MBR1000 will want to access the web admin interface, log in using the default admin password, and run the 'Set Up Wizard', which makes it relatively painless to do initial setup of security and wireless access settings.

The wizard takes admin through choices for time zone, station ID (SSID), and security options (none/login/wps/wep/wpa/wpa2). Once the choices are confirmed and the router rebooted, everything is good to go. Below is a flash animation showing the steps for Setup Wizard.

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Comprehensive Configuration Options
In addition to the Set-up Wizard, the MBR1000's web admin allows for a whole host of settings that make it one of the most configurable EVDO routers ever brought to market. One of its best and more unique features is its ability to do 'traffic shaping' to give certain types of connectivity higher priority over all other activity. This allows the router to be tuned for greater performance for things like VOIP, VPN, Video or Audio Streaming, Remote Computer Control, and even Online Gaming.

Other MBR1000 admin features that many will find very useful are:

  • Automatic channel scan for best wifi channel
  • WiFi client type (Lock to B or G or N, lock to B or G only, allow all)
  • Access controls to limit activity by IP address, MAC address, day/time, website name, and website rating (very cool for parents, schools or even kiosk deployment)
  • Virtual server settings to easily route specific port activity to servers on LAN side by IP address
  • Wifi radio power settings. Useful when you need/want to limit/reduce wifi range
  • Online check for latest firmware, straight to firmware update
  • Dynamic DNS (DDNS) with support for 10+ different DDNS services
  • Email notifications when certain router issues are triggered
  • Log submission to a syslog server
  • Offline storage of router config (useful when you want to save different settings for different uses)

WiPipe Makes It Fast
Cradlepoint's technical explanation of their WiPipe technology says it best... but many want to know what they can expect it to do for them. In short, you can expect the best possible VOIP, VPN, Video streaming, and even Gaming performance because WiPipe automatically gives these 'time-sensitive' connections a higher priority over less time-sensitive connections. Many customers of Cradlepoint's other routers that use WiPipe have said that they perceive faster connectivity with their EVDO device operating from their router, than they do with their device directly attached to their computer, and managed by their carrier's connection manager.

We've said before that available speed test sites are not the best judge of EVDO throughput for any device or router, but they do serve as the best available guidlelines, so we use them too. Here's a recent speedtest performed with a Verizon UM150 attached to the MBR1000:

MBR1000 Speed test

WiFi 'N' Takes It Farther
The fastest EVDO Downloads average about 2500kbps, or about 2.5Mb/s. That's much less bandwidth than WiFi G is capable of, causing some geek types to wonder what benefit WiFi N provides in an EVDO router, when the best EVDO connections are far less than even WiFi G is capable of? The first answer is WiFi distance. With WiFi N, the MBR1000 is capable of allowing wireless connections from distances 6-10 times farther than other EVDO routers that only use WiFi G.

To prove it, we found a long stretch of flat land and tested the WiFi range of several EVDO routers to check how far a signal could be "seen" when no obstructions were present. The MBR1000 was clearly superior to every router we tested. In fact, we never lost the connection until our stretch of land changed elevation and we lost sight of the router ... at over 2800 feet!

Of course, the reality is that hardly anyone will use these routers in wide open places like we tested. Actual range to/from the router in a home or office will depend on the number of obstructions, construction of the building/walls, and other electronics that are in use nearby. The point of our testing was to find a 'multiplier' we can use our discussions with customers. Bottom line is that the WiFi N radio in the MBR1000 will give customers 6-10 times more useable range than previous EVDO routers that used older WiFi G technology.

Another major benefit of WiFi N is on the LAN side of things. File transfers between networked computers attached to the MBR1000 will happen MUCH faster than if they were networked on a WiFi G router. If your company routinely moves large graphics files across its local network, you want WiFi N. If your household includes DVR's that move large movie files around, you want WiFi N.

One last benefit to WiFi N is that it can allow for having a mixed bag of client radios without sacrificing speed. On older WiFi G routers, if a WiFi B client was allowed to connect, then all clients were forced to operate at WiFi B's slower speeds. With a WiFi N radio, there can be WiFi B, G or N clients attached and each could operate at closer to their maximum speed.

Superior Support
We've said it before, and we're saying it again. NO router manufacturer has been as responsive to our needs as a vendor, and our customer's needs. Cradlepoint listens. Even better, they take action. Quickly. Here's an example: http://www.evdoforums.com/thread8190.html

Our customer bought a Cradlepoint router expecting it do do something specific, based on our recommendation. It didn't work exactly as we hoped. Our lead support tech describes what's happening to our contacts at Cradlepoint and in THREE DAYS, Cradlepoint found a solution and provided us with a private firmware version for the customer to try. It worked, and now that fix will be in a future firmware revision.

The 'strategic partnership' we have with Cradlepoint is mutually beneficial. We have lots of customers and lots of experience with using EVDO under different circumstances. That experience allows us to simplify the process of explaining what's happening and we explain things not just to anyone, but to senior engineers at Cradlepoint who can quickly make things happen, and have an interest in doing so for the improvement of their product.

What We Like About The MBR1000

  • Native Expresscard slot as well as two USB ports, and all of them can have an active device with failover priority assigned.
  • WiFi N / MiMo technology for greater range to/from the router, and faster speeds between computers on local network.
  • WAN input that allows this router to be used with other internet sources like cablemodem and DSL and even Satellite.
  • Comprehensive router administration features. There is a lot more you can do with this router, than with its competition.
  • Cradlepoint's overall support. These guys rock. We wrote about it in our 'Router Report Card'.

What We Don't Like About The MBR1000

  • The non-removable, non-replaceable antennas. Whatever range you get from the WiFi N is all you can get, unless you hack into it and kill your warranty. (We'll do that later and tell you about it.)

What We'd Really Like To See

  • Removable WiFi antennas that use standard connectors like SMA. This would have made it easier to extend WiFi range, if needed.
  • Expanded 'Setup Wizard' options . It would be nice to have options like "Gaming" or "VOIP" or "Video Streaming".
  • USB support for networkable devices like printers and USB storage drives.
  • More email alerts. How about detecting a drop to 1xRTT? How about an email each time someone wirelessly connects? etc. etc.
  • Load aggregation. If failover is nice, and load balancing would rock, true bonding/aggregation of multiple EVDO connections would make us all feel like 'The NY Football Giants'.

Why Buy From 3Gstore?
We have a whole blog post about this subject here. Beyond what we already wrote there, we want to point out that our 'strategic partnership' with Cradlepoint means that customers who buy their Cradlepoint routers from 3Gstore are most likely to see special firmware to support the newest devices or to fix issues we've identified, faster than folks who buy their routers elsewhere. That kind of support is hard to find, and that's the support 3Gstore customers enjoy every day. Want to read more? Check out this forum thread: Success Stories. Also included will be our MBR1000 Tip Sheet with every MBR1000 order.

Related Links:

Last Updated ( Friday, 19 March 2010 23:16 )