A mobile router is a device that uses wireless to connect to the Internet.
Generally the Internet connection will be via the mobile/cell network( 3G,4G, 5G etc), but can also be via a public Wi-Fi Hotspot (not common).
The diagram below show the general network layout.
The early use of these mobile routers was for travel and they are also known as MiFi routers (mobile Wi-Fi).
They simply enable multiple devices to share a mobile/cell connection when on holiday or business.
Mobile Router Types
If you do a search on Amazon you will find two main types:
- Travel Routers
- Home mobile broadband routers
These are simple routers they are meant for travel/holiday use. They are usually limited to about 10 Wi-Fi devices and don’t usually have features like port forwarding and Ethernet ports.
They usually come as a dongle which takes its power from a USB port (e.g charge point in car). see image left.
The more expensive ones are standalone units and have a battery and so can be used without a mains connection.
In addition some travel routers like the TP-Link AC750 require a mobile dongle(modem) as it is not built in to the router.
Home Mobile Routers
There are a growing number of household without a land line connection, and mobile routers are increasingly being used by household to provide the main Internet connection, or as a backup connection if the land line connection fails.
These routers offer more or less the same functionality as traditional fibre/ADSL/VDSL routers but the Internet connection uses the mobile network (3G,4G,5G).
In addition with the current increase in working from home having a reliable Internet connection has become increasingly important.
This has lead to an increase in demand for home routers that can use the mobile network (3G,4G,5G) as a backup in the event that the main Internet connection fails.
VDSL Routers and Cable Routers with 3G/4G Support
Routers like the archer VR400 are normally used as VDSL routers however they can generally operate in several modes.
The Archer VR400 for example supports 3 modes as shown below:
To use it as a 3G/4G router you will need to connect a 3G/4G dongle to the USB port and then switch modes.
There are many different types of mobile plans available from pay as you go to unlimited data.
If you opt for a mobile ISP they will provide the broadband router which is normally tied to their network.
If you purchase your own router then you need to ensure that it is not network locked, and then you are free to use any mobile provider.
You need to careful when choosing a provider that you get a good reception in your area especially if you live in a rural area.
The upload and download speeds are generally slower than land line with 3G giving between 200kbps and 7.2Mbps.
4G giving 8-10 Mbits/s (quoted speeds) in the UK but published speeds are much higher with 4G having maximum download speed of around 160Mbits/s.
Here is a screen shot from the EE mobile provider.
Common Questions and Answers
Q -I’m moving house and need to wait several months for my fibre connection what Mobile broadband should I use.
A- You can use either mobile or home broadband. General a mobile broadband router would be cheaper and you could use it also when travelling.
Q-Can I use My Mobile phone Sim card in my 4G dongle.
A- Yes provided it isn’t locked. (see below)
Q- My dongle is locked can I unlock it?
A Yes. Network providers will often do it for you and often cheaper than a hight street shop . See here
Q- Can I have a VDSL/Cable router as a primary Router and a 3g/4G router as a backup on the same network?
A- Yes but having two routers is difficult as only home can be configured as the default gateway. A better solution is to have a router that supports VDSL/Cable and 3G/4G.
Q- Can I use my mobile phone as a mobile router?
A- Yes you can configure it as an hotspot. This article show how to set it up.
Resources and Related Tutorials
- How to Setup and Configure your Home Router
- How to Set Up a Home Network- Beginners Guide
- Internet Connection and Access Methods
- 4G Internet home broadband plans