If your business has a 4G router requirement you might struggle to find an impartial buyers guide – many ‘reviews’ simply point you toward the product they’re hoping you’ll buy. Rather than advocate a particular router, we’ll suggest some important questions to ask of any device – and help direct you toward the features your organisation requires.
The benefits of multi-SIM technology
Reliability and speed are usually at the top of the ‘must have’ list for business networking purposes. To ensure you’re getting both from a 4G router you’ll want to make sure it has ‘multi-SIM’ capability – meaning you’re getting two or more cellular data connections. This feature should be high on your list of requirements.
SIM failover vs. multi-SIM
Be careful, not all multi-SIM routers offer multiple data connections. In some instances, a secondary SIM is inserted to provide a failover service should you experience problems with the first data connection. While this can be useful for people who want to use a single data connection, this is not ‘true’ multi-SIM technology.
If you’re looking for a quicker and more robust service you’ll want to make sure you’re getting multi-SIM capability. Ideally, you need to consider the data capacity you’re looking for looking for based on the SIMs you’re using and then aim for a router that offers SIM slots reflecting that capacity. A 6 SIM capacity is normal – although it’s not uncommon to find routers offering 18+ SIM slots if you’re a heavy user.
Bonding vs. load balancing
4G Routers can usually be configured in one of two ways, these are referred to as ‘bonding’ and ‘load balancing’. A router that ‘bonds’ connections will blend the data from all your SIMs into one high-speed and high-reliability connection to your network.
If you’re a multi-user site this is likely to be the configuration you’re going to opt for – especially if you’ve got applications that require a stable connection to your data centre. It’s unlikely you’re going to be running at the full capacity of your data connections, so if there are problems with one or more of your SIM providers, your end-users will often be none-the-wiser, still experiencing a solid connection.
If you opt to configure for load balancing, individual users or applications can be allocated specific data connections. Essentially this means you’re likely to have constantly running failover SIMs – but it also means that any user is limited to the speed of a single cellular connection.
Future proofing your investment
The technical term for current 4G technology standard is ‘Category 4 LTE’ – in very simple terms, this refers to agreed standards to which ‘4G’ termed devices should operate. In the not too distant future, there is an expectation that category 6 LTE standards will be more accessible for home and business users – significantly increasing possible download speeds.
While 6 LTE might not be widely used right now, some routers do support the technology – so if you’re planning on keeping your device for a couple of years or more, it might be worth being slightly ahead of the mobile data curve and looking for ‘Cat 6 LTE’, ‘LTE-Advanced’, ‘LTE-A’ or ‘4G+’ capability on your router – while the terms are slightly different, they tend to be used interchangeably. There’s more about the differences in the technology here.
If prioritising certain traffic across your network is important, there are routers that offer this function. During configuration, you can prioritise particular application’s traffic, meaning programs that are sensitive to diminished performance will be stable, even if there’s a significant drain on network capability.
If you run real-time applications, managing your traffic at this level can be the difference between a positive and negative end-user or customer experience – therefore this a feature you should look out for.
Some routers can offer a reporting service that looks at data connection and usage for the overall network and individual SIMS. If you’ve got an eye on keeping budgets in check then it can be useful to have this function built into the router – as opposed to monitoring directly with carriers.
Is a wireless connection important?
Not all, but some 4G routers can provide WiFi connectivity. This can be very useful for smaller businesses who might not want to set up a wired infrastructure to all devices. Offering WiFi is also helpful when you’re looking to provide a connection for guests and visitors. In some instances, you will be able to configure your router to provide two WiFi connections, meaning your company devices will not be hindered by offering guest or public connections.
It can sometimes be helpful to have your router cache data. If you have a company intranet system or central data storage solution, caching frequently accessed pages and files can mean a faster process for users – with the added bonus of reducing data usage and cost. The savings might not be huge, but if your router offers it, it’s worth setting up.
Running any low power devices?
If you have devices that use only minimal power – such as IP phones or Wireless Access Points you might find that your router can power them with ‘Power over Ethernet’ technology. Again, this feature is unlikely to be the sole reason you choose a particular router, but if you have the feature it can keep an installation tidy.
Would you like more in depth information?
While this guide offers a brief overview of many 4G router features – there’s a lot more to 4G WAN. If you’d like a more in-depth guide this one, prepared by SAS Global Communications leaves no stone unturned – and explains more about the kind of business problems that can be overcome when using a 4G technology is a possibility.
If you’re delving into the possibility of 4G WAN solutions for the first time, it can be worth having an IT partner on board who is experienced in the sourcing and implementation of the technology. Potential issues you might run into will have been seen countless times before – meaning your 4G router installation will go as smoothly as possible.