Tuesday, May 14, 2013

WiFi as WAN Limitations: When a USB Modem + Router Is Simply Better

MiFis, Jetpacks, and other hotspots (including the optional "personal hotspot" feature available on many phones, like the iPhone) are very popular right now, but they have limitations. They can ONLY connect to WiFi-capable devices, since they have no ethernet ports; they also have a limit on how many devices can connect at the same time (usually 5 or 10 devices), and the WiFi range they provide is typically only about 30'. Many users choose to utilize a router with their hotspot to get around the aforementioned limitations, but that type of configuration has limitations of its own.

Some examples of the problems users face when using a hotspot with a router:
  • Difficulty setting up remote access to your network  
  • Difficulty using a static IP address  
  • Speed Degradation - connecting via WiFi as WAN will result in slower speeds versus connecting directly to your hotspot; read more here  
  • Instability - a hotspot paired with a router via WiFi as WAN tends to be less reliable and stable than a USB modem, because there are more points of failure. If your hotspot loses connection to the Internet, the router won’t be able to recognize it, because the router is merely acting as a LAN (local area network) device on the hotspot’s network (just like if you were connecting your laptop directly to the hotspot). So the router will still show that it is connected to the hotspot regardless of whether the hotspot itself has lost its connection to the internet.  
  • NAT issues - this is particularly important for gaming, where having an open NAT type is critical. In our experience, a USB modem and router is always the best option for gaming. Even with a USB modem, we can’t always guarantee an open type, but most times you should at least receive a moderate type. With a hotspot, there is an additional layer of NAT, or firewall, that is impossible to open for gaming. Even if you are using a router that supports your hotspot via tethering (most hotspots will only work with routers via WiFi as WAN, but there are a few exceptions), you will still have this issue - using a hotspot in "tether" mode is not the same as using an actual USB modem.  
  • Inability to pass the true WAN IP (provided by your ISP) through to the router - even if you've paid your provider for a static IP address for your hotspot, the router is still going to receive a private IP address. This is a big issue if you're using your hotspot connection for remote applications, which require a public IP address. Common applications that require a public or static IP address include: 
    • Security cameras at a vacation home or office 
    • Accessing files from your home network while traveling 
    • VPN - most businesses have VPN tunnels set up so that they may either communicate with another office branch or even to provide access for employees who are traveling. Tunnels can be established with Dynamic or Static IPs on both ends, depending on your routing equipment, but when a private IP is on one side the other MUST be a static address. 
Using a hotspot as your internet connection can be a convenient and flexible solution (especially if you want to be able to take your hotspot with you, such as for vacations), and pairing a hotspot with a router will make your hotspot even more useful. However, if you need a super-reliable connection, an open NAT, or if you need to be able to access your network remotely, you will be MUCH better off going with a USB modem and a router (or a router with an embedded modem built into it). If you have a hotspot and you want to swap to a USB modem, 3Gstore sells a variety of USB modems that you can purchase and then either do an ESN swap or simply swap your SIM card over to.

Can't decide what will best suit your needs? Contact the experts at 3Gstore for assistance!