Last week, I posted my review of EE’s new 4GEE home mobile broadband service after having EE’s professionally fitted 4G antenna installed.
This week, I replaced the EE-supplied router with a Huawei B618 LTE router, which has given a further speed boost to an already impressive service.
The difference between the EE supplied Alcatel router (£99 on a 30-day contract or free on an 18-month contract) and the Huawei B618 (£250, ‘SIM-free’ only) is a Cat 11 modem in the Huawei, versus an older Cat 7 one in the Alcatel.
The Huawei router uses a different set of antenna connectors (TS-9), meaning I had to also buy two adapters at a cost of around £5.
Specs wise, the Alcatel is capable of 300Mbps down and 100Mbps up. The Huawei meanwhile can do 600Mbps down, but only 50Mbps up. As you’ll see later on, the slower uplink speed wasn’t a problem at all.
I was unable to find any routers supporting Cat 16 (1000Mbps/150Mbps) or higher, although I am confident that we should see some coming later this year.
As said in my original review, the Netgear Nighthawk M1 Gigabit router is not really suitable for home use because it lacks the power to cope with multiple devices. It’s designed to be used as a hotspot to take with you as you travel. Sadly, Netgear is yet to produce a home/office version (even after showing off a 2Gigabit prototype portable hotspot at Mobile World Congress last month!).
The newer chipset on the Huawei B618 supports more advanced 4G technology, including better data encoding, which has resulted in a speed gain in both directions.
The downlink speed has increased in the day to around 130Mbps (while overnight, I noted a peak of 170Mbps), but the biggest boost comes on the uplink, with speeds leaping from an average of 10Mbps to almost 40Mbps.
I’ll ignore the peak speeds at 3am and concentrate on the ‘real world’ speeds you might get in the daytime, such as the ones below – each carried out on a weekday.
EE did originally suggest a higher uplift on the upload speed, but with the Alcatel router it failed to materialise. With a near-30Mbps boost, the time taken to backup files or upload video will be massively reduced, and you now get a further advantage over many fixed broadband alternatives.
The router isn’t cheap at £250, but if speed is important to you then it will probably be worth every penny. Especially if you need faster upload speeds.
It might be possible to get the router cheaper on eBay or imported direct from China, but make sure you get the B618s-22d variant for the correct LTE band support, as well as establishing what warranty you will get.
Now it’s worth adding that with a Cat 18 enabled Huawei Mate 10 Pro (1200Mbps/150Mbps), I can get upload speeds (outdoors and slightly further up the road) of almost 110Mbps. As such, the Huawei B618 supporting only 50Mbps up is limiting the potential speed on offer.
However, until a newer router is released that’s a limitation I’ll have to put up with. And as I’m seeing a boost of around 30Mbps over a router that claims to offer twice the speed, it proves that things are not always as they seem. Real world experiences will always win over those ‘on paper’ specifications.
It’s nice to know that there’s still room for improvement, as both the hardware and EE’s network continue to evolve.
On the back you’ll find two Gigabit LAN ports, a USB port for hooking up a storage device or printer, power socket and the two antenna connections that can be hooked up to your EE-installed antenna with simple adapters.
There’s also a connector for using a standard telephone with VoIP services, but with little to no information in the manual on this, I was unable to figure out how this would work. I also have little incentive to investigate as, frankly, I don’t have any need for a landline at home. Chances are you don’t either.
The router itself is quite significantly taller, which boosted the Wi-Fi range slightly but not so much that I can call it a true benefit. It’s still fair to say that routers with external, adjustable, antennas will perform better. If you need more range, you’ll want to consider using another router, or investing in one of the new mesh networking kits.
Switching router was nothing more than the time to unbox the router, plug it in, swap the SIM (the Alcatel uses a nano SIM and the Huawei uses micro SIM, so you might need an adapter), swap over the antenna cables and switching on.
Once connecting my devices to the new Wi-Fi SSID (I could have modified the Wi-Fi network names and passwords to match the old if I’d wanted) I was up and running immediately as the EE broadband settings were detected automatically.
The only thing I’ve noticed is that with the new router I am not being served an IPv6 address. The documentation with the B618 is pretty limited and the user interface rather basic, although you can monitor certain things from a smartphone using the HiLink app (Android).
Overall, the router does exactly what I want – gives me the fastest possible speed. For now at least!
Still more improvements to come?
As I said in my original review, I hope EE releases a new router of its own soon. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Alcatel one, and it’s far cheaper than laying down a further £250, but the Huawei router proves there are further gains to be had.
It also proves that the antenna you get installed today will still work fine, so there’s no reason to hold off. You can sign up today and wait to see what’s offered later this year, or, if you can’t wait then get yourself over to Amazon now!
More info: EE 4GEE Home Router Review