Review: Huawei WiFi Cube with Vodafone 4G (E5180)

Need broadband at home or the workplace but aren’t sold on the speeds you’ll get from ADSL2+, and don’t want to be locked into a cable contract? Vodafone might have the answer in a 4G router you can leave running all the time.

Features and performance

Sometimes the broadband offered to our homes and offices just doesn’t cut it, not in this super speedy digital economy where everything has to be done in a lightning fast way.

For instance, while many of us rely on ADSL2+ for our broadband, the speeds aren’t quite as high as we want. Recently, America’s Federal Communications Commission reclassified the word “broadband” to mean a minimum of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, and while we in Australia don’t rely on what the FCC says, very few Australian households and office blocks will have broadband by that definition.

Locally, the majority of us with broadband are likely relying on ADSL2+, which can pull speeds as high as 24Mbps down and 1Mbps up, but will likely hit closer to the 8 to 11Mbps mark, sometimes lower, with distance from the phone exchange being one reason why this speed drops from what you can technically achieve.

Another option exists, of course, with cable providing speeds of 30Mbps and up to 100Mbps, though once again, this is dependent on a variety of factors, such as how many people in your neighbourhood are using the technology at the time, not just for downloading, but also for watching TV. If there’s no one, you’ll do well and grab super-fast speeds, but the moment the TVs go on or someone else is using cable for internet, that bandwidth gets torn asunder and your speed goes out the window.

All of this is before the National Broadband Network, of course, though with the current government status on that not likely to see 25Mbps minimum speeds for most of the nation until probably another three to five years (by which point we’ll need much faster to even be called broadband again), for some people, the only hope this year might be to turn to mobile broadband.

And that’s where Vodafone is chiming in, with the introduction of the Huawei WiFi Cube. This little plastic white box relies on a Category 4 LTE modem to connect to Vodafone’s 4G network and distribute that connection to several computers, with up to 32 supported at the same time.

The design here is pretty simple, with a simple white box, two function LEDs — 4G connection and WiFi — and then a larger LED up top which you can turn on and off.

Installation comes from the minimal amount of ports, with you needing a microSIM loaded in at the bottom of the device, and then simply plugging the Cube in and switching it on. Another port can be found if your need to get stronger reach, with the side revealing a small flap covering two antenna ports if you desperately need to get a better signal.

Unlike many other dongles, there is no microSD card slot in this unit, so you won’t be using it as a small media centre.

Using the Cube is easy, though, so as long as you don’t care about streaming music, photos, or videos through the device itself, files you already own and store on something like a microSD card, you’ll be fine.

Switch it on, connect to the Cube using the information printed on the label beneath, and if you want to later on, change it to match your own network name.

When it comes to speed, Huawei’s Vodafone-connected Cube can grab a fair few more megabits per second than its siblings in ADSL2+, with a Category 4 LTE modem used inside capable of pulling in as much as 150Mbps, which in turn translates into near 20 megabytes per second.

But that’s a speed you’ll see if you can pull those speeds consistently, which you can’t on LTE since the connection rate changes all the time based on antenna range at both your end and the point of the transmission antennas, so don’t expect strong speeds all the time, especially when your location factors into it.

Case in point, this writer’s desk at the GadgetGuy office jumped between four and five bars with the Huawei Cube on Vodafone 4G, with between 26 and 38Mbps down and 25 to 40Mbps up available to him.

Testing it against a Telstra 4G device, we found more or less the same speeds (25-30 down, 18-30 up) in the same position, telling us our location and building was likely making a dent on the speeds we were receiving.

And that’s the thing about mobile broadband: there are so many factors at play for speed variation that you can’t ever expect the same speed, not like you can with ADSL2+ which will generally keep the connection the same outside of exchange location (the further you are from the telephone exchange, the more your line speed drops).

That said, 25 to 40Mbps (3 to 5 megabytes per second, roughly) is still higher than what most Australians will receive over ADSL2+, with the average speed here topping out at 8 to 11Mbps, lower than the theoretical maximum of 24Mbps which generally only happens if you’re living next to your exchange, which so few seem to.

As such, even though we weren’t blasting through Vodafone’s 4G network with our location and the Huawei Cube, we were still relatively happy with what we were seeing, and Huawei has even left some things here that should make some people happy.

For instance, there’s an Ethernet port built into the side of this device, an inclusion which will not only let you hard wire a device to your network, but also add a switch or router to the cube if you need it.