Price (RRP): $159; Available on plans from Vodafone;
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.
Let’s say you need to split the Cube between more hard wired devices, or even spread the 4G connectivity to more than 32 wireless devices, this will make it happen, with the ability to switch off wireless if need be.
Interestingly, you can also engage up to three more wireless networks from the WLAN settings found in the admin, with the login information for this found initially on the bottom of the handset, ready to be changed when you’re ready.
That’s one area that could do with a little sprucing up, as the interface is pretty basic.
You’ll find a screen telling you where you’re connected, the bars offered, and the data received and sent, as well as network functionality, but it could do with a little most cosmetic change. Most won’t likely bother with it, connecting and forgetting about the setup, which you don’t really need to think about if all you’re worried about is sharing a 4G network amongst your peers.
That said, you will find a few options here if you need them, such as MAC address control, virtual server access, a firewall with an IP filter, and a special applications area to let you get video games and other necessities to go through the device when you need them and the wireless router isn’t playing ball.
For the most part, we found no real issues with this device, and are even happy with some of the design, with a button up top that does two things.
The first thing the button does is turn the device on, which you’ll find when you hold the button down. It’s easy to fiddle with the power, though mostly, you’ll be leaving this on, since this is a stationary wireless dongle that you won’t be taking with you.
Strangely, there is a “roaming” option in the settings of the device, and while we suspect we could take this out of the country if we wanted to, we’re not sure why someone would given overseas data pricing would likely not be a terribly fun thing to pay.
The other thing the button does is turn the light on and off without messing with the power of the Cube.
Yes, there’s a blue light that generally glows at the top of the Huawei Cube, but you can turn it off simply by pushing down the button normally used for power quickly.
Press the button to turn the light off, and press it again to turn it on, with the press and hold we mentioned previously turning the device off.
Alternatively, you could just unplug the Cube if you wanted, though letting it power down is likely going to be better for the device.
One thing is obvious from the design, and that’s Huawei’s understanding of what a cube is.
The Huawei Cube is not a cube. Rather, it’s a rectangular prism, but we suspect Huawei Rectangular Prism doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue (though “Huawei Prism” would), and this is more a thing for the marketing department at Huawei and Vodafone to grapple with.
But in all seriousness, there isn’t a lot to complain about the Cube, with our only real major complaint being a lack of WiFi transmission for this device.
The settings suggests this is actually running a low spectrum of 802.11n, with only 20MHz popping up in settings. There is certainly a faster speed out there, and we’re surprised
In fact, our only quibble might be something Huawei could add to a future model, and that’s a possible LED showing how many devices are connected to the Cube at once.
With up to 32 devices possible, it would be handy to see just how many in your home or office are hitting this device and sharing the connection.
If you need faster downloads than what your current broadband connection offers, you may find some relief with Huawei’s WiFi Cube on Vodafone 4G.
We haven’t touched on pricing for plans on Vodafone because most of this review is about the hardware itself, but we feel we need to say it now: this can get expensive.
Vodafone’s plans for the WiFi Cube run from $25 per month for 2.5GB data (monthly) plus a $5 modem cost, with $64 netting you 12GB monthly and $90 grabbing 25GB monthly, the last two of these including the modem in 24 month plans. In comparison to other 4G data plans, Vodafone isn’t pitching anything that isn’t reasonable, especially when Optus charges $60 per month for 10GB monthly data while Telstra asks for $105 per month for 15GB.
But in comparison to fixed-line broadband, it’s a different game altogether, with similar $60 monthly plans grabbing anywhere between 30GB and an unlimited supply of downloads, so it’s worth noting that the amount of bandwidth on offer for mobile broadband is far, far different the moment you switch to 4G internet.
That said, we’d be looking at this as a viable option if you needed upload speed more than download speeds. Most of us will have some form of internet access at home already, and are probably reliant on the massive download caps these plans have, but with barely one megabit (1Mbps) upload speeds, our connections can’t compete with the close to 40 we received here.
If you have a lot of uploads to make, Vodafone’s 4G access on the Huawei WiFi Cube will impress, as will any 4G device, but if you have a few devices working away at the same time, this gadget makes a lot of sense, and if you happen to have plenty of money to churn through and wants faster broadband speeds in general before the NBN turns up (eventually), this could also do the job, too.