Cradlepoint AER 2100 4G LTE Embedded Router Hands-On Review
|Monday, 13 January 2014|
Since 2006, Cradlepoint has become an industry leader in cellular enabled routers. With a product line targeting home users and small to medium businesses, Cradlepoint has offered options for just about all types of users, and their routers have become enormously popular thanks to their affordability, ease of use, and features. One gap in their lineup was a model specifically for geared towards enterprise users, who require more security, options, and sturdiness than the average users. Starting today, the new AER 2100 fills that role by providing an option for even the most demanding of businesses.
The AER 2100 (Advanced Edge Router) is an all-in-one, cloud-manageable networking solution. The feature list is impressive with highlights that include integrated 4G LTE, dual-band concurrent WiFi with 802.11ac support, and management through Cradlepoint's impressive Enterprise Cloud Manager (subscription required). And while the AER 2100 is powerful, it’s refreshingly easy to set up and can be administered with ease by virtually anyone.
Watch our unboxing video of the AER 2100:
Design and Exterior:
The first thing AER 2100 owners will notice is the sturdy metal chassis that encloses the internal components of the router. This isn’t just a metal plate attached to plastic: the entire device is encapsulated in a sturdy metal housing. Compared to the plastic Cradlepoint MBR1400, the AER 2100 screams quality from every angle. Speaking of angles, there isn’t a bad one to be found. Trust us, we tried to find it.
front panel and status indicators
The face of the unit has a single USB port for a 3G or 4G cellular modem, ventilation holes, and a series of lights to indicate the status of everything from power to cellular signal strength. Each side of the AER 2100 has respective antennas for WiFi and cellular that feature high quality SMA connectors. The AER 2100 comes with 2 cellular antennas for the included embedded modem, and 3 antennas for WiFi. Unlike any other comparable router available, the AER 2100 features concurrent 2.4GHz and 5Ghz WiFi (other routers that offer both options can only operate in one mode at a time, forcing you to choose and/or switch back and forth as needed) providing both wireless AC support and compatibility with a wide variety of devices.
back of AER 2100. left to right: status lights, WAN port, LAN ports, power and USB
The back of the AER 2100 is where you’ll be making connections to the rest of your network. There are signal lights on the left mirroring the statuses found on the front panel, followed by a 10/100/1000 WAN port for wired internet connections (DSL/Cable/Satellite) and 4 10/100/1000 ethernet LAN ports (which can be switched to WAN mode in the web admin if desired). Next you’ll see the on/off power switch, power connector, hardware reset button, a second USB port for an additional 3G or 4G modem, grounding hook, and a security lock.
MC300 modem (2 cellular antennas are included but not pictured)
Also included with the AER 2100 is an embedded cellular modem. Versions for Verizon, AT&T, Canada, and Europe are available (the EU models are only available from resellers in Europe), and the modules are swappable if your needs change in the future (no need to buy a whole new router!). Rather than attaching to the outside of the unit like the ARC modem caps for the CBA750/1400, the MC300 attaches and secures inside the AER. This keeps the size of the unit small and the SIM card safely hidden away. The entire router measures in at just 10.25” x 8.5” x 2” (without the antennas), ensuring it has a home in any location. An optional rack mount kit is available for the AER 2100 for installing in a server closet or similar setup.
Setup / GUI:
Previous Cradlepoint owners will be right at home with the admin interface of the AER 2100, and new users will adapt quickly to the intuitive interface. With helpful tips available for almost every option and feature, setup couldn’t be easier. There is no reason to control any aspect of the AER 2100 through any command line utility or special codes like similarly featured competitors.
Watch our video demonstrating the GUI:
web admin login screen (cick for larger view)
On login, a First Time Setup Wizard will display prompting the user to enter information from a new administrator password, time zone, WiFi information, and cellular settings if required by the provider. Once these changes are applied, the AER 2100 is ready to go to work.
navigation menu/buttons in the GUI (cick for larger view)
The Cradlepoint interface manages to find a healthy balance between simplicity and functionality all while providing clear descriptions and help along the way. Readily available status screens for internet connectivity and advanced data usage charts make the AER 2100 a real workhorse. Complex administration of VPN tunnels and Firewall settings is visualized in a way that saves time and can be changed without having to reboot the router.
Features:3G/4G USB Modem Support: Cradlepoint doesn’t disappoint when it comes to cellular modem support. With a list of over 300 supported modems from various carriers both in the US and around the world, plus new modems being supported in nearly every firmware release, there is nowhere the AER 2100 can’t function. One important thing to note is that a more powerful 4A power adapter (sold separately) is required if you plan to use both the embedded modem and both of the USB ports.
Embedded LTE modem: Included with the AER 2100 is a high-quality internal modem (various versions for different carriers are available) with dual-diversity, high-gain antennas. By simply using an active SIM card from your carrier the AER 2100 can provide cellular connectivity as a primary or backup connection for your business. The industry-standard SMA antenna connectors mean that if signal is weak, larger antennas or cellular amplifiers can be added for maximum performance. The SIM slot on the modem is the standard 2FF size, so if you plan to use a micro SIM (3FF), you’ll need a Micro SIM Adapter.Later this year, Cradlepoint plans to release half-size modems, which will allow users to utilize two embedded modems within the AER 2100.
Dual-Band WiFi: The AER 2100 broadcasts both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi simultaneously for maximum device compatibility. Always forward thinking, Cradlepoint supports wireless AC for maximum throughput as well. Each WiFi band can be configured for up to 4 SSIDs, each with unique names, passwords, and settings. This means up to 8 SSIDs can be generated for unrivaled connectivity and access control!
WiFi Security: The AER 2100 WiFi can be set in multiple different security modes. With options ranging from open access to full WPA2 Enterprise for RADIUS authentication, the router will conform to even the strictest of access control requirements.
WiFi Security options (configurable in the web admin), including WPA2 Enterprise (cick for larger view)
Built in Captive Portal: With a built in Captive Portal, business owners can easily provide internet access to visitors or guests without worry. A captive portal will catch all traffic with a customizable login screen with terms and conditions for network access. Access can be throttled so a single user or group of users aren’t able to slow down access for the primary networks that are used by the business.
WiFi as WAN: The AER 2100 has the ability to pick up external WiFi networks (like the personal hotspot feature from a phone or a dedicated hotspot/Jetpack - virtually any WiFi network that is open or for which you have the password) and create a new private network from it that you can access securely through the router. WAW is great in the event of an unexpected internet outage — if the primary connection goes down and there is another WiFi network in range, the AER 2100 can be configured to quickly connect to its WiFi and your network will be back online in moments.
Load Balancing: The AER 2100 can support multiple WAN connections: up to 5 Wired WAN connections (the 4 LAN ports can be configured as WAN ports), the included embedded modem, 2 USB Cellular Modems, plus WiFi as WAN. The AER 2100 can Load Balance between all of these connections running simultaneously. Instead of using just 1 connection at a time, total network bandwidth can be increased by having multiple active WANs. The Load Balancing can be configured with a number of different settings dictating how traffic is passed out of the network, and specific devices can be forced over specific connections using the WAN Affinity tools built into the AER 2100 (e.g. a web server that must remain on a specific WAN or a device you want to function only over slower/less-expensive connections).
Failover / Failback: For business users that can’t afford to be offline, the AER 2100 can prioritize internet connections with a simple priority tree. If the primary connection fails, the router will detect it and automatically connect to the next prioritized connection. The router will also continue to check the status of the primary connection, at default or user-defined intervals, and will reconnect to it when it comes back online. Failover and Failback happens quickly and without user intervention meaning the transition between connections is completely seamless.
WAN interfaces configured for failover: Ethernet primary, embedded modem second, USB modem third (cick for larger view)
This is useful for businesses with a high speed primary connection, and high cost cellular connections for backup. Instead of Load Balancing and potentially splitting traffic over expensive cellular or slower DSL links, all traffic can go over the high speed connection(s) first and keep the cellular or slower connections strictly for failover in mission critical situations.
Enterprise Cloud Manager: The AER 2100 can also be remotely monitored and configured using the Cradlepoint Enterprise Cloud Manager (ECM). ECM allows for easy cloud access to Cradlepoint devices located anywhere in the world. ECM can push configurations and firmware updates, monitor and alert users to connectivity issues, and give a one stop overlook for a fleet of deployed devices.
ECM devices view (cick for larger view)
ECM functions in near-real time for up to the minute information and administration. ECM users with multiple devices or multiple technicians can be granted sub-accounts with restricted access to only the devices and setting they are permitted. The ability to remotely diagnose network issues and view error logs will save time and money when deciding if its necessary to deploy a technician to the site.
ECM alerts and notifications (cick for larger view)
A full alert and notification suite is built into ECM and breaks information down by the time, address, device group, and description, for each item on the network. ECM isn’t just for the AER 2100 though, lower model Cradlepoint devices can be managed for smaller locations or M2M environments that don’t require the full power that the AER 2100 has to offer. ECM requires a license for each router and is available in 1, 3, and 5 year terms.
Extended Enterprise License: Advanced features can be licensed from Cradlepoint, meaning end users will not pay higher prices for features that they may not need. EEL includes a number of features such as: routing by NHRP, STP, VRRP, RIP, as well as VPN & Tunneling through OpenVPN and L2TP. Also included is NEMO (Network Mobility) and DMNR (Dynamic Mobile Network Routing for Verizon). Cloud Security is also enhanced with the EEL by optionally integrating with Zscaler’s secure web gateway. Depending on implementation this could include real-time reporting, behavioral analysis, URL filtering, bandwidth management, and much more. EEL is available in 1, 3, and 5 year terms and also requires an active ECM license.3Gstore Support: Don’t forget, 3Gstore offers free technical support by email or phone. This includes assistance with basic configuration of the device, determining signal strength and positioning of antennas or amplifiers if applicable, and ensuring that your hardware is functioning properly. Also includes is access to the 3Gstore Support Portal, which gives customers access to a plethora of tip sheets, manuals, and other downloads that can be accessed at any time to aid with the setup and use of just about any purchase.
AER 2100 and included components. clockwise from left: 2 cellular antennas, embedded modem module, router, 3 dual-mode WiFi antennas, screws, multi-purpose tool, power supply, ethernet cable, manual
The AER 2100 is the missing link in Cradlepoint's product line, and based on our hands-on experience with it, this is a strong piece in the chain. Competing routers from other companies are sure to take note of what Cradlepoint is doing here. Superb construction, enterprise grade features, and an interface that doesn’t take special certifications to use all make the AER 2100 a clear standout in enterprise routing.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 January 2014 )|
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