Cradlepoint MBR1200 WiFi Range Tests

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Thursday, 22 October 2009

Cradlepoint MBR1200 WiFi Range Tests

Now that we've had the new Cradlepoint MBR1200 3G/4G mobile broadband router for a few days, we've found time to get out and about to do compare WiFi range against its older brother, the very popular Cradlepoint MBR1000.

When the MBR1000 first came out in February 2008, we were thrilled to have the first 802.11N and did some range testing that yielded some interesting results. We admit that the testing we did back then, wasn't as thorough as it should have been and this time around we're working harder to represent more useful information.

Picking a "test site" was challenging, all by itself. We had four goals: 1) the site had to be a long, flat, open area; 2) it needed to have few hotspots within range (or none if possible); 3) there had to be no question that the are was safe for staff; 4) and there had to be little/no vehicular traffic.

We drove around for two afternoons looking for "lab conditions" in North Texas and each potential location we found had too many compromises. We finally settled on this stretch of road that only occassionally had 1 or 2 nearby hotspots show up during testing. (click here to see an 900 KB animation that better illustrates the distance between test vehicles)

wifi range test site

Once we found our test location, we did one test per router configuration and put the router on rooftop of stationary vehicle as shown below:

MBR1200 external omni antennas


Testing was done at two distances from the routers, 500ft and 1100ft (only because those two locations along the stretch of road were convenient).

We tested the MBR1000's three WiFi antennas against the MBR1200's two internal WiFi antennas, as well as the MBR1200 with the external WiFi omni antennas made by Cradlepoint, and with two Hawking 15 dB high-gain directional antennas. While deciding upon a utlity to measure WiFi signal strength, we stumbled across something we've not found mentioned on any website yet: the 'System Profiler" utility in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard provides a cool way to see WiFi signal as RSSI, for all wireless hotspots that within range. We decided to use that to do our testing. To illustrate the results of our testing, we compiled screengrabs and added explanations to the graphics below:

test results @ 500ft
Cradlepoint's omni wifi antennas provide significant gain over internal antennas
click here to see larger graphic

test results @ 1100ft
Directional high-gain wifi antennas provided the most distance between routers.
click here to see larger graphic

We were happily surprised that the MBR1200's internal antennas did not appear to have significantly less signal than the MBR100's three external antennas. We were completely surprised by how much better signal the two external omni antennas provided... at $39.99 for the pair , these are a great value and are likely to be all that any home/office user will ever need.

Another mistake we made when we did testing of the MBR1000 when it came out, was not measuring mobile broadband bandwidth at test distances. We made sure to do that this time. Both the MBR1000 and MBR1200 had no problem providing the same bandwidth at the 500ft test, as was seen when immediately next to stationary vehicle the router and modems were on top of. The only speed reduction we experienced was during the 1100ft test when both routers were consistently providing about 30 to 75% of the bandwidth measured while next to routers with modems. is now selling the 15dBi high-gain directional WiFi antennas as a solution for our customers who are trying to provide connectivity to a remote building adjacent to where they use their cellular service. With clear line of sight, we anticipate that an MBR1200 with directional antennas can shoot signal across to either another MBR1200 with the same antennas (or even an MBR1000) and traverse 200ft or more between buildings (assuming minimal electrical interference and physical obstructions on both ends of wireless transmission). Many, many variables will affect effective range between router and receiving equipment... how much distance any customer will see is truly a "case by case" scenario.

MBR1200 with Cradlepoint Omni and Hawking WiFi antennas
MBR1200 router with Cradlepoint's omni and Hawking directional wifi antennas

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 13 April 2010 )
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