Cradlepoint MBR1400 Mission-Critical 3G/4G Router Hands-On Review

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Friday, 13 May 2011

Cradlepoint MBR1400 Mission-Critical 3G/4G Router Hands-On Review

Cradlepoint’s latest addition to their lineup, the MBR1400 Mission-Critical Broadband Router, launched earlier this year. So why hasn’t 3Gstore/ been selling the MBR1400 or published a review like we usually do with new routers? At launch, the MBR1400 had a lot of problems – bugs that Cradlepoint confirmed and quickly got to work on fixing. We made the decision to hold off on selling and recommending the MBR1400 until all of the problems we found were 100% solved (if a product doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, we simply aren’t comfortable selling it to our valued customers!).

After several weeks of revisions by the team at Cradlepoint, we are happy to report that the latest firmware revision (version 3.2.2) has successfully eliminated all of the problems we were seeing. We’ve been testing and re-testing the MBR1400 running firmware version 3.2.2 for over a week now and are thrilled to see the router performing up to its amazing potential.... which you’ll read about here!

The MBR1400, or “Mission-Critical Broadband Router,” is a business-grade router designed specifically for small business, branch offices, and retail locations. Like other Cradlepoint routers, it does what you’d assume – allow you to share the connection from a 3G or 4G mobile broadband USB or ExpressCard modem – but it’s built for much, much more. In addition to supporting up to five 3G and 4G connections (including the unique Business-Grade Modems), it can also handle up to five traditional wired WAN connections (cable/DSL/T-1) as well as external WiFi networks as a source of internet (WiFi-as-WAN). The MBR1400’s ability to connect to so many different internet sources, plus its amazing failover functionality – the fastest of any Cradlepoint router, it can fail over in as little as 10 seconds! – make it the ideal router for businesses looking for one piece of equipment to handle their primary and backup connections.

Unlike many other enterprise routers built with failover in mind, the MBR1400 also features a powerful Wireless N WiFi radio for 750+ feet of wireless range. Better yet, it can broadcast WiFi on either the traditional 2.4ghz frequency OR the less frequently used (and thus less crowded) 5.0ghz band – the first Cradlepoint router to offer that option!

Those familiar with Cradlepoint’s product line will quickly note that the MBR1400 looks very similar to its cousin, the MBR1200. The MBR1400 shares its shape and dimensions with the 1200, coming in at 9" x 5.1" x 1.57". Unlike the MBR1200, though, the MBR1400 includes three removable 2.4ghz WiFi antennas. The fact that they are removable makes for great flexibility – users can replace them with 5.0ghz antennas (available separately) if you wish to use that band, or with any compatible WiFi antennas (for example, the super-powerful high-gain directional Hawking antennas sold at 3Gstore).

Like the MBR1200, the MBR1400 features a number of inputs. There are 3 USB ports and 2 ExpressCard slots for 3G/4G modems (no PCMCIA card slot on this router – though that is highly unlikely to be a problem for most users these days!), one dedicated WAN port, and four additional ethernet ports that can be configured to be used as LAN or WAN ports (they are set up as LAN ports by default).

The MBR1400 includes all the basic features you'd expect - WiFi and ethernet connectivity, support for different types of security, etc - and you can read the full list of features and specs in the MBR1400 product description. Here we'll discuss the more advanced features and those that are unique to the MBR1400:

WiFi as WAN (WAW): Simply put, WiFi as WAN means that the router can receive WiFi from an external source (for example, campground WiFi at an RV park, free WiFi at McDonald's, or even the hotspot feature from a smartphone like the iPhone) and create a private network that you can access securely through the MBR1400 (either via WiFi or ethernet, however you like to connect to your router). Even if you have your own internet connection, the ability to use the MBR1400 for WAW can come in VERY handy. WAW is great in the event of an unexpected internet outage - if your primary connection goes down and there is an open WiFi network in range, or if you have a smartphone that can be used as a WiFi hotspot (like the iPhone, EVO, Epic, and many others), the MBR1400 can be configured to quickly connect to WiFi and your network will be back online in moments.

Advanced WiFi Functionality: The MBR1400 is the first Cradlepoint model to give users the option of broadcasting WiFi on the usual 2.4ghz frequency or the less commonly used 5.0ghz frequency. Using the 5.0ghz frequency does require 5.0ghz antennas (sold separately), but the added cost can be well worth it for users who are encountering a lot of interference with the 2.4ghz band (WiMAX users in particular will love the option of using the 5.0ghz band, as the WiMAX frequency is very close to the 2.4ghz frequency and often results in performance-sapping interference).

Other benefits to the MBR1400’s WiFi functionality include its 802.11n WiFi radio for the fastest transmit speeds and best range, and the removable antennas - the MBR1400 includes three 2.4ghz WiFi antennas, but these can be removed and replaced with any WiFi antenna with a standard SMA connector.

Failover/Failback and Failure Check: The failover feature allows you to prioritize multiple connections (3G/4G data card, wired WAN connections, and WiFi), and if the highest priority connection fails, the router will automatically connect to the next available connection (for example, an office user might have both a cable modem and a 3G/4G modem plugged into the router, with the cable modem set up as the priority connection such that the router will only failover to the 3G/4G device if the cable goes down). You can also configure the router to automatically "failback" to the higher priority connection once it becomes available again. We are VERY pleased with the MBR1400’s failover functionality - in our extensive testing, we confirmed that the MBR1400 is able to failover to a secondary connection in as little as 10 seconds, the fastest (by far) of ANY Cradlepoint router. This is extremely important in an office environment, where keeping internet downtime to a minimum is critical.

MBR1400 failover priority

Failure Check is a related feature that forces the router to periodically check/monitor your internet connection to see if it is connected to the internet or if the router needs to failover to the next connection. When Failure Check is not enabled, the router will still failover to the next highest priority interface once it notices that the primary connection is down, but it won't check the connection unless you are actively using the internet. In other words, Failure Check helps eliminate downtime by monitoring the connection and switching to the backup connection as soon as the primary one goes down (even if you're not using the internet at the time); without Failure Check the router won't know to failover to the backup connection until you are trying to use the internet and it realizes it cannot connect.

If you're interested in using the MBR1400 for failover, check out 3Gstore’s low cost 3G Failover Plan for $15/mo as an inexpensive means to keep your internet connected when DSL or Cable goes down!

Dual WiFi Network SSIDs: Another of the MBR1400's unique features is its ability to broadcast two WiFi SSIDs (the network name that the router broadcasts) - one private, and one public. This option is ideal for people who want to maintain a secure network for personal or business use, but also want to let others use their connection from time to time without allowing these "guest users" to access the secure network and compromise your private information (users connected to the guest network will have access to the internet, but NOT be able to access the MBR1400’s web admin or any other devices on the network). The two SSIDs are completely separate from one another and can be set up with totally different settings - different security options and so forth.

Business-Grade Modem Caps: Along with the MBR1400, Cradlepoint also launched three modem caps that can be used with either the MBR1400 or the CBA750. These durable modem enclosures include an integrated Sprint 3G, Sprint/CLEAR 4G WiMAX, or Verizon 3G module and high-gain cellular antennas for improved signal; they snap right into the MBR1400 (also compatible with the CBA750) to provide a secure cellular connection to the router. If you are installing the MBR1400 in a retail setting, remote office or remote location, you may prefer the modem cap to a traditional modem as it can be securely attached - this prevents someone from walking away with your USB modem.

Site to Site VPN: The MBR1400 supports Site to Site VPN between the MBR1400 and MBR1200, Cisco, SonicWall, and other VPN termination systems. 3Gstore includes an exclusive “Site to Site VPN Tip Sheet” that will step you through setting up 2 MBR1400s with Site to Site VPN for FREE with all MBR1400s purchased from us! Site to Site VPN allows all the computers, printers and servers to easily be shared between the two locations, allowing for the ability to do things like print to your printer at work from home.

Captive Portal/Walled Garden/Business Hotspot: The Captive Portal solution allows businesses the ability to provide their customers with a public WiFi hotspot with access controls - for example, businesses can require users to accept their terms of service before accessing the internet through the public hotspot (just like you see at places like McDonalds). Advanced features include the ability to control and monitor usage, require login, direct users to specific web pages, provide revenue through services fees or paid advertising and more. Download the "captive portal" feature overview (pdf)

WiPipe Support: WiPipe is Cradlepoint’s cloud-based management service gives you a consolidated router management tool to communicate with and manage ALL of the Cradlepoint routers in your system. WiPipe gives IT managers easy access to an individual router or a pre-defined group for firmware updates, configuration, management, etc.

Like all Cradlepoint routers, the MBR1400 is simple enough for any novice to set up. It comes out of the box with basic WPA security set up (the default password is conveniently located on the bottom of the router), and if you don't plan to use any of the more advanced features like WiFi as WAN, you won't even need to do much setup at all!

Folks who have used other Cradlepoint models will notice that the web admin looks different than what you’ve seen on older models. The MBR1400 utilizes the new BSD platform, which CradlePoint will be using on all of their future products. This is the third CradlePoint product to be based on BSD platform.

When you log into the web admin for the first time, you’ll be presented with a setup wizard to assist you with setting up the basic settings (passwords, etc), and you’ll see that the interface displays quite a bit of useful information regardless of the section you’re in:

MBR1400 setup wizard and helpful features (click image for larger view)

Once you’ve completed your initial setup, each time you log into the admin you’ll see the “router console,” which provides a nice overview of the general status of the router, how many clients are connected, etc:

MBR1400 router console

Another nice feature to the MBR1400 is that using a 4G WiMAX modem (like those available from Sprint, CLEAR, Comcast, etc) doesn't take nearly as much setup as it does with other Cradlepoint routers - instead of having to upload a special WiMAX modem driver onto the router, that file is already pre-loaded onto the router. The WiMAX realm is also automatically set to Sprint, meaning you only need to change it in the "connection management" section of the web admin if you're using a WiMAX modem from a provider other than Sprint!

Once the initial problems were solved, the MBR1400 quickly proved itself as one of the best enterprise/office routers available today.

What we love about the MBR1400:

The Cradlepoint MBR1400 is now available at 3Gstore for $339.99. Save an additional $20 if you're also signing up for a Sprint or Verizon 2-year contract!

All routers purchased from 3Gstore include our exclusive support CD as well as our esteemed technical support.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 June 2011 )
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