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WiFi as WAN Shootout: CTR35 vs. WiFi Ranger vs. Pepwave Surf Mini

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Friday, 14 October 2011

WiFi as WAN Shootout: CTR35 vs. WiFi Ranger vs. Pepwave Surf Mini   

(Left to right: CTR35, Pepwave Surf Mini, WiFi Ranger)

The first question you're probably asking is what exactly is WiFi as WAN? This feature allows you to pickup any WiFi networks in range like a Starbucks for instance, or your MiFi or Smartphone's wireless hotspot. For this test we're comparing the Cradlepoint CTR35, WiFi Ranger and Pepwave Surf Mini, which all offer different features, but all include WAW. Over the last year there have been a lot of new products developed specifically for WAW (WiFi as WAN), and we decided to do a shootout to see which entry level model performed the best. For our shootout we placed all the routers within a few feet of each other so neither device had an edge to pickup WiFi networks. Before we dive into the results lets introduce the competitors.

Cradlepoint CTR35:

The CTR35 is Cradlepoint's entry level model that features one Ethernet LAN port that can also be configured as a LAN port. This model supports wireless B, G and N with a typically real world range of 50-75 feet. Cradlepoint is best known for their 3G/4G modem support, giving you well over 100 plus modems to choose from on a variety of cellular carriers. This model offers fully configurable DHCP ranges, port forwarding and WiPIPE central management services for larger scaled deployments. 

This model was the first NetBSD Cradlepoint router that offered the WAW feature. The small form factor makes it ideal for travelers that don't want to carry around a larger bulky router. If you like the feature set of the CTR35, but demand more advanced features higher end models like the MBR95, CBR400 and MBR1400 also support WAW.     



WiFi Ranger:

The WiFi Ranger is the companies first attempt at creating a 3G/4G router that features WAW. This model is designed to be user friendly, and doesn't come with a bunch of complicated settings that only enthusiasts or networking engineers understand. The 3G/4G modem support is rather limited, which means that you need to verify modem compatibility prior to purchasing because support is limited. If you like to upgrade your modems frequently this wouldn't be the best option unless you use MiFi "Hotspot" type devices that don't need to be software driven. 

The typical WiFI Range on the WiFi Ranger is around 200 feet through walls so you'll be able to create a large repeated WiFi network. You will also find 4 Ethernet LAN connections as well as 1 WAN connection giving you more flexibility than either the CTR35 or Pepwave Surf Mini. The Pro Version of the WiFi Ranger also has an option accessory called the WFR Boost Fixed Kit, which allows you to install an Omni antenna to pickup WiFi signals from up to 300 meters away. This can be a great advantage to future proof yourself if you demand the ability to pickup the most WiFi networks possible. The WiFi Ranger also features a unique range mode allowing you to automatically pickup open hotspots based on the first or best connection available, which makes things simple if you've got open networks available. 



Pepwave Surf Mini:

The Pepwave Surf Mini is a very powerful solution to receive WiFi signals within a building, then repeating a new WiFi signal throughout the building. Even though this device only operates on Wireless B and G, it will typically share a WiFi signal for around 200 feet through walls. This puts it on par with the WiFi Ranger in terms of repeated WiFi range, and this is thanks to the powerful 200mW radio within the Pepwave Surf Mini. You will also find 1 Ethernet LAN port that can also be configured as a WAN port.

The Surf Mini features a very compact form factor making it easy to transport when you decide to do some traveling. The standard Omni antenna offers 5dB of gain and optional antennas like the 15dB Hawking Corner antenna are available to give you even better performance. However, unlike the WiFi Ranger, if you utilize a directional external antenna you will essentially lose the ability to repeat a signal if you're using this for point to point buildings. This is because the external antenna is doing both send and receive, which means it would shoot the WiFi signal back to the original source.

The easiest way to get around this is to connect the Pepwave Surf Mini to a router at the connection where you want increased WiFi. Again, this would only be need IF you plan to do long distance point to point WiFi installations. This type of limitation wouldn't be found on the WiFi Ranger Pro with WFR Boost, so you'll have to weigh the pros and cons of each unit to figure out which would work best for your specific application.   



WiFi Shootout Video: CTR35 vs. WiFi Ranger vs. Pepwave Surf Mini - 3Gstore.com

Now that you're familiar with the pros and cons of each of the different devices lets take a look at the performance of each of the units. All of the results are based on the testing from the video above and represent real world testing of the devices. We don't quote lab tests or theoretic possibilities and what you're likely to see when utilizing the equipment in the real world! The screenshots below are taken directly from the shootout video and allow us to gather the performance of all the devices.

 

(Above) WiFi Ranger: 4 WiFi Networks Available


(Above) Cradlepoint CTR35: 5 WiFi Networks Available


(Above) Pepwave Surf Mini: 16 WiFi Networks Available

Interpreting the results:

As you can see the performance between the WiFi Ranger and CTR35 were close, but the CTR35 did slightly outperform the WiFi Ranger by 25%. There is virtually no comparison with the Pepwave Surf Mini, which pulled in 220% more WiFi networks than the CTR35, and 300% more networks than the WiFi Ranger. So, the clear winner in the WiFi as WAN shootout is the Pepwave Surf Mini, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be the perfect device for you.

How do I know what model is best for me?

Both the CTR35 and WiFi Ranger support 3G/4G Modems while the Pepwave Surf Mini doesn't. This means if you'd like a more flexible "do it all device," then the CTR35 or WiFi Ranger will give you the most flexibility. However, this comes with the sacrifice of giving up the ability to pickup more WiFi networks. So, if all you want to do is grab onto a nearby WiFi signal the Pepwave Surf Mini is the best bet to give you the most bang for your buck! We'd recommend each device based on the following uses below:

  • Cradlepoint CTR35: Purchase this model if you want the best 3G/4G support and want WiFi as WAN as a backup or failover solution.
  • WiFi Ranger: Purchase this model if you want a simple device that can automatically connect or range networks removing the configuration hassles (requires available open WiFi network).
  • Pepwave Surf Mini:  If your primary objective is to pickup WiFi from another building or source to far from you laptop you'll have the greatest success with the Pepwave Surf Mini.

Conclusion:

As you can see all of the devices offer unique features that aren't available on the other models, so what works for you, might not be the best solution for a friend. Take a close look at the differences between the units to figure out what is going to best meet your needs. If we're claiming a winner in this entry level shootout solely based on WiFi as WAN performance the clear winner is the Pepwave Surf Mini. The device is incredibly user friendly and offers flexibility for building to building applications, RVer's,  frequent travelers and anybody that wants to pickup long distance WiFi!


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Last Updated ( Friday, 14 October 2011 )
 
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