Recent advances promise faster networks at home -- and SIM-based hotspots everywhere
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, November 11 2019:The 'connected' TV was the tipping point: suddenly lakhs of households in India saw sense in installing a home WiFi network: It provided economic Internet access for multiple mobile phones; it fuelled PC and laptop -- and it 'smartened' the television set, enabling the family to enjoy at a time of its choosing, hundreds of new movies and serials from Net-based providers like Hotstar, Netflix,Amazon and the like. The purchase of a home WiFi router has passed that very Indian test of 'paisa vasool' -- good value for money.
The router industry is gearing to satisfy this burgeoning demand, with better, faster, more reliable networks. I have been trying out two routers from a leading supplier -- D-Link -- that cater to two interesting use cases.
SIM-based routers: Use-anywhere Internet
Home routers traditionally need the owner to insert into the WLAN port, a cable with a data connection , offered by a broadband provider. But what if you are on the move and can't tap into your home cable? The D-Link DWR-921 4G LTE Router offers a second option ( you can still use the WLAN if you want). It comes with a slot for a mobile phone SIM. And since all mobile services these days offer a data plan, the router will tap this to connect to the Internet.
The beauty of this solution is that unlike using a SIM in a phone, putting it into the router, allows multiple users to benefit -- you can even use any of the four ethernet ports to connect PCs, laptops etc.
The router works with all 3G and 4 G LTE SIMs, which means you can in theory, get download speeds of 100 MBPS ( and half that in upload). The DWR-921 is a single band system, ie it transmits in the 2.4 GHz band and not in the 5 GHz band. It is a small price to pay for offering 2 modes of broadband access: through a WLAN cable and through a phone SIM.
In fact even in a home use case, one might prefer to buy a SIM with a good data plan as an alternative to subscribing to cable data. Just 300 grams, the router can be easily carried while travelling. It will liberate you from dependence on hotel or public WiFi which is rarely secure. The MRP is Rs 10,148 but I notice that on e-comm sites like Amazon, the discount is nearly 50%.
Mu-MIMO is way to go
The conventional Single User router technology has a small drawback: It can serve one customer at a time. If you are working on your laptop and your child is streaming a movie at the same time -- there will definitely be a loss of speed at your end. Mu-MIMO or Mult User - Multiple-In-Multiple-Out routers like the D-Link DIR 841, AC1200 , break up the bandwidth into separate streams so that each shares the connection evenly, no matter which node is sucking up how much.
MU-MIMO routers only work with the newer 802.11 ac wireless protocol which provides download speeds of between 300 and 800 MBPS . There is a small caveat: The host devices like your laptop or phone should be able to decode MU-MIMO, otherwise you won't enjoy the full advantage. The DIR 841 is marked Rs 3540, but I saw significant markdowns at Flipkart. I would still go for it even though I don't have any devices that can do justice -- yet. Call it future proofing.