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Cradlepoint MBR95 Mega-Review Part 1

The CradlePoint MBR95 is part of the newest series of routers put out by Cradlepoint, the leader in the 3G/4G router space. This MBR95 is unique and special because it is the first of the new NetBSD-based routers to be a perfect replacement for your average small business or home wireless router. Join us for the part 1 of the MBR95 Mega-Review.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Cradlepoint provided us with a review unit of the MBR95 with no expectation as to the outcome of the final review.)

History

I was first introduced to Cradlepoint in the early days of EVDO mobile internet. Back in 2005, I had come across a great article about someone building their own mobile EVDO Wireless setup using a Soekris router and a variety of other pieces of equipment. This whole project had me very curious and led me to build my own very similar setup using OpenBSD.

The problem with my custom setup was that it was rather large, required me to manually activate the EVDO data card if anything failed, and only worked perfectly about two-thirds of the time. It was time to find a better, more integrated solution. Although I settled on the Kyocera KR1 and used it for a year-and-a-half before Cradlepoint had a product available, I quickly moved to the PHS300 shortly after its release in 2007. Since the first CTR350 and PHS300 routers, Cradlepoint has released a number of excellent and award-winning routers.

Cradlepoint Now

Fast forward to 2011. The older hardware platform first used in the PHS300 and CTR350 is aging fast and it is time for a new start. This new platform is based on the NetBSD operating system rather than the older platform’s Linux base. The first router in this new series was the CTR35 (reviewed here) followed closely by the MBR1400. The third router is the MBR95, the subject of this review.

While the CTR35 fits in the basic mobile router slot, and the MBR1400 sits at the very top of the line with enterprise features, the MBR95 sits right in the middle and aims to address what most users need in a home or small business router.

MBR95 Specs

Its features include (from Cradlepoint’s web site):

  • Wireless “N” WiFi (802.11n + legacy 802.11b/g, 2x2 MIMO, 300 Mbps)
  • Up to 600-feet of WiFi Range
  • Supports up to 32 WiFi Connections at a Time
  • Two WiFi Networks: 1 private SSID for owner, 1 public SSID for guests. Create a private, secure, and prioritized connection while sharing with others. Each network can have its own QoS priorities and security settings.
  • Four Ethernet ports to connect directly to Ethernet-enabled devices
  • Special Feature: Use WiFi as a Data Source. “WiFi-as-WAN” mode enables the MBR95 to become a WiFi repeater (using existing WiFi to create secure connections) or use as a WiFi-to-Ethernet adapter for non-WiFi devices.
  • Enables wireless internet access through 4G/3G mobile broadband networks, existing WiFi, or Ethernet-based data services ( Cable / DSL / Satellite )
  • Pass-Through VPN connection support enables a laptop with a VPN client to create a secure tunnel to corporate networks (IPSec, L2TP, PPTP)
  • When multiple internet sources (4G/3G/Cable/DSL/Satellite Modems) are connected to the MBR95, it will detect an internet outage on the primary connection and switch to a secondary connection (aka: Failover / Failback)

The 802.11n WiFi, four ethernet LAN ports, one ethernet WAN port, VPN passthrough settings are all pretty typical of most routers these days. What sets the MBR95 apart is its ability to use a 4G (LTE/WiMAX), 3G, Cable, DSL, or Satellite internet connection as its primary and also a secondary connection. In addition, it is possible to use another WiFi signal as its WAN connection using the “WiFi-as-WAN” mode available on the NetBSD-based Cradlepoint routers.

I have spent quite a bit of time with the MBR95. It has been my main router for over a month. I wanted to get a good handle on the settings and exactly how well it worked in real life. I wanted to see if the MBR95 had regular hiccups that required a router reboot like many routers.

Why the MBR95?

The most likely reason you would choose the MBR95 is because you need a home or small business wireless router that also has the capability of using a USB data card from one of the major cellular carriers such as AT&T Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless.

The three reasons you would want cellular internet are (1) mobile internet access, (2) failover internet access, and (3) cellular is the only reasonable internet available in your area. The MBR95 works great in all three applications although the first could possibly be better served by the CTR35, a more compact wireless router. You would most likely find the MBR95 used in application two although it works just as well in the other two. It is in applications two and three that most of my testing took place.

Another use scenario (4) would be where a cellular data connection is not needed but a very stable and nicely featured router is needed. This fourth scenario also received a wide amount of testing using fast 10-15Mbps ADSL2+ and 35Mbps FiOS connections.

What will be covered?

In the remaining content of the MBR95 review, which will be published in parts over the next two weeks, I will be covering wireless performance, detailed configurations with screenshots, performance with different wireless cards, and overall stability of the router in various different use cases. In addition, I will be covering using the MBR95’s port forwarding for server applications and finally whether or not the MBR95 is a good fit even if you do not have a 3G or 4G USB data card.

Check back for part 2 of the review at a later date.

Links

The Cradlepoint MBR95 retails for $119.00 and is available from Cradlepoint directly ($119.00), from Amazon.com ($91.25 with free shipping), and from 3Gstore.com ($109.99).

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