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Cradlepoint MBR900 Mobile Broadband N Router Reviewed

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Introduction

Cradlepoint MBR900 Mobile Broadband N Router

At a Glance
Product Cradlepoint Mobile Broadband N Router (MBR900)
Summary "Affordable" 3G/4G Router with 802.11n Wi-Fi
Pros • Supports wide range of 3G / 4G USB modems
• 100 Mbps wirespeed routing
• No-subscription content filtering (OpenDNS)
Cons • Configuration requires frequent reboots
• 10/100 ports
• Unimpressive Wi-Fi performance

Cradlepoint is a relatively new company to small networking.  Founded in 2004 and headquartered in Boise, ID, Cradlepoint specializes in routers that share a 3G/4G connection.  Part of Cradlepoint's “secret sauce” is what they call “WiPipe,” a technology built into all their mobile broadband routers.  WiPipe is really a collection of technologies, for which Cradlepoint has applied for 27 patents. 

Cradlepoint summarizes the value of WiPipe technology in eight different areas:  robust yet simple functionality, optimized 3G/4G modem drivers, load balancing over multiple 3G/4G connections, best in class QoS, WAN to WWAN (wireless wide area network) automatic failover, VPN functionality, Security and Filtering, and WLAN (wireless LAN = Wi-Fi) performance.

I'm going to look at the MBR900, which has a single 3G/4G USB modem port, a 2.4 GHz 802.11n wireless radio, a 10/100Mbps WAN port and 4 10/100Mbps LAN ports.  With the exception of multiple 3G/4G connections and VPN tunnels, the MBR900 supports all of the WiPipe technologies. 

The device is enclosed in a bright white plastic case and is a small desktop size, measuring 8”W x 6”D x 1.2”H.  It is passively cooled and silent.  The front of the device has its Ethernet port and status indicator lights, shown in Figure 1.

MBR900 Front panel

Figure 1: MBR900 front panel

The MBR900 has a power connector and switch, a 10/100 WAN port, 4 10/100 LAN ports, and its wireless antennas on the back of the device, shown in Figure 2.

MBR900 rear panel

Figure 2: MBR900 rear panel

Inside the case is the motherboard shown in Figure 3. The CPU is a 200Mhz Ubicom IP5100U. Other construction details can be found in Tim's New to the Charts article.

MBR900 board

Figure 3: MBR900 board

What makes the MBR900 different is its support for 3G/4G USB Modems.  There is a USB port on the side of the device for connecting a wide array of WWAN (wireless wide area network) modems from various carriers.  In Figure 4, you can see a Virgin Mobile 3G Modem (Ovation MC760 by Novatel Wireless) connected to the side of the MBR900.

MBR900 with USB modem

Figure 4: MBR900 with USB modem

Configuration

When I look at the menus of the MBR900, I get a sense of déjà vu.  Cradlepoint and D-Link have very similar menu structures.  Tim mentions in the New to the Charts article that the CPU on the MBR900 is the same as the CPU in the Dlink DIR-628.  When you take a look at their menus, you see they share more than just hardware. 

Figure 5 shows a screen shot of the status page from the MBR900 on the left and the status page from the DIR-628 on the right.  Other than slight color differences, they are nearly identical in content, layout, and functionality.

MBR900 vs. D-Link DIR-628 admin screens

Figure 5: MBR900 vs. D-Link DIR-628 admin screens

As the menu structure is so similar to common D-Link devices, I found the MBR900 quite easy to configure.  There are 6 menus across the top, with 4-15 submenus, listed in Table 1.

MBR900 Admin menu tree

Table 1: MBR900 Admin menu tree

The Help menu, shown in the far right column, doesn't have any submenus listed.  However, clicking the help menu produces a complete set of documentation for all the MBR900's configurations, organized in the same manner as the GUI.

One configuration weakness, though, is that many changes to the router require a reboot.  Changing the settings for time, changing the firewall to allow ping from internet, setting up email information to send logs, selecting the option for new firmware notification, and enabling/disabling web content filtering are examples of configurations that require a reboot of the router.  Fortunately, reboots are relatively quick, taking between 40-60 seconds to complete.




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