Can you run your home Wi-fi off a 4G Dongle?

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What do you do if you’re one of the unlucky few who still don’t get access to high-speed broadband? Up until recently my parents were receiving between 1 and 2 mbps – and paying a small fortune for the privilege.

But with a brand new house build to play with we had the chance to try and do something about it – and so begins our big experiment. Can we get rid of BT and their expensive, slow and unreliable line?

The Options

  • Broadband phone line (approx. 1-3mbps)
  • 4G (approx 15-20mbps)
  • Satellite (up to 25mbps)

Each has upsides and downsides, so what we need is to be flexible – so in theory we can trial one option and then move to another option if it doesn’t work.

The Router

To make sure we have that flexibility I’ve picked a Draytek 2860 – with 4 dedicated WAN ports, including two USB ports, we’ll be able to run an ADSL line, VDSL line, USB Dongle and hopefully anything that Satellite might throw at it. Easy.

Ethernet

The house is also being fitted with Category 7 ethernet cables and ports throughout, so we’ll have flexibility on access points and the option to hardwire key bits of gear. This will also mean the router can be moved around depending on the source.

Wireless

Somewhat separate to the experiment. I’ve opted for Apple’s wireless gear for the access points. They talk to each other nicely, making the hand off from one AP to another smoother. Also my parents almost exclusively use Apple – so they’ll have access to Airport Utility to troubleshoot the wireless if they ever need to. Initially an Airport Extreme will sit in the centre of the house with an Airport Express in the garage to extend the wifi to the office over there. These will both be hardwired.

4G

So, first up is 4G – we can get a rolling monthly contract – plug it into the Draytek and test the theory. These USB dongles aren’t built for this sort of thing, but the Draytek will be doing all the hard work, handling the DHCP, DNS etc… That being said, going in I’m not overly confident.

Initially the setup looked like it just wasn’t going to work. Vodafone is the provider of choice – we know their signal is good, and they are the only network I could find providing an USB 4G dongle as opposed to a Mi-Fi or a 3G dongle. All their literature insists that you need to install drivers on to the machine to use it… this could be an issue.

OK, so a quick google and I found the default settings for a Vodafone SIM, connect to the Draytek and boom – we have internet. Time to test it for basic speed – 16mbps straight off the bat and around 10 on the upload speed. A great improvement over BT’s line speed.

It may not be super-fast fibre optic broadband, but the ping is decent, and pages load promptly – it’s definitely a better experience than the broadband. Even with 6 people in the house (6 smart phones, 3 laptops, Sonos etc…) the speed was great. We had no drop-outs and the speed was consistent and reliable.

Data Usage

The most data I could get from Vodafone is 50GB a month. And that just isn’t going to cut it. We tested the dongle starting from Christmas Eve – with three times as many of us in the house as there normally would be. We were streaming music over the Sonos constantly. But we didn’t watch Netflix, Amazon or any video streaming service for that matter. We all updated and downloaded apps, and used the internet as we normally would.

So how much data did we use? Well it’s hard to say, because the Vodafone app only works when you’re using it as you’re supposed to. But, the Draytek kept its own count for me. It reckoned we used around 3GB in the first 17 hours. Which works out around 125GB a month. 2.5 times what we could get hold of.

The Solution

The experiment is still running with just my parents in the house now, I want to see how far they get into the month before they run out of data.

But there might be a way round this. The Dongle is capable of roaming, and I’m hoping that by bypassing the driver / software I might be able to stick any SIM card in there and use the data – so a £25 a month unlimited data package from a variety of networks might do the trick.

My next step is to stick my own, normal phone contract SIM in there, re-configure and test. If that works, then we’ll have to move away from Vodafone who don’t actually offer any unlimited data packages. Sorry Vodafone.

The Verdict

So, Can you run your home Wi-fi off a 4G dongle? Yes. There’s just a few little niggles to iron out! The plan from Vodafone worked out at £25 a month for a rolling monthly deal – Considerably cheaper than any of BT’s offerings. It’s not as fast as my home internet (80mbps fibre optic) but it feels close enough for everyday browsing and will comfortably steam HD video. I’d say this has been a great success!

Thinking of trying this at home? Or just want more details on any of the elements I used? Drop me a comment below!

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