5th February 2021
How do Huawei, HTC, D-Link and TP-Link’s 2021 range of 4G and 5G routers compare, from budget to high end models?
Last years winner, the Huawei B618, has been superseded by newer and more powerful models. In 2019 it stood out as head and shoulders above the rest, but now there are a range of models that can equal it’s performance for a lower price.
This time around the routers have been are shortlisted into three categories depending on whether you need a no-frills basic model, or state of the art 5G for 2021; or the sweet spot of price and performance in between…
|Model||4G down/up||LTE Cat||Aerial||Wi-Fi||LAN|
|D-Link DWR-921||150/50||4||SMA||Wi-Fi 4||4x 100|
|TP-Link TL-MR6400||150/50||4||SMA||Wi-Fi 4||4x 100|
|Huawei B311||150/50||4||SMA||Wi-Fi 4||1x 1000|
|D-Link DWR-953||150/50||4||SMA||Wi-Fi 5||4x 1000|
|Huawei B525||300/50||6||SMA||Wi-Fi 5||4x 1000|
|Huawei B535||300/100||7||SMA||Wi-Fi 5||4x 1000|
|TP-Link AC1200||300/50||6||SMA||Wi-Fi 5||4x 1000|
|Huawei B818||1566/150||19||TS9||Wi-Fi 5||2x 1000|
|Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2||3600/250||5G||n/a||Wi-Fi 6 Plus||2x 1000|
|HTC 5G Hub||2630/287||5G||n/a||Wi-Fi 5||1x 1000|
1) Entry Level
If you’ve landed on this page because you’re just looking for the best way to get online without needing a home phone line, these entry level models are the best place to start.
The higher priced models may offer more in the way of home networking performance and a wider range of configuration options, but many people won’t actually need these features. In the real world the 4G performance will probably be very close between all but the very high end models.
For basic mobile internet access you could also consider a battery powered USB device, or a smartphone providing an internet hotspot. However, these methods have limitations that make them better suited for temporary or backup internet access only.
The models on this page are all mains powered and are far better suited for full time use. They also allow you to fit an external 4G antenna which can be helpful if you only get low signal strength where you live.
They should generally be available for under £100.
The routers in the mid range category have higher performance and features than the basic models above. They have higher maximum download speeds (4G signal etc permitting). You also get much faster 802.11ac WiFi and Gigabit wired Ethernet.
They range between £100 – £200.
These premium routers represent the current state of the art for 4G and 5G internet routers. Prices haven’t been taken into account for this selection – it’s only about finding the best performance available.
|D-Link DWR-921||TP-Link TL-MR6400||Huawei B311||D-Link DWR-953
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 4||Wi-Fi 4||Wi-Fi 4||Wi-Fi 5|
|LAN||4x 100||4x 100||1x 1000||4x 1000|
Affiliate links / prices updated 2021-06-18
The DWR-921 dates from several years back and this is reflected in the limited wired and wireless transfer speeds. However it is one of the cheapest routers here and if you just want mobile internet access it could still serve you very well.
The MR6400 is TP-Link’s entry level 4G router. As with the D-Link DWR-921 it only offers 100Mbps wired networking and WiFi4 wireless. Wi-Fi4 is slower than the newer standards to begin with, and also it’s more likely to suffer with interference from neighbouring wireless networks which can reduce speed even further.
TP-Link are a respected brand though and if you are only need a device to connect to and share an internet connection this model should have everything needed at a budget price point.
Supplied by Three in the UK under the name “HomeFi”, the Huawei 311 is also available to be bought online without having to sign up to a contract.
It’s a fairly basic Cat4 router meaning a maximum download of 150Mbps and 50Mbps upload. It’s available for around the £60 mark though and is the only router at this price that comes with 1,000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet. Only one port though compared to the others that have four.
The 300MBps Wi-Fi networking is normal on these lower end devices.
The D-Link DWR-953 is only a Cat4 device which gives the same 4G upload and download as the other models. For day to day browsing this should be perfectly fine, unless you want to download large amounts on a regular basis and so went with an unlimited 4G contract. Generally most 4G contracts still have much lower monthly data caps than fixed-line services (usually 15GB – 50GB a month).
The DWR-953 stands out in this category with four Gigabit ports and much better 802.11ac Wi-Fi5 wireless. If you want a proper router for a more serious home network but perhaps only use the internet data fairly lightly, then it offers everything the more expensive mid and high end models here, but at a significantly lower price.
Recommendations – Entry Level
If you want the best technology, the D-Link DWR-953 offers much better networking abilities with it’s Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5. However, it is also the highest priced router in the entry level category, and is equaled on 4G performance by all the other models.
The runner up is Huawei B311. Usually the cheapest of the four, it also benefits from a Gigabit wired network port.
Affiliate links / prices updated 2021-06-18
The B525 offers a good spec with no weak points at a great price. With real world 4G speeds still only in double figures, the solid 300/50 Mbps download/upload is unlikely to be a limitation any time soon.
On the networking front, it’s great to have four proper Gigabit (1,000Mbps) wired network ports, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi5.
The B535 is provided by the Three network in the UK under the a name “HomeFi Plus“. It’s also available unlocked as a stand-alone purchase from Amazon for use on the network of your choice. It stands out as the only 4G router here that offers 100Mbps upload speeds. Downloads speeds are the usual “up to” 300Mbps.
The B535 offers the newer Wi-Fi5 standard (802.11ac) wireless networking and four Gigabit wired network ports. Up to 64 devices can be connected on Wi-Fi. This level of networking performance should be all that you’ll need for at least the next couple of years.
TP-Link AC1200 4G+ Cat6
Having recently dropped in price, the TP-Link AC1200 offers great value and performance. Spec wise, it’s too close to call between the AC1200 and Huawei’s B525. Both offer 300/50 4G speeds, 802.11ac WiFi and four Gigabit ports. These TP-Link routers are excellent value and they’re frequently discounted to around £100 on Amazon.
The B818 could be seen as the B618 but on steroids. Classed as LTE CAT19, it offers theoretical 4G downloads of up to 1,600 Mbps and uploads of 150 Mbps – both around three or more times higher than the other models here.
On the networking side the two Gigabit ports and 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 should be sufficient.
In Germany the B818 is supplied by Vodafone where it goes by the same “GigaCube CAT19”. There Vodafone offers up to 500Mbps download on their network and real world tests have shown download speeds around 300Mbps.
In the UK however, the 4G Vodafone GigaCube is still the Huawei B528 which has a maximum down/up of 300/50 Mbps.
The B818’s selling point is it’s top of the range 4G specification. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be used to completely replace a fixed-line broadband service, and unless you live in an area with very poor 4G reception, it may in fact be faster than some FTTC cable connections.
Recommendations – Mid Range
If your priority is 4G performance then the Huawei B18 stands out as the clear winner. It also offers excellent wired and wireless networking speeds.
Note though that some of the other models offer the same wired and WiFi performance for less. You could save a lot of money and get similar real world performance from the B525 or TP-Link AC1200.
Affiliate links / prices updated 2021-06-18
Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2
In locations where 5G isn’t yet available, the Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2 should still match the fastest 4G router here with downloads up to 1,600 Mbps and upload of 150 Mbps.
While the upload seems low in comparison it should be noted that previous gen 4G only routers usually only manage 50Mbps, so the 5G-ready device is still quite an improvement.
Probably the most headline grabbing aspect of the CPE Pro 2 is the theoretical speed increase over 4G. While in reality this will be very network dependent, the 5G CPE Pro offers the following performance potential:-
- Download – up to 3,600 Mbps *
- Upload – up to 250 Mbps
* “Data from HUAWEI laboratories. The actual speed may vary depending on network conditions and internet data plans.”
Most of the UKs 5G networks speeds seem to offer around 150 – 200 Mbps download in the real world. This amounts to around 4.5 times faster than 4G across the UK.
Wi-Fi is the latest 802.11 AX3000 known as Wi-Fi6 Plus. This offers speeds up to 150% faster than the original CPE Pro’s Wi-Fi6, and four times that of 802.11ac along with much lower latency. Huawei claim a maximum transmission rate of 2,976Mbps, 30% better coverage and up to 128 connected devices.
As with the the B818 and original CPE Pro version 1, Gigabit Ethernet networking is included but limited to just two ports at the back.
HTC 5G Hub
Unlike Huawei’s 5G CPE Pro that is fairly traditional looking router, the HTC 5G Hub is more of a multi-function device.
Unique to the 5G Hub is the 5″ 1280×720 touch screen on the front of the unit.
The unit can play back up to 4K UHD video and audio in the following formats:-
- Video – 3gp, .mp4, .ts, .webm, .mkv
- Audio – 3gp, .mp4, .m4a, .aac, .ts, .flac, .mp3, .mid, .ogg, .mkv, .wav, .amr
Inside there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 8-core CPU. This runs the Android operating system (version 9). Apps can be downloaded and installed from the Google Play store.
There’s 4GB RAM, and file storage can be expanded up to 512GB with a microSD memory card.
A maximum of 20 devices can access the HTC Hub via WiFi making this an excellent option for providing a very fast mobile hot spot.
Recommendations – Premium
The Huawei 5G CPE Pro 2 is the performance winner here. It’s the fastest 4G router available as well as being 100% ready for whenever 5G goes live in your area. However the Cat19 Huawei B818 has recently dropped in price and offers similar 4G speed for around half the price. If you’re happy sticking with 4G for a while, the B818 it may be the one to go for.
4G Download / Upload Speed
All 4G devices are assigned an LTE UE category between 0 and 19, depending on their specification.
The budget models here are generally category 4 which means they all have a maximum download speed of 150Mbps and 50Mbps upload.
As the price increases you’ll find models higher up in the LTE category table. Download speeds here increase to the range of 300Mbps – 600Mbps, but uploads are still usually limited to 50Mbps.
Above this, even higher speeds are available but they don’t come cheap.
Currently 5G devices are not included under the UE-LTE categories. Generally though they should match Cat19 speeds when on 4G and nearly double this where 5G is available.
Of course these “theoretical” internet speeds are higher than you’ll usually reach in real world use. However, as long as you are not affected by a large number of people overloading the same cell tower, then a higher category device should still run faster than the lower category models.
All the routers here have at least 1 and usually 4 wired network (LAN) ports for connecting via Ethernet network cables. The cheaper models only offer “Fast Ethernet” which limits the connection to around 100Mbps (11MB/sec megabytes a second).
If you only need a router for internet access the above should be sufficient. However if you want to transfer files across multiple devices or perhaps store some files centrally on a NAS, then 100Mbps Ethernet will be a major bottleneck.
In these scenarios either pay the extra for a router with Gigabit ports, or as an alternative a separate Gigabit switch can give full 1,000Mbps transfers between devices while at the same time sharing access to the 4G router as an internet access point.
This column shows the Wi-Fi standard (802.11) and capabilities of the router. The best standard here is 802.11ac or 11ax – now renamed to Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6. All standards are backward compatible so older equipment can still connect to an 802.11ac network, but it will only run at the slower speed.
All routers here offer at least 802.11n on the 2.4GHz spectrum. This should give “up to” 144Mbps or 300Mbps depending on the channel width setting, distance from the router and possible interference from overlapping signals nearby. They are shown in the table as Wi-Fi 4.
All of the mid and high end routers have 802.11ac. Going forward this is named Wi-Fi 5. This is the far newer standard and combines both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels and can give speeds that theoretically surpass even Gigabit Ethernet. For maximum real word performance though I’d still go with wired Gigabit were possible.
If Wi-Fi transfer speeds are important to you, avoid Wi-Fi 4 and go for a model with Wi-Fi 5 or 6.
- 802.11n is Wi-Fi 4, max 300 Mbps
- 802.11ac is Wi-Fi 5, max 1200 Mbps
- 802.11ax is Wi-Fi 6, max 1700+ Mbps
One factor to bear in mind is whether the devices you’ll use to connect to your router support the faster standards. There’s little point (other than future proofing) paying extra for 1900Mbps 802.11ac if your PC / laptop / phone only work at 300Mbps 802.11g for example.
The inSSIDer software can be very helpful in displaying your networks signal strength and detecting other nearby networks which may be causing interference.
External Antenna Connection Type
Depending on your location, using your routers built in antenna may work fine. In lower signal areas though, attaching an external antenna can often make a big difference.
There are generally two types of connector for attaching an external antenna. SMA and TS9. Adapters are also available to convert between the two sizes of connectors.
We’ve gone into a little more detail on choosing an external 4G antenna here.
Prices updated on 2021-06-18. Affiliate links & images from Amazon Product Advertising API