I’ve purchased a USB dongle acting as a WiFI & 4G cellular router with a generic name “4G LTE WiFi Modem” and listed as “4G LTE WiFi Hotspot Wireless Router USB Dongle 150Mbps Modem Stick Sim Card” on the online store (Lazada) I bought it from.
It’s a 3-in-1 device that works as a 4G USB dongle connected to a PC or laptop, a 4G USB WiFi cellular router/hotspot, and a USB flash drive when adding a MicroSD card.
4G performance is limited to 150Mbps DL, 50Mbps UL, while WiFi only supports up to 72 Mbps using 802.11n 2.4GHz WiFi. That’s perfectly fine for my use case, as the plan is to use it as a standalone WiFi hotspot with an unlimited 10 Mbps SIM card, and in locations with low population densities so 5GHz WiFi is not a must.
The USB dongle ships with a user manual in English mainly explaining how to install the driver when connecting it to a Windows 10 computer. Something we’ll not need here.
The bottom cover has credential information for the WiFi access point (SSID: 4G-UFI-XX, password: 1234567890) and the web interface used for configuration( username: admin, password: admin).
The MAC address prefix (381C23) reveals the manufacturer should be Hilan Technology CO.,LTD, a company based in Shenzhen, China.
Let’s open the device to check out the design and main components. We just need to remove three screws before popping up the two plastic shells.
It’s a Qualcomm design, but the markings for the main chip are all but gone. The memory chip should be SK Hynix H8ACS0PE0MBR-46M.
The other side of the board comes will plenty of passive components, the SIM card and MicroSD card sockets, and Qualcomm PM8028 for the power section of the circuit.
I also inserted the USB dongle into my PC:
[22083.509357] usb 1-2.3: new full-speed USB device number 6 using xhci_hcd
[22083.729433] usb 1-2.3: not running at top speed; connect to a high speed hub
[22083.747433] usb 1-2.3: New USB device found, idVendor=05c6, idProduct=f000, bcdDevice= 0.00
[22083.747444] usb 1-2.3: New USB device strings: Mfr=3, Product=2, SerialNumber=4
[22083.747448] usb 1-2.3: Product: Qualcomm CDMA Technologies MSM
[22083.747451] usb 1-2.3: Manufacturer: Qualcomm, Incorporated
[22083.747454] usb 1-2.3: SerialNumber: 1234567890ABCDEF
[22083.852761] usb-storage 1-2.3:1.0: USB Mass Storage device detected
[22083.852952] scsi host2: usb-storage 1-2.3:1.0
[22083.853064] usbcore: registered new interface driver usb-storage
[22083.857433] usbcore: registered new interface driver uas
[22084.867261] scsi 2:0:0:0: CD-ROM 4G MMC Storage 2.31 PQ: 0 ANSI: 2
[22084.870217] sr 2:0:0:0: [sr0] scsi-1 drive
[22084.870223] cdrom: Uniform CD-ROM driver Revision: 3.20
[22084.893926] sr 2:0:0:0: Attached scsi CD-ROM sr0
[22084.894049] sr 2:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg2 type 5
We can see the Vendor ID is 05C6, the product ID is F000. There are some references on the OpenWrt website, about people getting a 4G USB dongle working with an OpenWrt router, not running OpenWrt directly on it. Nevertheless, at least one of those posts mentions it’s based on a Qualcomm MDM9200 platform.
Let’s try it out. I’ve inserted a nanoSIM card through a SIM card adapter…
and connected the device directly to a 5V USB power adapter.
I could not get an Internet connection the first time, only WiFi, as the SIM card was not detected. Removing it and re-inserting it did the trick, and after connecting to the 4G UFI_XXX SSID, I immediately got Internet access, no configuration required at all.
That’s awesome. But let’s check out the web interface going to HTTP://192.168.100.1…
Not quite a modem responsive design web interface, and it’s a pain to use on mobile, so let’s switch to a desktop web browser instead.
Copyright “2014 Qualcomm”. This thing may run an old firmware from a Qualcomm SDK, and they did not modify anything. Don’t expect much security from the dongle, and it may be easy to hack. Let’s login.
There are five main items with Home, 4G Settings, Wi-Fi Settings, Station, and Help Information. The Home section shows the list of clients and data statistics.
Better change the admin password before checking out the 4G settings…Now that’s really odd because I’m based in Thailand and connect with a DTAC SIM card, while here it shows the network as being “China Unicom (3gnet)”. The dongle will probably automatically acquire the right network name and APN, but not update it in the settings.
As one should expect, the interface will allow us to change the Network Name (SSID), as well as the password. After changing both, clicking Apply and Reset, it would still reconnect to the old SSID, but removing and reinserting the dongle work, and I could use the new credentials.
The reasons I decided to get this 4G USB dongle and WiFI hotspot are that it’s small and cheap (around $14 shipped), and I was not satisfied with the performance stability of using my Android phone as a WiFi hotspot, and installing my SIM card into a PinePhone to use it as a mobile hotspot proved to provide good performance when it works, but 4G would disconnect regularly requiring a reboot, or several to get a connection.
As already mentioned, I have a 10 Mbps data plan, so I would have assumed the 4G USB WiFi dongle to reach 9 to 10 Mbps, but it’s a disappointment.
Moving the USB dongle in the same room seems to improve things a bit, but again short of expectations.
I’m now at home where I mostly use Fiber-to-the-Home (300/100Mpbs), but I’d usually get around 9-10 Mbps with Speedtest using my Android phone in another house where I don’t have broadband Internet. So for comparison, let’s install the SIM card into the phone, set it up as a hotspot, and run Speedtest from my computer again.
The results are better, although the upload speed is under 4 Mbps. Note that results vary quite a lot between runs.
[Update: August 26, 2021. I’ve now moved to another location with a better cellular signal. 96% instead of 57% as shown on Pinephone, and ran Speedtest again with the “4G LTE WiFi modem” router with the same SIM card, and results are pretty good.
It’s maxing out the speed of the SIM card. So it looks like it’s just the dongle does not handle a relatively weak cellular signal well, at least compared to a phone, but when the signal is strong it performs as expected.]
The good things about the “4G LTE WiFi Modem” USB adapter are that it’s basically plug-and-play, and when the cellular signal is good, it works as expected, and is just as good as a phone. Its low price is also a plus but note that it runs an outdated OS and performance is underwhelming when the cellular signal is not that strong, compared to running the hotspot in a phone at the same location. The same device is sold on Aliexpress for $11.99 with a fair amount of reviews, most of which are positive. But it looks like people are using it as a USB modem rather than a WiFi hotspot.
Jean-Luc started CNX Software in 2010 as a part-time endeavor, before quitting his job as a software engineering manager, and starting to write daily news, and reviews full time later in 2011.