Sierra Wireless 4G/LTE pocket WiFi review
While scouring the web for good gadget deals, my friend came across this rather inexpensive 4G/LTE pocket Wi-Fi from Sierra Wireless/NetGear that’s being sold for only Php5,000 at Sulit. But apparently, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
This pocket WiFi is known by many names, as is the case for most devices being sold in the US, especially if it’s adopted by one of the major telcos there. Its official model name is AirCard® 754S Mobile Hotspot. It was initially a part of Sierra Wireless’ AirCard portfolio, but is now being retailed by NetGear after it acquired the entire lineup from Sierra.
Design and Construction
Compared to the other Pocket WiFis that we’ve used in the past, the AirCard® 754S has a more premium build, or at least that’s what the impression it gave us the moment we lift it from its box. The glossy front panel, which houses its 1.7-inch display, is properly complemented by rubbery matte finish that coats the majority of the device.
The sides are slightly tapered which makes it easier to pick up from a flat surface. The maker also gave its flanks some ridges which not only add a touch of style to the whole facade, but also makes the device easier to grip.
The top panel houses the fairly large Power button, accompanied by Mute/Sound toggle switch. Meanwhile, the micro-USB port is placed at the bottom and sits in between a pair of antenna ports tucked underneath a rubber cap.
There’s an engraved “Sierra Wireless” logo at the top of the battery compartment door. Slide it open and it will reveal the AirCard® 754S’ 1800mAh power pack with the full-sized SIM card slot below it.
Being marketed in the US, one of the top concerns that I had when I saw this being sold online is if it’ll work on our local LTE frequency. I already knew that there’s a big possibility that LTE won’t work after seeing its specs sheet that the only supported LTE frequencies are 700/1700MHz. But my friend insisted to give it a shot, so I decided to meet the seller to check the item myself.
During our “meet-up”, I tried two LTE-enabled SIM cards and both were immediately recognized by the device. Next, I went on to test if it can operate in our local LTE frequencies by running a bunch of SpeedTest. To get a baseline, I ran the test on the LTE handset first which had my Globe SIM inside. I then put the same SIM in the AirCard® 754S.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a definitive result as the average speed (1.5Mbps DL – 400Kbps UL) I got was too low to convince me that I am indeed on LTE. However, it’s worth noting that both devices displayed 4G on the signal during the tests which led me to think that it may just be a location-related concern. That I said, I still went on to purchase the item, hoping that my friend was right about the product.
As soon I got home (where I’m certain that I have LTE signal), I immediately ran a SpeedTest using my PC while connected to the mobile hotspot with the same Globe SIM that I’ve used during our transaction. After that I switch the SIM to an LTE handset, enabled the wireless tethering and did same test. I did the same routine for 4 hours, testing each device once every hour.
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Much like the first test, the first three results were a bit inconclusive, as far as the DL speed is concerned. However, I noticed that I’m getting significantly higher upload speeds on the LTE handset as compared to the AirCard® 754S. That trend went on until I reached the 4th hour mark where there’s already a considerable discrepancy between the two device’s DL and UL speed.
The AirCard® 754S’ 1800mAh battery was able to give us 4 hours of mileage on a single full charge. We were able to use it for two full hours before last week’s Google press event, finished the entire live streamed conference and still have something left for an hour’s worth of casual browsing.
Sierra Wireless AirCard® 754S specs:
Network compatibility: LTE, HSPA+, HSPA, UMTS, EDGE & GPRS
Supported Frequency bands:
• LTE 700/1700MHz (AWS)
• UMTS 850/1900/2100MHz
• EDGE/GPRS/GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
• GPS 1575MHz
Max. Uplink speed: 50Mbps
Max. Downlink speed: 100Mbps
1.77-inch colored LCD, 160x129px
Micro-SD card slot
Supported OS: Microsoft XP and up, Mac OS v10.5 and up & Ubuntu Linux 9.04
1800mAh replaceable battery
Dimension: 57 x 96 x 16.5 mm
It’s such a shame that the AirCard® 754S, with its well-constructed body, just turned out to be just another pocket WiFi that is only capable of HSPA+ speed, for our country at least. Unless you’re planning to use the device in a country that has 700/1700MHz frequency or Smart/Globe just decided to add such frequency on their arsenal, we think that this pocket WiFi just isn’t worth your dough.