Emma Okonji examines the quality and strength of mobile data devices like routers and MiFi used in driving internet connectivity during this new normal when the demand for data connectivity is high, occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19
As voice services reached their peak, data, especially mobile data services have become the new resource and the new oil that will drive economies. The global COVID-19 pandemic has also thrown open the relevance of mobile data at a time when individuals, businesses, government and all sectors of the economy, need data connectivity to stay online and connect online.
At a time like this, where majority of businesses and government agencies are getting connected to the internet through data connectivity, the data service providers are jostling to have strategic edge over their competitors.
When Mobile Networks Operators (MNOs) began to offer mobile phone communication services, the battle for market share was fierce, and was mainly characterized by voice communication services. At that time, beginning from 2001, MTN seemed to have captured the larger chunk of the voice market, with a current market share of 39.61 per cent, followed by Globacom with a current market share of 27.12 per cent, and Airtel with a current market share 26.83 per cent, and next is 9mobile, the fourth telecoms operator offering GSM services, with a current market share of 6.37 per cent.
It first started with 2G technology and later advanced to 2.5G, 3G, before Smile pioneered 4G LTE, which came with higher speed of connectivity, higher download and upload speeds. It also supported higher definition video either from TV or from using video conferencing.
When it got to the peak, mobile communications started shifting towards data, a development that raised the demand for data services, over and above voice services. The shift compelled data service providers to start offering robust data services, with lots of mouth-watering promotional products and services.
The effectiveness of their services, however depend on the robust mobile data devices powered by the best technology, through which data services were offered.
4G LTE data services
Data connectivity could be enabled on different platforms, but on the 4G network, the Long Term Evolution (LTE), also known as 4G LTE is the standard set for high-speed wireless communication for smartphones, tablets, netbooks, notebooks and wireless hotspots terminals in Nigeria. 4G LTE is more than 10 times faster than 3G and 4G LTE averages up to 1,000Megabits per second (Mbps) while actual use may be in the region of 100 Mbps.
While Smile, Spectranet, Swift and iPNx were at the forefront in offering “4G LTE” in Nigeria, mobile network operators (MNOs) such as Airtel, Glo, MTN, ntel, joined the race, much later, a development that later deepened data service offerings in the country.
But in all of these, Smile continued to demonstrate its leadership role as market leader in data service offerings in many ways, based on the sophisticated technology and equipment like the Mi-Fi and Router. Among the core Internet Services Providers (ISPs) offering data services on the 4G LTE platform, Smile has a wider coverage area with seamless connectivity, spanning across Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kaduna, Onitsha, Benin and Asaba, and competing favourably with the MNOs in coverage and customer reach.
Smile became the first to launch first commercial 4G/LTE network in West Africa, when it launched in Lagos, Nigeria in March 2014 and has continued to build on that lead. Others such as Spectranet, Swift, iPNX, MTN, GLo, Airtel and ntel, have since followed with one version of 4G LTE or the other.
Smile is not only the first to launch 4GLTE, it was also the first true 4G LTE service provider in Nigeria in a country were many providers appeared for many years, to be offering data on 4GLTE.
Thus, the rollout of the Smile 4GLTE network has had a significant impact on the user experience in Nigeria, more so as it continues to update its technical capabilities and data plan. Its 4GLTE offers faster download and upload speeds that considerably improve internet experience.
4G LTE technology
The speed of connectivity, coupled with the upload and download capacities, is largely depended on the kind of technology deployed and the sophistication of the equipment used in deploying the technology.
The quality of mobile data service is majorly dependent on the product types with particular reference to Routers and MIFIs, which are the gadgets from which signals are transmitted to address network connectivity that will meet customers’ needs.
A detailed comparative analysis of the operations of various mobile data service providers shows that Smile’s Mi-Fi pocket-sized wireless router that is 4G LTE compliant, connects devices such as Laptops, smartphones and tablets seamlessly to their LTE network. The Mi-Fi and Router equipment used by Smile is far ahead of the quality of the equipment used for mobile data service offerings by other ISPs.
4G LTE equipment
Routers and Mi-Fi are of various types of connectivity equipment used by mobile dat service providers that account for their performance levels. For instance, high standard 4G LTE equipment depends on the model, item height and width, wireless type and depth of the Routers or the Mi-Fi
Again their weight, control, power supply, user connection, operating system (OS), and number of connections, range, modem speed, frequency, security and antennae capacity, determine the strength of the equipment to deliver quality service.
A mobile Wi-Fi, allows users to connect multiple devices like smartphones and laptops to a single 4G data SIM and get online anywhere at any time as long as you have a steady telecom signal.
Unlike smartphone’s data capabilities, Mi-Fi and Routers are designed with strong signal capabilities to the point that the device can rarely slip to 2G unless in a remote area. A Mi-Fi simply implements a minimal router interface unlike the rest of the two routers.
On the other hand Wi-Fi router, is a mid-sized console that usually mounted in a single stable place or corner pumping strong signals to all connected devices.
Although the device is relatively bigger as compared to its mobile version, the gadget implements multiple features that are simple. Mi-Fi can’t pull off for a stable internet connection.
However, in most cases, the device is never gifted with a SIM slot as compared to the Mi-Fi router but instead, distribute internet connectivity to connected devices from a mother wired router.
A comparison of the routers of four data services provider gives an indication of the leading providers of mobile data service in Nigeria and helps customers make an informed choice.
Between Routers, MiFi and Wi-Fi
Router is a device that enables wireless network and serves as an access point in a local area network, while the Wi-Fi is a facility that allows computers, smartphones and other devices to be connected to the internet, but MiFi is a brand of wireless router that acts as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.
Router devices, one of the equipment used in delivering mobile data services, comes in different model. While Airtel deploys the Huawei B310 model with 50mm in height, 88mm width, 28mm depth and 300g weight, Smile deploys the SM-B90 model with 200mm in height, 157mm width, 56mm depth and 483g weight. Glo deploys routers with 58mm height, 97mm width, 18mm depth and 77.1g weight, while Spectranet deploys routers with 58mm height, 97mm width, 18mm depth and 77.1g weight.
All the mobile data service providers offer wireless routers 802.11bgn and same control of power button, reset button, and WPS button.
The Airtel router box uses SIM card that supports hotspot 4G, dongle 4G and router 4G. The Smile router box uses LTE CPE, DC/AC power adapter, UK RJ45 cable, external normal antennae for up to four PCs, and 3m external antennae.
All mobile data service providers use power supply of DC 12 V, 1A, but Smile routers come with 5,200mAh in-built battery.
While the Airtel router Operating System (OS) supports Windows 7, Windows 8, Window 8.1, and Windows 10, it also supports Mac OS X 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10 and 10.11. The Smile router OS supports Windows XP, SP3, Windows Vista, Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 and Mac OS. Glo and Spectranet routers OS both support Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, but do not support Windows RT, but support Mac OS X 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10 and 10.11.
For other features of the routers, the Airtel router comes with full strength to support connectivity, using the Huawei B310 Wi-Wi model, while Smile uses Internet Protocol (IP) pass through port forwarding, remorse access and uses DHCP for time setting. It comes with high speed allocation, Max filtering and it uses USB port and cloud hotspot compatibility via developed user interface.
For the number of connections, the Airtel router connect up to 32 Wi-Fi and 1 LAN devices, while Smile router can connect up to 32 devices, four LAN ports and 1WAN port. The Glo and Spectranet routers can connect up to 32 devices. All the mobile data service providers offer router services of up to 100 LAN/WAN, with frequency of 2.4GHz. While Airtel router comes with internal antenna, the Smile router comes with four antennae, two for Wi-Fi and two for LTE. The Glo and Spectranet routers have built-in LTE/UMTS/GSM and WLAN with high gain antenna.
In terms of speed of connectivity, the Airtel router operates at 150 Mbps speed while Smile operates at 150Mbps speed for its LTE TDD cat 6 and 220 Mbps for LTE TDD cat 4. Glo router operates at 150Mbps speed, while Spectranet router comes with superior signal quality and higher signal strength.
For the security around the different routers, the Airtel router supports wpa, wpa2, and wpa2-psk, but Smile router supports wpa, wpa2, and wpa2-psk, in addition to Web URL, Filter, Firewall and parental control. The Spectranet router has in-built URL web filters for website restriction. For the capacity of the router antennae, Airtel and Smile and Glo routers are Omni Directional, while Spectranet router has high gain directional antennae.
For the Mi-Fi equipment for mobile data service offerings, Airtel uses the E5573Cs-609 model with 4:35 volts and 77.1g weight, Smile uses the SM-MF833z model with 5 Volts 1A and 80g weight, Glo uses Huawei E5773cs-933 model with 4.35 volts and 77.1g weight, while Spectranet uses the MR920W model with different range of volts and 77.1g weight. The average standby battery life of Airtel Wi-Fi is seven days with minimum charging period of two hours, while Smile Wi-Fi battery life is 12.5 days with a charging time of four hours. Both Glo and Spectranet Wi-Fi have battery lives of seven days each.
The components of Airtel Wi-Fi are device, battery and cable, but that of Smile are device, battery, USB, cable, charger, adaptor, keyring and strap. Glo and Spectranet Wi-Fi contain device, battery, and cable.
The Airtel’s Wi-Fi OS supports Windows 7-8.1 and Windows 10, but does not support Windows RT. It also supports Mac OS X 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10 and 10.11 with latest upgrades. Smile Wi-Fi supports Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 and Mac. The Glo Wi-Fi supports Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and Windows 10, but does not support RT, but it also supports Mac OS X 10.7. 10.8, 10.9, 10.10and 10.11. The Spectranet Wi-Fi supports Windows 7, 8 10 and Windows XP and Vista, including Linux and Mac OS.
For other features, the Smile Wi-Fi has the ability to hide and display password on LCD screen, ability to view data usage statistics of each connected device, ability to show the upload and download stats for each device. It shows the IP address of connected device, shows the duration of connection of each device, allows the customer block connected devices as may be required. It scrambled Security password per device for both Wi-Fi and the web user interface. It gives access to network parameters (PCI ,SINR, RSRP, RSRQ, E-ARFCN). It has water damage indicator and charging cut off in built, and a keyring and strap that helps to reduce damage via falls and as a value add.
The Airtel Wi-Fi can connect up to 10 devices and supports USB tethering, while the Smile Wi-Fi supports between eight and ten users and it also supports USB tethering. The Glo Wi-Fi can connect up to 15 devices, while Spectranet Wi-Fi can support up to 10 devices.
The Wi-Fi frequency for Smile is 2.4GHz and it comes with ZTE chipset. The Airtel, Glo and Spectranet Wi-Fi come with in-built antennae, but Smile Wi-Fi has internal Omni directional antenna.
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) like Globacom, MTN, Airtel, and 9mobile, including telecoms companies like Smile Communications and ntel, up to core Internet Service Provides (ISPs) like Spectranet, Swift Networks, IPNX, among others, offer fixed and mobile data services to their customers at different pricing through different device specifications that give customers opportunity to make choices on the different data bundles to subscribe to, depending on the cost of data bundle, speed of connectivity and the flexibility of connectivity from the different devices.
Smile Communications, which is known for data and voice over 4G LTE offerings, has both the Router and MiFi devices, which come in different models, through which it offers mobile data services to customers.
According to Kumar, while the Router device can connect up to between 16 to 32 users the same time without dwindling in optimal service delivery, its Mi-Fi devices come with LCD screen to show signal and battery strengths. The total cost of the Smile Router, including an unlimited monthly bundle plan, is N34,800, while that of the MiFi device with unlimited monthly bundle plan is N14,500. The Smile superFast 4G LTE internet is available in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Abuja, Benin City, Kaduna, Asaba and Onitsha.
According to Kumar, Mi-Fi devices has the ability to hide and display password on LCD screen for data usage security and to support customer privacy preferences for their connection. Customers can also view data usage statistics of each connected device, as the MiFi shows the upload and download stats for each device, as well as the Internet Protocol (IP) address of connected device.
“It shows the duration of connection of each device and allows the customer block connected devices as may be required and provides security password per device for both wifi and the web user,” Kumar said.
The Chief Executive Officer of Spectranet, a core ISP operator, Mr. Ajay Awasthi, said with as low as N3,000, customers could enjoy good data offerings from the Spectranet data plans from its unified value plans. According to him, Spectranet offers Blue Freedom MiFi, Evo MiFi, Flyt, CPE and Ace MiFi that could connect as much as 10 users at a time, with a wide coverage area network in towns and cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Songo and Ibadan.
Globacom, one of the MNOs that offer mobile data service, has various range of mobile service offerings that are available at affordable prices. According to Information on its websites about its mobile data offerings, Globacom has daily, weekly and monthly mobile data plans, as low as N50 per day, N500 weekly and N1,000 monthly mobile data plan.
The Glo 4G MiFi can connect up to 15 devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptop, desktop, in one single connection. The Glo MiFi, which is used to offer mobile data service, also adapts itself to offices and events venues, being able to beam the Glo 4G wireless internet signals over a wide expanse of space. The Glo MiFi comes with fast browsing speed at a cost of N16,000 for the MiFi device and unlimited monthly data plan.
It has large battery size that can work for over five hours when fully charged. All other MNOs offer mobile data services through their customised MiFI, which is a mobile WiFi device for internet connectivity at high speed upload and download.
From the technical indicators, based on the parameters used in the comparative analysis and assessment, the ratings of the four mobile data providers under review shows that in terms of the strength of the different router and Wi-Fi equipment deployed by the service providers, Smile is 71 per cent, Airtel 68 per cent, Glo 64 per cent and Spectranet 63.5 per cent. Evidently, the Smile 4GLTE router capabilities, coupled with its competitive data plan, network coverage area, and customer relations and service, has the edge in so many ways, offering the customer the best choice for much needed data experience.