Rollout: Cisco 3G Wireless WAN Card - InformationWeek

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06:30 PM
Sean Ginevan
Sean Ginevan

Rollout: Cisco 3G Wireless WAN Card

By adding ISR integration, Cisco moves its 3G HWIC to the head of the pack.

As cell towers blanket the landscape and data plans get ever cheaper, 3G cellular services are an increasingly appealing WAN connectivity option for enterprise branch offices. After all, 3G offers faster speeds than ISDN, and wireless is a far easier way to link temporary sites, like construction trailers or sales kiosks, than provisioning wired connections.

Companies like Digi International and Junxion have for some time offered 3G routers, which use EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) or HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) connections. Now, Cisco Systems is partnering with 3G radio developer Sierra Wireless on the Cisco 3G Wireless WAN High-Speed WAN Interface Card, or 3G HWIC, which it released in July.

Competitors can't touch this
The 3G HWIC operates as a standard WAN interface on Cisco's Integrated Services Router platform and is supported on the Cisco 1841, Cisco 2800-series, and Cisco 3800-series ISRs. We tested a 3G HWIC with service from Verizon Wireless on a Cisco 2800-series ISR in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs, then extended our test bed to Washington, D.C.

The 3G HWIC offers base functionality similar to Digi's and Junxion's devices. What sets Cisco's offering apart is the ISR's wide variety of services: Factor in the included wireless LAN, voice-over-IP PBX, firewall, and VPN, and the 3G HWIC marks the first truly integrated branch router to offer 3G connectivity. Competitors can't match this, and bundling capabilities make Cisco's offering especially appealing for sites where IT doesn't want an extensive infrastructure.

All the HWICs are priced at $850, with a variety of plans available. Depending on your carrier, you can get unlimited 3G data, or you can buy a bucket of megabytes and use them for one router or share them across multiple routers, useful if you have several branch offices all using 3G as backup.

But before you rush to sign up, consider 3G's limitations: The service isn't available in all markets. Where it is available, the signal may not be strong enough to reach within all buildings. Finally, Cisco doesn't yet officially support 3G for VoIP, and it doesn't have a target date for doing so--at least, not that it would share. This isn't to say you can't run VoIP, but you'll be on your own; that may discourage enterprises from using 3G as their primary WAN connectivity medium.

Still, this technology is worth considering, especially for those who support branch locations in areas with strong cellular coverage by Cisco's carrier partners, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.


We placed our ISR near a window in the Syracuse lab and easily received a signal strength above the -90 dBm recommended by Cisco. Our 3G HWIC came with two dipole antennas, for diversity. Other antenna options include a ceiling-mount omnidirectional antenna and extension cabling in 20-foot and 50-foot lengths. Because the 3G HWIC relies on cellular service, you'll need to give careful consideration to antenna placement.

We first configured the ISR to operate as a standalone NAT router, with the 3G HWIC acting as our WAN interface and a Gigabit Ethernet link to our LAN. We used Broadband Reports' Web-based test tools to track throughput.

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