Tested product:Netgear Nighthawk M5
Award: SEK 8,688 at Proshop.
5g is now established in several Swedish cities and the remaining expansion is in full swing. Anyone who wants to be extra mobile this spring and summer can invest in a portable pocket router with support for the new, fast connection. Here is the Netgear Nighthawk M5, one of a small handful of 5g hotspots already available for purchase.
With 5g, in theory, you can get gigabit speeds and minimal latency over mobile broadband. It might attract those who want to take a laptop out to a park this summer and be able to work, stream and video conference unhindered, instead of sitting and crowding in the office or at home. It is currently also not safe when you will be admitted to the office, if your workplace currently operates with a social distancing policy.
The Nighthawk M5 has a removable underside, behind which we find a large rechargeable battery. Under the battery are the router’s pre-configured login details for both ssid and admin login, which must be unique and secure, as well as space for a nano SIM. On the top side is a small color touchscreen with adjustable brightness and a couple of extra touch controls on the side for menu navigation.
Plug in, turn on, fast surf
Getting started is exceptionally easy. You don’t need to connect with any special app or browser, just insert the sim card and battery and turn on the device. To be safe, you can also connect power via a usb type c port, but for our part the battery was almost full on delivery. After a short startup, just connect and start surfing.
If you want to choose your own password, you have the opportunity to do so directly in the control panel. It’s a bit tricky to type on the interface’s on-screen keyboard, but it works. Most things can then be set directly in a simple but clear interface directly on the screen, but a handful of functions, such as control of upnp, extra status information and detailed wifi settings, you need the Netgear Mobile app for.
The router also has a fixed gigabit network port that can either be used for WAN or LAN. If you are not out on the town, you can have it as a small WiFi 6 router at home for your fixed broadband, a task it is not ideal for, as it does not have as much coverage as a fixed router. But in a smaller home it can work. In that case, however, you should remove the battery and connect to a power outlet via the USB port.
The USB port also has a data connection, so you can connect it to a computer and share the internet connection that way, while it charges the router’s battery. However, there is no extra USB port that the predecessor Nighthawk M2 had, so you do not get the option of file sharing or printer sharing.
Wifi and ethernet for offloading
You can also use Wi-Fi to connect wirelessly to another network. If you connect with a fixed network or Wi-Fi, these will be your primary internet connection and the mobile broadband will take over as failover should they lose connection. It can be good if you have a limited data plan and want to save on the surf pot. But then maybe you shouldn’t have 5g at all as it quickly shovels away gigabytes of data.
Functionally, we are not offered much more. We can set up a simple guest network on the router, which appears to provide a combined 2.4 and 5 GHz network. There’s also a parental control feature here, but just like the Nighthawk M2, it’s unnecessarily complicated and requires you to set up an OpenDNS account to use.
With all that out of the way, we get to the important part: How fast is it surfing? To begin with, the wifi part of the router is upgraded to wifi 6 with 202 mimo, which enables gigabit speeds above 5 GHz under the right conditions and we manage to get close when we connect to a fixed gigabit connection and measure with the Broadband Scoller.
However, you should be content with connecting one or a maximum of two clients at a time, because you have a maximum of 1200 Mbit/s to work with on 5 GHz, and 600 Mbit/s on 2.4 GHz. On the other hand, it allows you to stream 4k video unhindered on several devices at the same time if the WAN connection is good. The range is also better than what the Nighthawk M2 had.
After all, over ethernet and fiber it is not a challenge, the question is how fast it goes mobile. The Nighthawk M5 supports 5g connection at sub 6 frequency, i.e. the simpler version of 5g, which is not extremely fast, but in return has better range. It is the frequency that the operators so far offer and what you will reasonably have access to if you are out and about. The faster frequency bands, so-called millimeter waves, have a very short range and will only be available in isolated locations, if at all.
Real 5g speeds, like any mobile connection, depend on many factors. Not least what the operator delivers, but also the distance to the base station and the number of simultaneous users connected to it, general disturbances in the area and even weather conditions. With 4g, for example, you should not count on speeds higher than 10-50 Mbit/s. With 5g, the operators are talking about ten times that speed.
Full blast in the 5g network
Having said that, in our test measurement, where we use Tele 2’s 5g network in Stockholm’s inner city, we get a speed of over 600 Mbit/s, and peaks of over 700 Mbit/s. We measure on three occasions, in the middle of the day on a weekday, late in the evening on a Sunday, and in the middle of the night and get the same good results. Uploading is slower, but we’re clocking in at over 500 Mbit/s, although it’s more uneven performance in that direction.
The other thing that should go away with 5g is the response times, which should be as low as five milliseconds. This can make a huge difference to video calls, which can happen completely without lag. Here we get ping times to the measurement servers of between 10 and 12 milliseconds. It is clearly better than with 4g, where we land in between 25 and 40 milliseconds. If it is possible to get as little as five milliseconds, we leave it unsaid, it could also be the reaction time on the server itself that sets the limit.
These should not be seen as definitive numbers that you will always get with 5g. We do not intend to say what the situation looks like with another operator or later this year if the load on the network increases. But at the time of writing, these are speeds that we are very happy with and it shows that the router has the capacity to deliver good speeds, as long as your subscription does the same.
Also fast 4g
The Nighthawk M5 also has upgraded capacity for 4g connection and then runs LTE cat 22 with a theoretical maximum speed over 4g of a whopping 2.2 Gbit/s. But there is no operator or base station in Sweden that delivers it. With the same Tele 2 subscription, although outside 5g coverage, we get between 25 and a full 205 Mbit/s, with a response time of around 30 milliseconds. We only reach maximum speed in exceptional cases, such as early mornings when few other mobile surfers. But most of the time we land on a speed of around 40 Megabit, which can be considered good.
5g surf consumes more energy than 4g, which is noticeable in the battery life of the Nighthawk M5. It has a basically the same battery as the Nighthawk M2, roughly 5000 mAh, but we get less surfing time, about 16 hours versus 20 hours. It is still enough for a serious excursion or a full working day in the open air.
What really holds me back from recommending the router, however, is its price tag. Nighthawk M5 costs over SEK 8,500! That’s more than many 5g mobiles and almost twice what the Nighthawk M2 cost at launch.
But if money isn’t a concern, then it’s a powerful and smart versatile portable router that’s also very future-proof. Having also tested some competitors, we can also state that Netgear is still several steps ahead in performance, features and technology. So anyone who wants the best and can pay for it should definitely have this one.
Product name: Nighthawk M5 MR5200-100EUS
Tested: February 2021, updated April 2021
Modem type: 4g (cat 22), 5g (sub 6), micro-sim.
Wifi type: Wifi 6, 2×2 MIMO, 2.4 + 5 GHz
Wifi capability: 600 + 1200 Mbit/s
Security: wpa, wpa2, wpa3, wps.
Connections: Gigabit ethernet lan/wan, usb 2.0 type c (charging and internet sharing)
Measured speed, 5GHz wifi 6 to fiber: 981 Mbit/s
Measured speed, 5 GHz wifi 6 to 5g: 711 Mbit/s down, 516 Mbit/s up*
Range, wifi 6: Approx. 18 meters on 5GHz, approx. 35 meters on 2.4 GHz with clear line of sight
Battery: 5040 mAh, approx. 13h surfing time.
Admin interface: Touch screen, app.
Other functions: Parental control, guest network, sim security, handover (ethernet or wifi)
Size: 10.5 x 10.5 x 2.15 cm.
Weight: 240 g.
Rec. Award: SEK 8,690
Award: SEK 8,688 at Proshop.
*Average speed at various measurement occasions on Södermalm in Stockholm, with Tele2 as operator.