The challenges of working remotely are many and varied.
For a surprising number of people, just maintaining a half decent internet connection is the biggest obstacle of all. In an ideal world, we'd all have a zoopy-doopy gigabyte UFB connection plugged directly into our laptops. Sadly, back in reality, just over half of us are connected to fibre right now and it's still not even available for more than twenty percent of the population.
Very difficult to work from home without the internet.
But, who needs cables anyway?...
It might not look like much but the DWR-956 from D-Link could be the guaranteed connection that keeps your business online.
In most ways, the DWR-956 operates like any other router, except it has a slot for a sim card as well. The best thing about that is you can choose to run the router over a hard-wired ethernet connection or via 4G LTE mobile data. Better still, whichever method you choose, you can set the other option as a default back-up if your preferred connection falls over - this happens automatically, in a matter of a few seconds without the need for any manual setting change or reboot. Strangely, the slot is for a standard-sized sim, which might be a bit of an issue for anyone wanting to use the micro or nano-sim out of their phones. You can buy a sim adapter if need be but if you're looking to use the DWR-956 on 4G full time, you'll probably be ordering a new sim specifically for it anyway - now's as good a time as any with good deals available on high/unlimited data plans due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Which brings us to the usefulness of such a device at a time like this; with all meetings and more business than ever happening online, being able to connect all your smart office tools through one router, wherever you are is definitely a bonus. There are four gigabyte ethernet ports available, meaning TV's, printers and desktops can plug straight in. The simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi means less congestion even with multiple devices connected. Although the box only claims "Small Home" coverage, I've found no issues staying connected throughout my two-storey, four-bedroom house. There's even an RJ11 port to connect a VOIP phone - this really is a comprehensive internet solution, without a land-based connection, if that's what's required.
D-Link promises the DWR-956 is "easy to set up and use" - I've found that to be true in most ways but not altogether the case. Yes, there is a reasonably straight-forward browser-based wizard that walks you through the steps to set up your own Wi-Fi network and I had no issues connecting to my UFB connection or getting my sim up and running. However, there were a few settings that weren't quite so automatic.
For instance, changing your default connection to or from ethernet and mobile data is a bit fiddly, although the "Failover" mode seems to kick in with no issue as long as you've taken the time to set up both connection types. The main problem with the browser-based interface is there are far too many options - one or two misguided clicks can take you down a settings rabbit hole you had no intention of going anywhere near; very dangerous for someone who likes to tweak things like I do. Given the last few D-Link devices I've reviewed have been extra-easy to set-up via mobile app, going back to this web-based labyrinth of pull-down menus seems like a bit of a step backwards. Take my advice; if you're not a hundred-percent sure what a particular setting is for, leave it alone - otherwise you might be in for a factory reset and you'll have to start the whole process all over again.
I don't want to overpromise what the DWR-956 is capable of delivering when connected via 4G - obviously that's going depend largely on how good the coverage is in your area. For me, I've been clocking up download speeds of around the 30Mbps mark as opposed to 80Mbps+ via my UFB connection - and that's only on 3G. Not sure why I couldn't seem to pick up 4G in my neighbourhood, but even at those speeds, most things worked pretty well. Obviously, this not going to be an ideal solution for serious online gamers or a large home with multiple users streaming HD video simultaneously but I had no issues using Netflix and the like.
Unfortunately, the DWR-956 doesn't offer 5G connectivity, but given most areas where 5G is available so far are also likely to be areas that are fully UFB connected, it's probably not much of an issue right now.
This is a very compact device and the external antennae rotate easily out of the way (or screw off completely) making it extremely portable. If necessary, you can move your whole office from place to place without having to reconnect any of your gadgets - just plug it in and your own network is fired up and ready to go in mere minutes.
To me, the peace of mind Failover Mode offers is the main attraction of a device like the DWR-956. With so many of us working or studying from home right now, protecting your internet connection is pretty damn important. Combine that functionality with all the features you'd expect from a decent router and you have a winning formula to see you through tough times online.