While attending the IT Connect conference in May I was introduced to a line of firewalls from ZyXEL. I had actually heard about them before and even wrote a little about the content filtering option in a previous post. However, it is a different thing to have read about a device and to have somebody who knows the ins and outs of it take you through each configuration page and show you what it can do (thanks Marcelo). That is why I can say that I was “introduced” to it in May.
I was impressed enough with the capabilities that I decided to buy one for use at home. I was in the market for a 3G router and was interested in purchasing a device that I could also recommend to others. For my own purposes the ZyWALL USG 20W fit my needs quite well. Actually, this is really an enterprise level device so it is way more than I need. But I do think it will be good for small offices, and the best way to be able to support something is to use it myself.
The first task that I had when I received it was to connect it to our 3G internet connection. (Perhaps at some point in the future I will write a review of the device, but for now I am going to tackle this single issue.) I will note that the IT department bought a USG 50 about a year ago and tried to use a 3G USB modem as a backup internet connection for our guest house, but could never get the connection to go faster than EDGE. At the time I did not have access to experts and so just assumed it had something to do with the connection in Ghana and the modem that we had chosen. Since that time ZyXEL has increased the number of modems that work with the ZyWALL’s, so I had more hope of getting beyond this issue. I verified that the modem that I wanted to use was listed as supported before I made the purchase.
As soon as I unboxed the router I quickly set it up and connected into the admin screen, excited with my new toy. Um, I mean sophisticated piece of equipment for work. I plugged my Huawei E173 modem in and went into the cellular configuration screen. It was quickly recognized as a Huawei Generic Card. The APN and connection settings were read automatically from the ISP, so when I clicked on connect it worked right away. I started to load a website, but it was very slow.
I went to the cellular monitor screen. It showed that I had a signal, but it was weak. That did not surprise me as that was normally the case where I was doing the testing. To my horror though the connection showed EDGE! It was the same problem all over again. This time I had done my research, so I was not sure what the problem could be. The modem was one that I had been using for a couple of years, so I knew that it could handle a faster connection. I went back to the ZyXEL’s list of supported 3G modems, and sure enough, there was my modem. Then I noticed something that I had not paid much attention to before. Next to each modem, and some modems were listed twice, there was a specific firmware that was supported. It was not difficult to confirm that my modem did not meet the requirement.
After some research online I found out how to update the firmware of my modem. I was able to download the new firmware from http://dc-files.com/files/huawei/modems/E173/. After the update I plugged the modem back into the firewall, checked the status page, and too quickly started rejoicing when I saw that it now showed the connection as WCDMA. I went back to the configuration page and told it to connect to the internet. It did a lot of spinning and counting to 60, but no matter how many times I told it to connect it always timed out.
I went back to the ZyXEL site and this time downloaded an update to the firmware for the router. My device was brand new and the firmware was not really that old. In fact, it took me a little while before realizing that there actually was a newer version. After downloading and installing it I still had the same problem. The router saw the modem, the modem saw the WCDMA connection, but would not connect. I then proceeded to move the equipment all over the house thinking that perhaps my problem was the weak signal. You should have seen how I stacked furniture to get the modem in just the right location.
After going through all of the configuration settings again I finally found my problem. Apparently when I flashed the firmware for the modem, even though it kept the setup files from the ISP, it no longer automatically set the APN and Dial String. I changed that to custom, put in the correct settings, and all was well.
There are two frustrations with the ZyWALL that I think would be easily solved. First, the cellular configuration and status screens are in two different places on the admin screen. It takes four or five clicks to get between them. That would normally not be a problem, but when you are troubleshooting it becomes extremely annoying. Second, it should be more obvious that there are different versions of the firmware. For example, my firewall came with version 3.00(BDR.0) and the updated version was 3.00(BDR.4). It would have been far more obvious if they had changed from 3.00 to 3.04 or something like that.
Update June 2016:
This post continues to get a lot of hits, so I wanted to give a quick update on my experience with the ZyXel USG 40. Although ZyXel continues to maintain and update the firmware on the USG 20/20W/50 series, it has not added support for newer USB modems. The newer USG 40/40W/60 devices offer a much more expanded list and so we decided to go with the USG 40 for a new installation.
Unfortunately so far I have not had very good experience with the USG 40. This last week I tried to use both a Huawei E3131s-1 and E303s-1, and failed on both. The E3131 is recognized as an E303/E3131 (CDC-ECM). It says that it is connected, but both the Service Provider and Signal Quality are n/a. The E303 is recognized as E398/E3276 LTE/UMTS/GSM Modem. It sees the service provider correctly and has excellent signal. But for the status it says “PPP Fail.”
ZyXel provides a list of USB dongles that are supported by the firewall. It contains both an E303 and E303s-2, but not the E303s-1, so I can kind of understand why it does not work. But the E3131s-1 is specifically listed. I have submitted a report to ZyXel about the issue and hope to hear back from them.
For now the good news is that Huawei E173 with updated firmware as explained above does work with the USG 40. Unfortunately they are really hard to find. We were lucky enough to have somebody come into the office with a support question who happened to have one, so we traded them a new modem for their old one.
Note that the firmware of the USG 40 is updated to V4.15(AALA.2). The Dongle support update is 1.06.