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Wireless Reviews

AC 1900 MU-MIMO Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router
At a glance
ProductPhicomm AC 1900 MU-MIMO Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router (K3C)   [Website]
SummaryAC1900 class three stream router with Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 3.0 storage sharing based on Intel technology.
Pros• WISP mode to use Wi-Fi WAN connection
• Strong 5 GHz performance
Cons• Three LAN ports
• Limited port forward and service blocking features
• New vendor to U.S. market, with sparse router product line

Typical Price: $90  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

Ever since ASUS announced its Intel-based Blue Cave router last June, Wi-Fi aficionados have been impatiently waiting to see whether it can make their Wi-Fi soar to new bandwidth heights. But the birthing process has been long and Blue Caves just started to ship last month.

In the meantime, Shanghai-based Phicomm, self-described "award-winning developer of smart home devices, cloud and data solutions" has decided to enter the U.S. consumer networking space with its K3C AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router that also uses Intel's new Wi-Fi router platform.

Where ASUS decided to go with a 4x4 AC design with the Blue Cave, Phicomm opted for a more pedestrian 3x3 AC1900 class design, most likely to achieve its lower price, which has ranged between $100 and $140 over the few months since start of shipments. Blue Cave is also doing the Amazon shuffle, but in a higher and tighter range, straying only a few dollars lower than $180.

Phicomm is rather proud of the K3C's grey ("silver")-and-black plastic enclosure design, which was birthed in the Jacob Jensen Design studio and won an IF 2017 design award, according to the K3C's product page. But the color, tabletop only mounting, fairly tall stature and imposing size (approximately 9" x 9" x 3") may not earn it very high WAF, despite its eschewment of external antennas.

Phicomm K3C at home

Phicomm K3C at home

There is no callout diagram to be found, so the closeup of the rear panel will have to do. The four Gigabit Ethernet ports are divided between one WAN and three switched LAN ports, each with its own link (but not activity) LED. There's one USB 3.0 port that supports sharing storage, but not printers, and an on/off switch. If you're looking for Wi-Fi on/off or WPS pushbutton switches, you'll find neither. There is a lone LED mounted under the front overhang that's steady blue when all is well and blinks red during startup. None of this is described in the User Guide.

K3C rear panel

K3C rear panel

Inside

The K3C's potential draw is that it is one of the first consumer routers using Intel Wi-Fi technology. The technology actually came as part of Intel's acquisition of German fabless semiconductor company Lantiq in 2015. Lantiq was, in turn, a spinoff from Infineon that was sold to a venture capital company in 2009. So Intel's router/gateway Wi-Fi technology comes from an entirely different source than Intel's PCIe and M.2 client adapters. This means you can't infer anything about Intel-based router Wi-Fi performance from how their laptop cards have performed

FCC internal pictures are still sealed under short term confidentiality, but good ol' KoolShare has plenty of pictures for you to check out. WikiDevi must have used the pictures for its K3C database entry, from whence the component information below comes. It's interesting that both the K3C and Blue Cave use a two board design with compute core on one and two radios on the other. The K3C's boards are shown below.

Phicomm K3C boards

Phicomm K3C boards
(photo credit koolshare.cn)

Here's similar composite view of the two Blue Cave boards.

ASUS Blue Cave board tops

ASUS Blue Cave board tops

The table summarizes the key components for the K3C and Blue Cave. Both use the same dual-core Intel PXB4395EL processor, but different radios.

  Phicomm K3C ASUS Blue Cave
CPU Intel (Lantiq) PXB4395EL (1.6 GHz, 2 cores) Intel (Lantiq) PXB4395EL (1.6 GHz, 2 cores)
Switch in PXB4395EL in PXB4395EL
RAM 128 MB 512 MB
Flash 256 MB 128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - Intel PSB83513M
- Qorvo/RFMD RFFM4252 2.4 GHz front end (x3)
- Intel PSB83514M
- Unidentified 2.4 GHz front end or power amp (x4)
5 GHz radio - Intel PSB83523M
- Qorvo QPF4519 5 GHz front end (x3)
- Intel PSB83524M
- Unidentified 5 GHz front end or power amp (x4)
Bluetooth None Atheros AR3012
Table 1: Component summary and comparison

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