I am getting ready to hit the road full time. I’ve used Mobile Internet Resource Center to help plan and understand cellular data (been such a massive help). I am overwhelmed but feel like I decently understand the basics now, but I am absolutely pulling my hair out trying to decide between two Pepwave router options and which would work better for my particular application. I understand that the only real way to know lies in getting out and experimenting but since the price tag is so high (and because I’m a huge overthinker) I’m taking it to the pros for some insight and objective perspectives, using hypothetical situations, to further point me in the right direction.
This is an extremely long post but I wanted to be clear where my concerns lie with each setup. Many many many thanks to anyone who geeks out & reads through it and can provide advice, even if only on one aspect.
Of course open to alternative gear & suggestions too! I may very well be overlooking something or just flat out WAY overthinking something.
Apologies for the lack of product links. New users can only include two links so I've excluded Peplink product links.
Where I’ll be: 75% remote National Forest & BLM / 25% RV Park & National Park Campgrounds, mostly in the Western/Northwestern part of the United States.
Data: Current: $50/100GB T-mobile postpaid, Google Fi Phone+Cell Data (likely won’t ever use for computer data unless in a pinch). Will add: $55/100GB AT&T pre-paid, Verizon data (plan TBD – Visible is great for price but hear it doesn’t bond well due to high pings so will likely go with a true Verizon data plan)
Goal: To make sure I’m covered in the deeply remote National Forest spots. I care less about crazy speeds and much more about being able to get a useable signal in the most possible places by being able to amplify a barely there signal. Of course if there is zero signal there is nothing I can do about that and will just need to move on from that location.
Use: Cloud based email/accounting software (Oracle/Netsuite) including downloading and uploading PDF and excel files & three to five 30 minute Zoom Video and screensharing calls per week. Very minimal streaming/video.
Minimum speeds desired: 4-10 down/1.5-2 up (basic Zoom requirement).
Main questions: Cat-4 vs. Cat-12 vs. Cat-18 practical application in very remote places (including 4x4 internal MIMO vs 2x2 external antennas), bonding between the different Cat modems, getting access to T-Mobile band 71.
Bane of my existence: Incorporating T-Mobile long range band 71 into the setup which has been getting deployed in many rural areas. Additionally, it seems difficult to find a great hotspot/modem solution with external antennas that picks up both of the 71 bands – b71 & n71 (Sub-6GHz 5G). Hoping something will be available though as technology catches up.
Thoughts on bonding: I go back and forth on the benefits of this for me, but certainly think it’s a key factor. Failover is awesome but I feel the bigger benefit from bonding for me is a stronger combined signal. I have a few Zoom calls a week with co-workers, rarely clients, and while I would prefer if they were seamless most of the time to avoid embarrassment and annoying my coworkers, it is not life or death if every so often I get kicked off and need 2-3 minutes to call back in with a different SIM. If I have a very important call where I can’t let that happen, I would most likely be driving into town where signal is A+.
Further, I’m not sure how often bonding will be an option. It’s possible there will only be one carrier around in some National Forests.
SETUP OPTION 1: Pepwave Max Transit Duo
The Transit Duo as a standalone router has generally been the top pick for travelers. For me it lacks the T-Mobile long range Band 71 option. Below is how I envisioned incorporating B71 into the mix with a Transit Duo setup, with one way to pair it with an external modem through ethernet for bonding:
PepWave Max Transit Duo Cat-12 utilizing SpeedFusion
- Modem 1: AT&T & Modem 2: Verizon
- PepWave Puma 421 omni antenna (4x Sub-6GHz 5G, 2x Wi-Fi, 1x GPS)
- T-Mobile Cat-22 Sub-6GHz 5G standalone hotspot (covers b71 & n71) with 4x4 Internal MIMO – NO ANTENNA PORTS. ,OR in order to utilize bonding:
- Netgear Cat-4 LTE (incl. b71 but NOT n71) with 2x2 MIMO & 2 Antenna Ports. This would be linked into the Transit Duo via Ethernet in/out in order to utilize bonding and I would use 2 of the antenna cables from the Puma.
- Possibly work in a booster if I'm finding upload speeds are not adequate
MAIN THOUGHTS/QUESTIONS HERE:
In this situation and where I’ll be, I am using the assumption the only T-Mobile Band I would be able to pick up is the long range Band 71. So, I feel the lack of carrier aggregation is not too big a deal on the Cat-4. For me it comes down to:
- What functions better in these remote places? I understand 4x4 internals can often be better than 1 or 2 external antennas but does that also apply in places where there’s barely any signal and I may need to get higher off ground to reach? So, would I rather a Cat-22 4x4 MIMO hotspot with no antenna ports that I would only be able to use as a standalone non-bonding modem when utilizing Band 71, OR a Cat-4 2x2 MIMO with 2 Antenna ports that I can ethernet in to the Transit Duo and utilize bonding? (Cat-4 would also lack the n71 band which stinks)
- How well would a Cat-4 and Cat-12 bond anyway?
SETUP OPTION 2: Balance 20X
The Balance 20X with a 2nd modem seems to be a popular choice as well among travelers though the biggest complaints are the native Cat-4 modem and lack of Wi-Fi as WAN. The upside to the 20X is it does support Band 71 and is a little bit future proof with 5G, though they can’t technically call it 5G due to the 150Mbps bus limit issue. However, I could care less about getting anything over 150 based on my needs.
While Balance 20X supports Band 71 (not n71 though), bonding a Cat-18 with a Cat-4 may be difficult to make work I’ve heard. I’m mostly envisioning ignoring the Cat-4 side of this router entirely and instead pairing it with an external modem through USB tethering. Though if my signal is nice & strong I may very well just use the one Cat-18 modem.
Pepwave Balance 20X w/Cat-18 add on utilizing SpeedFusion
- SIM card configuration would vary
- PepWave Puma 421 omni antenna (4x Sub-6GHz 5G, 2x Wi-Fi, 1x GPS) with all 4 hooked into the Cat-18
External modem to USB tether in to 20X to utilize SpeedFusion:
- Peplink MAX Adapter 5G Cat-20 (covers b71 & n71) with 4x4 MIMO & 4 Antenna ports! (this option would cover it all - global carrier option with external antennas for maximum signal amplifying and a leg up on access to 5G as well as the Sub-6GHZ 5G Band n71. BUT It’s the priciest addition of course!), OR
- Peplink MAX Adapter LTE Cat-12 with 2x2 MIMO & 2 Antenna ports. This does NOT support band 71 at all so this modem would only utilize AT&T or Verizon, while bonding with T-Mobile on the Cat-18 (Upside is global carrier compatible & external antennas, albeit only 2), OR
- T-Mobile Cat-22 Sub-6GHz 5G hotspot (covers b71 & n71) with 4x4 Internal MIMO – NO ANTENNA PORTS. (could only work with T-Mobile so I would lose option to bond Verizon & AT&T unless with the Cat-4; but this gives me the Sub-6GHz 5G n71 band option. Unfortunately, no external antennas but perhaps Internal 4x4 will suffice in the remotest of places)
- Depending on external modem choice, may need additional Antenna.
- Possibly work in a booster if I’m finding upload speeds are not adequate.
- If I find I really want the Wi-fi as WAN, I can wire in a Wi-Fi Antenna
MAIN THOUGHTS/QUESTIONS HERE:
This setup is gear heavy for sure but it seems like it could cover a very wide range of possibilities. In reality, I probably need to splurge on the 5G Max Adapter to really cover my bases (oh how I wish the Max Adapter had ethernet out so I can use it with Transit Duo).
Rural tower capabilities with the Cat-18 & benefit over the Cat-12:
- If a rural tower only has a couple of cell bands, will 5x carrier aggregation make much of a difference over Cat-12 3x?
- Similarly, if a rural tower is not equipped with 4x4 Antenna capabilities on their end, would 4x4 MIMO be mostly irrelevant in these cases? I am not certain how prevelant 4X4 antennas are in towers, especially rural, and I am not sure the best way to find this out.
- How well would a Cat-4 and Cat-18 bond anyway? Is it correct to assume I should generally ignore the Cat-4 modem in this setup?