Best solution for multi-WAN 4G LTE backup for rural location

My wife and I are moving to a rural property in November. Despite being just 30 min from Austin and 15 miles from Tesla Giga, there is no cable internet, not even a wired phone line. I was told the only options were outdated Hughes and Viasat satellite, ugh. No fixed wireless internet available, and no carrier will tell me if there are any plans for it. I pre-ordered Starlink in July but am not counting on it coming before 2022. If we cannot have a stable connection for video conferencing, both our jobs will be in jeopardy, so stakes are high.

T-Mobile is the only carrier confirmed for 5G, so I purchased two 100GB accounts and cards, a Netgear Nighthawk M5 5G MR5100C unlocked, and TP-Link ER605. Despite the fact that my current RCN cable internet is gigabit speed, it’s prone to dropouts. So far the MR5100C/ER605 combo seems to be working with load balancing, and I’m getting 60-125mbps speed from the 5G.

Now I need a multi-WAN device to set up with a Verizon account first, then possibly add AT&T if needed. Peplink seems to have a lot of options. I investigated the Balance 310 5G, and it’s bandwidth bonding looks like a promising alternative, but pricey at $2,000 plus subscription to FusionHub. It looks like it’s between these? Initially I thought the HD2, but if it’s really $2,899, I would be better off just getting two MAX Transit Mini’s, right?

Peplink MAX Transit Mini LTE | Single LTE Modem | Designed for Mobility | Band 71 for Better Coverage in Remote Areas and Indoors, $399

Peplink Pepwave MAX BR1 4G LTE Mobile Router for Verizon Wireless, $599 (what’s the advantage over the Mini that’s worth $200?)

Pepwave MAX HD2 Load Balancing/Bonding Router with 2 x Cat 6 LTE Advanced Modem, $2,899???

Pepwave MAX HD4 Load Balancing/Bonding Router with 4 x Cat 6 LTE Advanced Modem, $?

Peplink UBR LTE Dual-Cellular Router | All-in-One WAN Solution | Unbreakable Connectivity Right Out of The Box | Inclusive 1 Year PrimeCare Warranty, $479

Peplink MAX Adapter | Redundant SIM Slots with an eSIM Connection | 1GB of SpeedFusion Connect Cellular Data Inclusive | 4G LTE-A Cat-6, $249

Peplink Balance 20X | 900Mbps throughput | Futureproof SD-WAN Router for Small Business Users | LTE-A FlexModule Mini upgradable, $399

Hello @A.S._Van_Dorstan,
You are best to work with your experienced country based Peplink Partner as they have access to additional resources and in county local knowledge.

In Australia, we use RF planning software that costs thousands of dollars for the yearly subscriptions; naturally, the services get charged for, and a local in-country partner will have similar RF experience and services.

The solution’s value is all perspective and not easily covered in a forum chat. You can use the carrier dongles with off the shelf bits and pieces and see how it goes (works for some) or go with a professionally designed and guaranteed solution from an experienced Peplink Partner. It depends on what you value in time and resources. Think of it this way, your local professional Peplink Partner has years of experience and training, much like a dentist, solicitor or doctor. If you need surgery, you are not going to search online to buy the stuff and do it yourself, you are going to get a professional to look after that, and you will pay what it costs or go without the surgery.

In our view, most of the information around 5G is marketing hype. If you are in any regional area anywhere globally, forget about 5G and stick with 4G/LTE. 5G is only suitable for areas close to the carriers base station or with very specialist antenna designs & solutions for more considerable distances.

The new Series X MBX HD2/4 is superseding the older Pepwave MAX HD2/4. The chipsets in these more recent devices are high end with firmware that is feature-rich. Currently, firmware version 8.1.3GA is the most stable and reliable version of firmware we have ever seen from Peplink.

You do not need FusionHub for straight out of the box load balancing. FusionHub is required when you want to have any form of bonding or fault-tolerant services back into a virtualised facility (when not using a second physical Peplink router). It is the same for any other vendors product; there needs to be an A & B end, whether physical or virtual. This is something your local certified Peplink Partner can help you with.

Your local Peplink Partner may like to look at using a MAX Transit DUO with a suitable frequency-matched external antenna solution for your new location.

Happy to Help,
Marcus :slight_smile:

  1. See if your area is listed on this WISP…
  2. Make sure you get on the T-Mobile Home Internet waiting list. It’s great if you can get it.

Thanks Marcus. Regarding 5G, my T-Mobile account for the hotspot originally was mistakenly set to LTE. Once it switched, average speeds went from 30-40mbps to 80-125mbps. Seems like a pretty significant difference to me.

I don’t think your surgery analogy is appropriate for consumer level internet needs.

I looked at the Pepwave MBX HD2, and not only does it still not have Verizon certification, but the price seems to leap by at least $5,000 from the MAX. Doesn’t seem to be a very good value.

So far it looks like Peplink is 99% focused on corporate clients (the nearest provider in Austin won’t even respond to me, hence my need to post here), and is not a great option for me.

Thanks C, I’m on ALL the lists, believe me. It looks like Western BB serves all areas but Cedar Creek :/. It doesn’t look promising – no one will say when if ever fixed wireless service will be provided by any provider, but who knows.

I would scratch all those options except the Balance 310 5G.

The differences are in the number of modem’s and the category of modems within each device and the “services-enabled” performance numbers, namely the PepVPN throughput.

Dont buy CAT12/CAT6 unless your ok with it being SLOWER than your Nighthawk.

Buy CAT18 or better modems. 5G modems wont be much different than CAT18. Either one would do. Anything less than CAT18 is “legacy tech” / inherently bottlenecked.

If/when you get starlink you will want something capable of 200Mb+ PepVPN throughput.

Another option is the Balance Two (this can aggregate 3x ethernet connections or 2x ethernet and 1x USB LTE modem. You could plug your current Nighthawk into this and add other hardware to provide other WANs. You could also get a Balance Two + 5G Max Adapter.

Also dont short-change the antenna side of this equation. Plan for roof/exterior directional antennas if your looking for best performance.

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Step 1 to me is to see what cellular carriers you can get good clean signal at your new house. Can you climb up on the roof and do some testing? Just remember, as others have explained, there are different bands and category modems (aggregation), so you’d have to make sure whatever peplink/hotspot solution you go with supports the bands that work well at your location.

Once you determine what signals are good at your location, Step 2 is to figure out what data plans you can get that will work in a hotspot device. Most consumer plans deprioritize data. If the only plans you can find/afford have deprioritization and your tower is busy (both cellular radio capacity / backhaul capacity), you may never have a reliable connection. Or you might luck out and the tower is never busy.

I agree with others, forget about 5g, at least for now. There would need to be a microcell installed in your neighborhood/street for you to take advantage. Rural will probably be the last place to ever expect 5g. The t-mobile home internet requires you to use their t-mobile device (could still probably plug into a WAN port on a peplink device) and I think it is subject to deprioritization?

So your best bet might in fact be Starlink with a cellular backup.

What are your bandwidth requirements? There are plenty of affordable Peplink devices that can do one cellular modem with Starlink on the other WAN.

Thanks @erickufrin, could you elaborate why you’d scratch all the options except for Balance 310 5G? I reached out to a Peplink partner in Illinois near me (until I move) initially asking about that $2,000 310 5G, and they recommended the MAX HD2/Balance X20 combo. I asked them why not the 310 5G, but haven’t heard back yet.

I have researched and tested the carriers, and will use the three main ones - T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T. I am indeed planning on using antennae on the rooftop. Just need to decide what additional gear I’m buying.

Per my previous message, I’m not sure I see the value of spending $4K upwards to $10K (that’s how much the MAX HD2 MBX Dual 5G costs, no joke) on Peplink gear when there’s options like software-based bandwidth bonding like Speedify.

If you have ATT+VZ+TMO simultaneously then you will have potentially over 150Mb of combined bandwidth available (or much more).

General load balancing and failover is “ok” and does not require speedfusion… however with that type of failover is not immediate and results in connections dropping. Also the session is locked to a wan for the duration of the session. If that wan becomes congested your session may suffer.

For stuff which is critical (Zoom calls, o365, gSuite, business traffic) speedfusion provides packet-level load balancing & failover. Sessions do not drop when a particular wan suddenly goes down. It also does a better job of utilizing all carriers simultaneously, so general congestion is also not going to impact those sessions.

I ‘scratched’ everything that could not handle the bandwidth of 3 carriers with speedfusion enabled.

If you enable speedfusion on HD2 non-mbx or Balance 20x you will only get ~60Mb of throughput.

Some of these devices cannot even handle the raw bandwidth of a single connection let alone multiple. when starlink arrives for you you may have 500Mb+ combined.

I also ‘sratched’ anything which was not CAT18 modem or better. Because anything less will not fully utilize all of the ATT/VZ/TMO bands that will be present on your towers.

Much like driving down the highway, a modern tower has “4 lanes”… you want to match that with a CAT18 modem (4x carrier aggregation) that can use all 4 lanes simultaneously… other lesser modems are limited to only 1 or 2 lanes simultaneously.


Antenna on the roof… what will you be doing for lightning protection?

@mystery Regarding antennae, I’m considering these so far. Suggestions welcome. They come with lightning surge protector add-ons for $99:

A friend who’s helping research thinks I might be able to grab 5G signal from a nearby Verizon tower with an antenna. If that’s the case, then I’ll need another 5G capable modem. I had a special deal on an unlocked 5100C, but those are sold out now. Rather than drop $700 on a Nighthawk MR5200, it looks like the Balance 310 5G is the way to go?

If I do that, what’s the cheapest additional Peplink router I could get to make bandwidth bonding happen? And what’s the advantage over using a VPN service like Speedify?

I’m in Dallas I’m happy to help, we have quite a bit of experience and can maybe even loan you some peplink gear to test. As a peplink partner and we are also in a rural area so I have some great first hand experience. Let me know how I can help or PM me if you want to setup a call.

[email protected]

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@Jonathan_Pitts Thanks, much appreciated, will do!

First off, Jonathan_Pipps is likely to get you to the right place :slight_smile:

Having said that, there are a few observations:

  • Consider your baseline requirements, specifically whether you need multi-session bandwidth (in which case load balancing on two or more WANs is an option) v. a big pipe and session continuity (in which case bonding becomes important). E.g., a Transit Duo with two carriers provides solid multi-session bandwidth, but does not create the combined pipe for a single session.
  • Do your want (to pay for)/need 5G? In the rural areas I am aware of, 5G is sub-6 and hence not greatly attractive when compared to dual-carrier options (the CAT18 and 5G routers do not come in dual-modem configurations (except the Balance 20X models with a Flex module). As an single-instance sample, a Transit Duo CAT12 (VZW + TMO) performed better than a Transit (non-dual) 5G in our particular (rural) location.
  • So for my money (which I have exercised): You may want to consider a Transit Duo CAT12, or a Balance 20X with a CATXX/5G flex module (giving you two carriers). The latter leaves you with a CAT4 LTE modem for the baseline upon which you can add a second modem at the level you desire. FWIW, we ended up with the Transit Duo CAT12 as the preferred choice.




@zegor_mjol Thanks for the great info! I currently have two T-Mobile 5G SIM cards/accounts for a total of 200GB/mo for $100 – it’s a special they had that costs the same as LTE, so I wanted to lock it down. Currently My Nighthawk MR5100C (unlocked) is working great – I have not had dropouts from my RCN cable that I’ve had previously, and it’s working at between 60 up to over 125mbps. T-Mobile is the only carrier that claims 5G coverage at my new address, will remain to be seen how it goes once I arrive Nov 1.

So, yeah, I’ve been considering the Balance 20X with a 5G module in order to make use of the second T-Mobile 5G SIM, with Verizon as the 4G carrier, a pretty decent value at $800 compared to the $2,000 Balance 310 5G.

With just the Transit Duo CAT12, I’m guessing you’re not doing bonding?

With just the Transit Duo CAT12, I’m guessing you’re not doing bonding?

On the Transit Duo CAT 12 you have the option to activate SpeedFusion Cloud to gain the bonding advantage.
For our particular use case (a multi-session environment) we don’t need it, so we have not :-).
Each of the two lines (VZW, TMO) gets 50-75 Mbps down/15-20 Mbps up, individually sufficient for most sessions, so session-based load balancing works well enough.



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Here’s the latest recommendation:

Balance 20x
Flex module FlexModule Mini 5G
USB MAX Adapter (5G)

Bus caps at 200mbps, but I wouldn’t likely see faster in rural address. The embedded modem is only CAT 6, I guess I could use with AT&T or Verizon 4G backup?

I saw a Peplink MAX HD4 MBX 5G Quad Cat 20 would be nice if it’ wasn’t so pricey. The description of that particular model doesn’t mention bonding – there isn’t a limitation with the SimplyBonding with 5G is there?

Start with the 20X. (I have 2 in place for this, and on the list for Starlink at site #2)

For stage one use the embedded modem and ethernet to MR5100C to test 5G. You can also put that router up high (attic) to enhance the signal coverage.

If you get resonable throughput (10mbits)… then you should add a directional antenna . That will bring that level of signal into the 20-40 mbit range… I was fully covered for work uses and 1080p video with just the standard modem, and a waveform log periodic antenna kit.

I have a max transit 5G currently fronting for a b20X until I get another remote antenna kit for site #2. I rarely get LTE-A connections, let alone 5G"

I usually use the MaxT-5G as a roaming router, and it rarely connects as 5G, even getting a LTE-A multi band assignment is a hit/miss affair…

You will be suprised how little bandwidth you can live with, up to last year I only had 3Mbit DSL and it only was a problem when I needed to work and my Wife was watching TV. So I just had to shape the TV IP address to 2Mbits.

The parameters are total bandwidth throughput, and Speedfusion throughput… Then simultanous LTE modems, and finally Ethernet WAN. I don’t think you will exceed either with a 20X and 2 LTE and 2 Ethernet also seems to cover your needs. the HD4 is overkill on all of those parameters, and all systems have speedfusion.

I’m also waiting for the 5G flexmodule-mini to update the modem… but given the delays I should have just procured the Cat18 module last year…

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Currently researching antennae.

"When using with any cellular modem, ensure that you use one of these antennas for every cellular antenna port on the modem. For most category 12 and below modems, this would be two antennas for 2×2 MIMO. For most category 16 and above, including all 5GNR, modems this would be a total of four antennas for 4×4 MIMO. We ALWAYS recommend exact match antennas for all ports of the modem. Mixing antennas on the modem usually results in less than optimal outcomes.”

Can anyone explain the finer points of MIMO, and why are four recommended for 5G, yet my Netgear Nighthawk 5G modem only has two TS-9 ports?

I can’t speak for the netgear, not sure if it has internal connections and then only two outside ports.
For cat18 and cat20 5g it needs 4 antennas. One for each carrier channel.
It will establish 4 connections to the tower usually on different bands which gives the diversification and the speed.
For cat18/5g I recommend the Mobility 40G or the Maritime 40g.