HD2 Dome vs MBX Mini

I want to install multi modem LTE on our sailing boat (100ft, one mast) and am trying to get reliable info on the performance of the two options we have for 4/5G connectivity.
A) Peplink Max HD2 Dome (on the top of the mast)
B) Peplink MBX Mini + 2x Mobility 40G on the 1st spreader

I am in particular interested in two usage scenarios

  1. Expected bandwidth near shore (ie., 2.5NM/5km from cell tower)
  2. Expected range (ie., min 500kbit/s which should still allow WhatsApp calls and basic surfing/email)

I have heard that the superior antennas of B) (4x4 MIMO plus higher effective gain) should substantially overcompensate the higher position of A) in both scenarios, but would like to make sure this is correct and get a sense of magnitude of difference.

I would also like to understand whether load balancing requires any service plans with peplink and what those costs are.

The HD2 Dome will not give you 5G, so if that is important to you then the MBX Mini is the better choice in that regard (it is also a substantially more powerful router, and also considerably higher cost).

How relevant 5G is at the moment will really depend on the locations you plan on using this in, although over time 5G will become more pervasive as the carriers build out the capability in their networks.

Nobody can really give you an honest answer there as location and the capability and capacity / loading of the cell towers along with how their antennas are aimed is what really makes the big differences here. Someone may be able to anecdotally tell you that they get good service a couple of miles off shore, but that may be because where they are the carrier has spill over coverage from a mast located close to the shore.

You are already considering a multi-modem router which will give you the most chance of having at least one carrier with some service. I’d go one step further and make sure you have SIMs from more than just two providers if that is an option to further extend the chance of finding someone with working service.

You don’t specify how far up the mast the 1st spreader is but consider the length of the antenna cables is also going to offset some of the gains of the better MIMO capabilities of something like the 40G. Typically we try and keep any runs from the cell modems to the antenna as short as possible, ideally under 5m/15ft and that is with good quality LMR400.

There is also a practical (and possibly aesthetic element) to consider that you will also have 8 coax cables to route up the mast using an MBX Mini with 2x element MIMO antennas in this instance vs a single UTP cable to an HD2-Dome.

For load balancing no, the router can do that out of the box with a variety of algorithms to decide which cell provider to send the traffic to as well as simple failover between them if one stops working.

If you want bonding or hitless failover between carriers where sessions are kept working you need to look at using SpeedFusion.

You can do the latter two ways, either use SpeedFusion Cloud - a service sold by Peplink where you prepay for an amount of data transfer - or you host your own FusionHub in a cloud provider.

Both have some costs, the latter is pretty minimal ($5-10USD a month gets you 1-2TB of data transfer depending on which cloud provider you choose) and has some advantages like supports inbound routing of traffic to the device on your boat - this could be of value if you wanted to remotely access some systems on the boat via an inward VPN connection or by port forwarding.

A couple of things that I would suggest to consider:

  1. Find a good local partner to work with, you are not looking at inexpensive routers here along with antennas and potential coax runs etc. so I would strongly suggest finding someone who has experience of deploying Peplink in a marine setting who can offer you the best advice on antennas (the Peplink ones are good, there are also other options that may be more appropriate), cabling configuration and so on as well as support you in getting the Peplink router configured correctly.

  2. If you go for the HD2-Dome consider adding the SIM injector, as if you have problems with the SIMs or wanted to swap them having the SIM slots located 100ft in the air might become somewhat troublesome!

  3. Slight wildcard option but I would also look at the new TST Pro as a valid alternative to the MBX-Mini if 5G is not important but you’d prefer something that sits in the boat and has antennas run up the mast. That would give you two good CAT-12 LTE modems, 1 wired WAN and also WiFi WAN which could be useful when you are docked somewhere.

Thanks for the comprehensive and very quick response.
Regarding your questions: The carbon mast is approx 45m and the first spreader at about 10m. We would install the MBX Mini in the bracket of the radar or VSAT such that cable length is <6m. We will have a SIM injector below deck.
The overall goal is to have a very high performing cellular setup with minimal compromise to the overall aesthetics. Within reason we are happy to spend more to get more.
Do you have a recommendation on HD2-Dome vs MBX Mini on that basis?
What other antennas should we consider?

I’d look at the Maritime antennas not the mobility antennas. Poynting makes some similar ones too. The vertical antennas, even though they can be large, may make a world of difference on a boat, especially is underway, in anything but flat sea conditions. Of course its possible the Mobility antennas might be just fine too but if you are investing in the best setup, then use the best hardware.

With regards to HD2 vs MBX-Mini, if you are asking on the basis of which is a better router, higher performance and more futureproof the MBX-Mini wins hands down.

The antennas required for the MBX-Mini will be the biggest aesthetic compromise.

For antennas that gets quite specific, especially if you are looking at a device like the MBX-Mini as you need 8 antenna elements. This is where I would revert to my previous suggestion of engaging with a local partner who has experience here - there’s a lot of variables and what is suitable for use on land on a mast, roof top, or mounted on a vehicle may not be appropriate for use at sea where you have to consider a bit more about the physical construction and materials used.

If the cost of the solution is not the biggest concern why not go both paths?

MBX-Mini can take in multiple ethernet WAN too, so you could configure the HD2 Dome in such a way to break out each modem to a VLAN and plumb those into the front of the MBX and also use lower mounted / discrete antennas on the MBX for the built in cellular modems.