Very poor cellular and wifi performance

Ahoy, I’m on a boat in a marina trying to use cellular hotspot technology, so upon advice from a neighbor I bought a Pepwave MAX BR1 mini LTE. This device collects the cellular LTE signal and then transmits (routes) the signal into a WiFi signal used by my computer inside the boat. I’ve subscribed to a cellular service called OTRmobile and I’ve installed their SIM card, which uses the T-Mobile cellular network 1700 2700.

I can almost see the cell towers from where I am. They are probably about 1 mile away across the water.

The problem is that my Internet speed is extremely poor most of the time to non-existent at other times.

The Pepwave BR1 mini LTE has two cellular antenna, one labeled “Cellular Main,” the other labeled “Cellular Diversity/Aux.” These antenna are small, about 5 inches long and their connections are spaced about one inch apart. There is also an 8 inch wifi antenna as well as a connector for GPS (which I don’t think I need).

I’ve tried placing the Pepwave device at different locations on the boat with no success in finding a “sweet spot” that can collect the cellular more efficiently. The wifi inside the boat is also poor, but that may be because I’m not getting decent download speeds. When I use “speed test” sometimes I get .03Mbs to “unable to connect.”

I’m thinking that there may be a better way to capture the cellular signal using some of omni directional externa (or internal) antenna.

The fittings on the Pepwave device I believe are called SMA fittings. (Male threads with female coax connector)
I am totally new to radio/cellular/wifi technologies,
Please advise

Hi Jim - welcome to the forum!
Lets get to the bottom of this for you. Firs place to start is signal readings. Please login to the BR1 mini and share a screenshot of the RSSI / RSRP SNR and RSRQ readings from the cellular connection.

What type of boat? What is the primary construction material?

External Antennas normally do help, but lets work out if signal is the problem here first and then look at your options.

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I’m trying again. this will be the third attempt to reply.

Hello Martin,

It’s a fiberglass boat with the device up on the flybridge. the only thing between this device and the cell tower (one mile straight across the water) is a plastic window.

I’m attaching a screenshot per your request.

It’s funny but the screen shot shows something that doesn’t seem right. And something that seems to change from time to time.To wit:

LTE Band 12 (700 MHz)

RSSI: -53dBm RSRP: -83dBm RSRQ: -15.0dB

I’ve had this device a couple days, and while troubleshooting, I’ve seen the LTE Band to be 1700 or 1900, and now it’s 700. Hmmm.

I’m supposed to be using T-Mobile cell, which I was told is supposed to be 1700/2700…which I’m not sure what that means…I’m guessing that one is upload frequency the other download?

Right now my speed test shows…zero. Although sometimes I may get 2.0 something, but mostly it’s below 1.0. Never has been more than 2.5.

Thanks for any help you can offer.


Does anyone near you have another t-mobile device to compare?

The BR1 mini LTE might not be the best device for T-mobile, depending on what bands they have bandwidth on near you. I don’t think it has either 66 (1700/2100 AWS) or 71 (600) that T-mobile is using a lot of. The max transit, transit mini would be better devices for T-mobile as far as I can tell, and the BR1 mini may do better with verizon or ATT.

Aquablue, you are correct, while there are many cell towers nearby, according to the map, the two closest to me use bands 2, 4, 12, 66 .
Here’s the screenshot of those cell tower locations in relation to where my boat is berthed…

Last night I went to visit those nearby towers and ran speed tests from my car within site (approx. 4 or 5 blocks away) of those towers, and the best download speed I could get was 6.3 MBps using bands 2, 4, and sometimes 12.

So, what you are implyiing is that the Pepwave BR1 Mini is incapable of using a common T-Mobile band?

It’s hard to imagine that the BR1 mini only sees a limited number of bands. I wish someone could have told me that before I spent so much time troubleshooting this device.
I teach college level courses and I need decent bandwidth. Apparently, I’m not going to get it with this device.

Not exactly the same environment, but, I live & travel in an RV. I operate a small consulting business from the RV. I think I can relate to your pain.
It’s been my experience that Verizon will typically have the best coverage & AT&T will normally have the best speeds. It’s also been my experience boaters are more technically sophisticated when it comes to cellular internet services than RV folks (google Seabit, he has a very informative site).
Not to disparage the equipment and or data plan you have, but, on the surface it would appear inadequate for your needs (opinion based on how I interpret your post). I would ask for my money back & buy better equipment. Would also explore a different data plan.
I have recently installed a Max Transit LTEA Cat 18 unit (like 2 days ago) & my download speeds have approached 80mpbs with the AT&T data plan. Up load speeds are significantly less.
I’m still in the process of setting up a local network on the RV to support my business as well as media streaming.

I’m only a user, not an expert, but in my opinion different devices all have strengths and weaknesses.

I purchased a max transit cat18 specifically for t-mobile band support. The thing is that until you have a device, it’s hard to tell exactly what you need, so money is a factor. The max transit cat18 was about $770 and just came in stock. I also have the LTE-A version of the br1 mini that works great for verizon and ATT.

The transit mini has the t-mobile bands 66 and 71 I believe, but doesn’t do LTE-A so it wouldn’t be as fast as the BR1 mini LTE-A in more dense areas, but might work equally well if t-mobile doesn’t have many users on a tower or if the tower isn’t equipped for lte-a.

The max transit cat 18 has both lte-a and the t-mobile bands, but is twice as expensive.

It’s tricky because the information isn’t just available as to what a given tower does or will soon / someday support near you or what the usage of a tower is, etc. So for example, a tower may support your device with band 12 and you might have as good a speeds as you can get with any other device. Then a holiday may come up and many devices might connect to band 12 because it supports longer distance than band 66 and because more devices support 12 than 66. And so if you have a device that supports 66 you might have a big advantage. Of course, there are many “mights” in that paragraph. In truth, I bought the max transit cat18 but right now the transit mini would have done just as well for half the price here because lte-a isn’t an advantage on the tower I’m connected to… but that may change in the future at any point if a wave of new t-moble customers sign up and if the tower is upgraded.

I hope this long ramble is of some help, but it seems with cellular there is a lot of trial and error involved.

I’m not sure if this is even your issue. .03 sounds like it could be a different problem as that is very severe although it is a holiday weekend and I just wanted to point out that you don’t have as many bands to choose from on your device with t-mobile as would be ideal for t-mobile, so if there is a plan with verizon/att it might better support the br1 mini.

Also I’m not clear myself on how t-mobile band 4 and 66 work. I’m not clear how much bandwidth t-mobile might have on 4 vs 66 on a tower when it says 2/4/66.

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FYI cellmapper is .net Cellular Tower and Signal Map