LTE router

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frater secessus

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I read @RvNaut's informative Starlink thread with interest. As it happens I don't have the upfront or monthly funds to support SL, so I will describe my use of an LTE router to get usable signal in the boonies.

These routers work basically like hotspot pucks with these differences:

  1. typically have external antennas (sometimes detachable for mounting elsewhere)
  2. no battery, run off wall wart in a house or straight off DC in a van
  3. usually have ethernet ports for folks who want to use them
I picked up an Amazon Warehouse (open box) router for $38 (!) and there are no recurring costs. Put normal phone SIM in router and configure the router. In my present location (Kaibab NF) I have zero bars of TMO with the SIM in the phone but 3 bars and usable data in the router. Also have used it with Verizon MNVO with similar effect. In the past there were nice sites I couldn't use because there was zero data on the phone -- since getting the router I have have usable data everywhere I've tried and no longer think about it much.

{Edited to add: I don't require signal because I am addicted to facebook or whatever. Last time I camped in zero bars I was repeatedly aggressed by a screaming lunatic. I was worried I would have to take defensive action without the benefit of being on the line with 911 at the time. Never again.}

Wifi repeating: when in town I use it to repeat WIFI from Planet Fitness or wherever, then it fails over to mobile data when the WIFI access point is no longer available. Woot! I have a small 2.4ghz GL.iNet router I used before, but this one is 2.4/5 which I wanted as an upgrade anyhow.

This particular device is ~$110 new and worth it at that price, but I am pleased with the open-box deal. Me no have excess money. There are name-brand routers in this space, typically running $200 and up. Thinking here about the Netgear Nighthawk line with external ants, Mofi, etc. There are also some that come in around $99 (search youtube for "4G LTe Router with a STANDARD SIM - lowest rates, best features") but I have no experience with those. If someone has one please chime in.

drawbacks

It is based on OpenWRT/LEDE (yay!) with a propreitary UI (Boo!) that hides stuff power users might want to play with. I would prefer vanilla OpenWRT with SSH access but we gets what we gets at this price point.

Not on the AT&T Whitelist. Might work if activated in an approved phone first, dunno.

If you don't tweak TTL the carrier might require a hotspot fee as one would use on a phone.

This is not the newest, sexiest hardware available. The Cat 4 modem is limited to 150 Mbit/s down and 50 up. My cheap data plans don't have anywhere near that speed so this is no biggie to me. All I need is usable data.

The phone's (or tablet's) SIM now lives in the router. This is no biggie for me because I use Google Voice for text and calls and the router covers my whole campsite. I have a grandfathered voice-only SIM I carry in the phone in case I need to make a call away from camp.

other things I considered

  1. cell booster. Ruled out because of high cost and requirement of phone{s} to be in close proximity to the repeating ant. No wifi repeating.
  2. PepLink BR-1 mini. Well regarded, but doesn't do Wifi repeating without a separate $100 license. So price as required for my use would be ~4x the cost of the little Chinese router. Not a hard call for me after I consulted my checking account balance. :p
 
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