CAT 6 versus CAT 18 LTE Modems

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For those of you from iRV2 you have no doubt seen my post Best RV Internet for Dummies.


Since making that post (and many others) I have continued to explore higher levels of LTE technology. In May of 2018 I bought one of the first CAT 6 LTE modem (Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 Router with Cat 6 LTE Advanced Modem) then in March of 2019 I bought a CradlePoint IBR900-1200M LTE Advanced Pro Router along with CardlePoint MC400 CAT 18 LTE Advanced Pro 1200M to work in a CradlePoint Extensibility Dock.

I also secure two Verizon Prepaid Unlimited plan SIM cards before that plan was discontinued.

The result is that I was able to compare the performance of a CAT 6 versus CAT 18 modem during my summer travels under identical situations with the same type SIM card. Bottom line with a strong Verizon signal and no "network management" there is little difference in day to day functional use of the each modem. However, whenever I found my self in fringe signal strength situations (the rule versus the exception out West) the 4X4 MIMO CAT 18 modem would blow the socks of the 2X2 MIMO Cat 6 modem. Is it worth the difference in cost. I think so. All of my experience was in the western US. Cell coverage is much better in the eastern US, so the differences may not be so dramatic between CAT 6 and CAT 18 in an environment with high cell tower density.
 
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I have benefited from your original post. I am happily using both the peplink mk2 and the mini, with att and Verizon. Worked very well this summer out west and now is working great as I travel the east.

2019 DSDP 4369 * Active Air * NHSO
 
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I'm trying to boil down to "the latest and greatest" ... hard to keep up with the observations on the modems, routers, and antennas ... Assume a very generous budget and the need for Internet to always work "no matter what" .... What do I get? Assume Verizon, ATT, and TMobile SIMs. Also want quality WiFi inside (2 and 5 ghz) ... and the ability to retransmit campground wifi into the RV would be nice. Overall I think I remember seeing Cradlepoint > Pepwave?

IBR900 + Dock + MC400 -- this gets me two modems. 3 would be nice (I don't want to be swapping SIMs ever again).

This is interesting to me: https://5gstore.com/product/8796_pepwave_max_hd4_mbx.html

And now, antennas .. I want something permanently mounted up top, meaning omnidirectional ... https://store.livinlite.net/Poynting-7-in-1-4x-Cellular-WIFI-GPS-RV-and-Marine-Roof-Antenna-for-Dual-Modem-Applications_p_165.html ? Again so many choices and lost track of all the testing and results.

So, if you had money to burn, what would you do right now?
 
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What carriers do you use?
 
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I'm trying to boil down to "the latest and greatest" ... hard to keep up with the observations on the modems, routers, and antennas ... Assume a very generous budget and the need for Internet to always work "no matter what" .... What do I get? Assume Verizon, ATT, and TMobile SIMs. Also want quality WiFi inside (2 and 5 ghz) ... and the ability to retransmit campground wifi into the RV would be nice. Overall I think I remember seeing Cradlepoint > Pepwave?

IBR900 + Dock + MC400 -- this gets me two modems. 3 would be nice (I don't want to be swapping SIMs ever again).

This is interesting to me: https://5gstore.com/product/8796_pepwave_max_hd4_mbx.html

And now, antennas .. I want something permanently mounted up top, meaning omnidirectional ... https://store.livinlite.net/Poynting-7-in-1-4x-Cellular-WIFI-GPS-RV-and-Marine-Roof-Antenna-for-Dual-Modem-Applications_p_165.html ? Again so many choices and lost track of all the testing and results.

So, if you had money to burn, what would you do right now?
If you want a modem designed for mobile operations with CAT18, 4X4 MIMO there really is no other choice that the IBR900 + Dock + MC400. You need the Dock+MC400 in order to get 4X4 MIMO.

Antennas, in my opinion, are still not optimized to support 4X4 MIMO in deep fringe conditions. I think the solution will be some kind of auto slew yagi antenna or parabolic antenna, similar to those used for mobile satellite TV.

As I have said repeatedly on the "other" forum, if you are close to a cell tower, CAT 18 is overkill. A CAT 6 in the LTE-A mode will get you the speed and latency you need for most any internet task. The challenge in a coach is to have a system that will support "fast speeds" far from the tower. That is where a CAT 18 modem, 4X4 MIMO will outperform lower category modems.
 
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I'm on board with the more antennas (aka MIMO) the better however for some reason CAT 18 doesn't do Sprint. I'm in Mesa AZ now on the eastern fringe of civilization in Usery SP and AT&T is saturated, Verizon prepaid always sucks and Sprint is giving me this on a LTE-A with Panorama 2-in-1 on the roof:

sprint.png
 
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What carriers do you use?
Verizon and ATT (true unlimited - corporate plans) and TMobile (technically 50 gig but if TTL is 64 then 150 gig)
 
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This is only my opinion and this is not science, the science is the modem capabilities, the antenna capabilities the wiring. @turbopilot can better speak on the science, I'll offer my opinions on real world experience instead, which all of us know, but this is my rationale for not throwing a gazillion dollars at cellular.

I chose the Pepwave units and have been pleased with them. I use a MAX BR1 MK2 LTE-A with an AT&T SIM in it from the Mobley. I have a BR1 MINI LTE-A with the add-on feature license for Sprint. I use the MiFi 8800L for a 3rd always active WAN for Verizon Prepaid. This allows me faster switching between all active carriers.

Antennas: I have multiple on my roof from testing and they all have benefits in various areas. I started with 2 x SureCall Omni's, I later added a Panorama 5-in-1 for the BR1 MK2. I then added the BR1 MINI and paired a Panorama 2-in-1 to that. Later I decided to add and test the Panorama omni's which are around $38 each. Finally I added a Panorama 2-in-1 to the top of my front AC shroud to use with the Verizon MiFi 8800L as it has 2 x antenna ports on the bottom. Again, various areas gain from different antennas depending on the cellular bands. I wish I didn't have all these antennas as obviously I spend way too much time changing carriers and antennas finding the best. So I won't come out of my coach until day 2 :)

I've thought about the Cradlepoint for testing but they seem to be focused on AT&T and Verizon as the primary carriers. I am not sure what other carriers will work with it so be sure to research this and check the bands. I suggested to and worked with Peplink to add the TTL control in the Pepwave routers which came out in firmware 8.0.1. I defer to @turbopilot if there is such as system in Cradlepoint as I have no experience with the configuration features. In the pepwave there is now a setting to enforce a TTL value. I'm not sure of its effectiveness but I use 65 and have been using this for months now as I started using it in beta.

I do believe more antennas are better such as 4x4 MIMO and if I was to go to that I'd probably get the Cradlepoint 9-in-1 antenna. However 4x4 MIMO seems to be paired with CAT 18 and higher which doesn't seem to play with Sprint which has been a good alternate carrier for me. I signed up for a 120 GB hotspot plan, now it shows 200 GB and at times it works great but it's not as good as AT&T as that's the predominant carrier in my travels.

CAT 6, 12, 18, 20 modems. We all want to believe this is like computer modems. Faster modem is better. Technically and by spec it is. However, we are in a world where our Internet speeds are not based on the fastest modem but instead what the carrier decides to give us. They may have GiGe capability at the tower but may limit us to 20 MB/s for example. This is their bandwidth control and out of our control. So you can throw all the cash you want at a cellular router and antenna and none of those are guaranteed. My cheaper SureCall's with ground planes I put them on for testing at times are the better antenna choice.

In the end while I'd love to throw my business AMEX at more equipment I just don't believe it will make much if any difference in a broad usage scenario. There will be locations where one benefits over the other but as of this writing, Nov 2019, my CAT 6 with LTE-A works outstanding for my needs. I typically see 20-30 MB/s speeds on average, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.

My air conditioner shroud location is not the best from a science point of view as it's a longer cable run but the antenna location has proven to be the best over my shorter panorama's on a 3 foot lead. So you have to weigh antenna location with cable length and signal loss.

It's cellular, it's not residential, but we are really lucky right now. Can you imagine dealing with this in the 3G days? LTE is pretty good overall and we're fortunate. Carriers are going to start their deceptive 5G promotions, we all know that's probably 2 years away from real use at least by an RVer unless you boondock on Main St.

So look at your options based on what carriers you want to use, if you want TTL control, do you want 4x4 MIMO. I think any choice will serve you well. I don't think throwing 3K at this is necessary. I was once concerned the BR1 MINI people were choosing wouldn't serve them well but that's not the case (other than a more limited WiFi capability). Also pay attention to annual fees and subscriptions, they are all changing up and I don't know who's doing what right now.

Fun times. Happy spending :) Let us know what you choose and how it works out.

P.S. I'm on my 3rd MiFi 8800L battery (at least) due to swelling and failing. I have to leave it on charge all the time as it is just not reliable otherwise. When this battery goes it is likely going into a router such as the Pepwave instead.
 
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If Elon stays on time (which rarely happens), StarLink will start to go operational late next year. This is the long term solution for mobile connectivity.

https://www.starlink.com
 
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Yes, I'm watching Starlink like a hawk! I hope he makes it happen. Already got quite a few satellites up!
 
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