Pepwave Router Review | 3 Months of Experience
We’ve been on our RV adventure for nearly 3 years. One of the important parts for us was having internet access so that we could continue to work in our business while we were traveling. In the first year we had a lot of issues and had to move quickly to find solutions so that we would have reliable internet with decent speed.
1st Attempt: Using rv park internet.
Yeah – this proved problematic immediately. RV park internet is usually made up of a fairly high bandwidth signal shared all over the park with wifi and wifi extenders. So, they have to have a pretty complex signal network over the park. This bouncing of signals via wifi extenders and the sharing of bandwidth by hundreds of devices, can really be detrimental. It became immediately important to get away from ‘rv park internet’.
Side note: we ran into one park in Brownsville, TX called ’Tropical Trails’ which had installed hard line internet to each of the sites. Their backbone was a full on fiber optic line to the park. Speed was great. But us, like many other guests were not ready for this form of internet access, which requires that you have your own router in your RV.
2nd Attempt: Using internet sharing off our AT&T phones
We flipped on ‘Internet Sharing’ hotspots on our cell phones and gave this a try. It actually worked much better than attempting to use rv park internet. But it lacked in reliability and we found that we had to be pretty conservative about its use. We ate through our bandwidth limits within a couple days and fell into a situation where AT&T was throttling our speed for the majority of the month.
We’d been with AT&T for years for our mobile phones. So I thought I might have a little clout with them to try to get this throttling stopped. When I called AT&T, the reps on the phone simply could not have cared less and were less than helpful. I requested that I be escalated to speak with a manager. The manager that I finally was able to talk with was not helpful. We grabbed our phones and headed to T-Mobile.
3rd Attempt: Using internet sharing off our T-Mobile phones
T-Mobile was impressive in the retail store in Austin, TX. They showed us amazing speed. Pricing was better than what we were paying at AT&T. And the sales rep touted how well his system worked when he tethered his computer off his phone. We made the switch.
For the first couple days of tethering off our phones with our new T-Mobile Service, things seemed pretty good. We could get work done most of the time. Then we discovered that there were massive slowdowns during peak usage in the area. I spent an hour on the phone with T-Mobile because the slowdowns were so drastic. After quite some time, T-Mobile sent a repair team to the nearby tower because the slowdowns were actually a hardware issue at the tower. Once repaired, we had decent internet IN THAT LOCATION. Problems came up after that. No place that we went after leaving that spot in Austin proved to be good enough for our work.
4th Attempt: Mobile Hotspot Router by NetGear
While in Austin, we were doing pretty good with the T-Mobile solution but we couldn’t stream anything to our televisions. I heard news of a company in Las Vegas that was configuring and selling NetGear HotSpot routers with unlimited bandwidth. The investment was about $350 and $100 a month for bandwidth. I ordered up a system.
The good: It worked. And it solved many of the small issues we had by tethering off our phones. Also, now we could stream TV. It worked pretty well in most locations.
The bad: It was problematic. We found that several times per day we had to reboot the router (unplug, wait 30 seconds, plug back in). It seemed that this happened often while I was in the middle of something important. We also found that we needed to move the antenna to different sides of the bus, according to which way it was to the nearest cell tower. Also, the router got so hot at times that it actually melted its battery.
One improvement: We’d been using the NetGear for about a year when I found out that you could get an external antenna for it. It was under $30 at Amazon. The antenna came with a suction cup system to stick it in the window, most closely facing the nearest cell tower. This improved the NetGear performance substantially. Every time we relocated, I would go online to find the nearest cell tower so that I would know which window to put the antenna into.
5th Attempt: PepWave Mobile HotSpot Router & External Antenna (PepWave Max Transit Duo)
Now, in our 3rd year of travel, I was looking hard to get better reliability and speed. I went on the web and scoured blogs and forums for a solution that would take our internet access to the next level. I found the PepWave routers. First, I have to tell you – PepWave makes many models and some of their older models are still available as new, so there is a lot of choices to weed through. When I finished my research, I came up with one model of PepWave that I felt best about and two antennas. I chose a PepWave Max Trans Duo. (that’s a mouthful).
My logic in picking The PepWave Max Trans was that it was based on CAT18 technology. Now, for you hardwire networking nerds, CAT18 has nothing to do with cabling like CAT5 or CAT6. CAT18 refers to the advancement of signal processing.
The Duo capability of this router is that you can have two SIM cards for two different mobile carriers in the router at one time. Each would be on a separate antenna and you could move back and forth between the providers manually (via control panel) or automatically.
The other interesting capability is to use incoming WI-Fi as a priority and have it roll to mobile internet as needed. I have yet to try this feature because I simply rely on my mobile internet as top priority.
My PepWave Setup
In our motor coach, we added the PepWave in the front of the coach. We located it in a cabinet where the television electronics are located. Along with the PepWave, we added a high-speed switch for wired connections to the router and other devices. On the roof of the coach, we added an omnidirectional antenna with two separate channels (one for each mobile carrier) and it has a wifi antenna built in to broadcast our wifi throughout the area around our coach.
As a backup to the main antenna, we also purchased a directional antenna that mounts on a flagpole outside the coach. This comes in handy if our coach is someplace rural and we need to get a little height to clear trees or hills and improve our line of site to cell towers. An example of this came up while we were in Nevada City, CA. The RV park had very basic Wifi and we found only a few campsites that had any sort of cell signal. By raising our antenna 15’ and aiming directly toward the nearest tower, we were able to get stellar internet. Actually good enough to watch Netflix or Hulu at night with great resolution and no buffering.
One thing that I did notice is that the PepWave router runs a little hot. Apparently this is normal but I think we pushed the temperatures up by having it in the small cabinet. To help alleviate this as an issue, I leave the cabinet door open during the day. This helped – but I wanted to go a step further. I bought a large heat-sync that I found on Amazon for $8. I was fortunate and found one that covers the whole top of the router. I used a little heat-sync grease on it and a couple metal clips to hold it tight on the router. This worked amazingly well. When I reach in and touch the router, it’s never hot now.
PepWave Max Trans Performance
Performance of the PepWave is amazing as long as there is bandwidth available, We never have to reboot it. It gives us consistent speed. And it has been extremely reliable. Currently, I’m in an RV resort in Southern Texas. The nearest cell tower is about 4 miles away. And it’s very flat ground between our rig and the antenna. I can’t see the antenna due to trees, but I know where it is. As I test this, I am getting 88mb downloads and 30.85mb uploads. Late evenings, when tower usage is down, I’ve tested and had over 135mb download speed! This is using speedtest.net to check it.
Note on performance issues: When we were in Sparks, NV, we were within a mile of the cell tower. We could look out our rig and see it. But, the tower was congested with users and we found that we could not get over 4mb downloads during the day. This was frustrating and I tried speed tests at 4am and was getting 80mb downloads. It was simply over use of that particular cell tower. The PepWave performed as best it could with the limited bandwidth being served.
- File upload: Excellent
- File download: Excellent
- Streaming on Television: Excellent. No buffering unless we are in a spot where the transfer rates are below 5mb (rare).
First, I have to say – I have no regrets in going with the PepWave solution. PepWave builds a solid product and the performance has been stellar.