New routers & antennas under test

There has been a lot going on lately, and I wanted to provide an update on what I am working on and testing. My primary focus has been on internet connectivity aboard which has become even more important with the current world situation. I have spent a lot of time helping folks get better connected, and stay connected in more remote places which has caused some delays in my writing. I have several new routers I have been testing, new antennas for LTE and WiFi, and more!

New Routers

I have been testing a number new routers, and have several more on the way. Here’s just a brief overview of what I’m testing with some notes – more detailed articles will be published on some of them.

Many of the routers have Category 18 radios in them which are the latest and greatest, and in particular, support Band 71, which is poised to become a big benefit for those of us who use T-Mobile while boating.

Peplink MAX Transit CAT18

Peplink came out with an updated version of their MAX Transit line sporting CAT18 modems. It only has a single modem, and if you look at the top of the unit, you’ll see why.

CAT18 requires 4 antennas, 2 more than the modem types before it. If you have a MAX Transit DUO you’re familiar with this layout as that product has two radios in it, requiring 4 antennas – one primary, and one diversity for each radio. This is one of the reasons that the MAX Transit line has not been updated with a CAT18 DUO unit – there’s just not enough space for 8x LTE antennas!

This brings up an interesting discussion about cabling, antennas, and boosters for CAT18 and 5G products. Is anyone going to be happy running 8x cables 20 feet through small spaces on their boat for a dual LTE radio device? Are there alternatives? I’ve been exploring this a lot lately, and will provide more updates in follow on posts.

So far, the Peplink MAX Transit CAT18 has been a high performing router. On both T-Mobile and Verizon, I have seen very stable download/upload rates in moderate to high signal areas – what has surprised me is the performance in the moderate signal areas.

Verizon speedtest

The above Speedtest result is pretty typical for Verizon anywhere I have been in the last few weeks – 40-50Mbps download, and 2-5Mbps upload. This is using a single outdoor antenna on port 1 of the router, with 3 additional indoor antennas, or with no outdoor antennas at all.

T-Mobile speedtest

Here’s a test with T-Mobile in the same location, and the results are also pretty typical of what I have seen the last few weeks when I have a moderate to good signal. That’s pretty good performance compared to the older routers and non CAT18 stuff I have tested. I’m looking forward to even more testing with 2-4 outdoor antennas to see the true full performance of this unit.

Cradlepoint IBR1700 CAT18

Cradlepoint is Peplink’s primary competitor, and while I have used their stuff in the past, the cost and UI/feature issues have always driven me away. When I saw the specs for the IBR1700, I was intrigued and interested in the product.

In general, this hardware is top notch, with some features at this price point Peplink doesn’t offer, such as dedicated WiFi as WAN ports, switch ports, and a really well designed modular chassis – you can add a second radio in a slot, which is nice for future modem upgrades/expandability. The Cradlepoint is around $1500, while a similar Peplink offering is almost $7000!

The unit is quite large, at least 3x the Peplink MAX Transit, but the power of the WiFi radios and additional 4x antennas over the Peplink are an excellent tradeoff. You can configure all 6 of the WiFi antennas in different modes, which is very flexible for a boat install. My preferred setup is to use 4x antennas for my internal WiFI network, which is 2x more antennas and more channels / throughput than the Peplink, and then leverage the other two antenna ports for outside WiFi as WAN sources.

The achilles heel of Cradlepoint is the software. Compared to Peplink, it’s just not as easy to use. There are features they have that Peplink does not (OpenVPN!) and vise versa, but Peplink’s overall integrated solution with their UI, inControl Cloud, and products like Fusion are simply easier to use. A lot of the terms they use for setting up connections are confusing enough that you have to go research what it means, and many of the defaults are setup in ways that won’t provide failover, monitoring, or any of the other basics you would assume.

One big concern is support for T-Mobile – after multiple support cases and forum posts, I was unable to get my T-Mobile SIM to work with the router. Cradlepoint says I need to have T-Mobile change my plan, but I am apprehensive to do that to a plan I am grandfathered in that has amazing features. In addition, it appears that the router itself was not fully approved by any US carrier at the time of this writing. Unfortunately issues getting T-Mobile to work has prevented me from testing Band 71 support.

I’m still on the fence as to whether this might become my primary system for the next year. It has a very powerful CAT18 radio, a second one can be added for around $600, and it has an amazingly powerful WiFi antenna and radio setup. It also has a built in switch, which could eliminate the one I use on board, saving a bit more space, wiring and power. But the certification issues, and compatibility with T-Mobile need to be resolved, and would I be OK with a slightly clunkier software for all of this? Not sure yet…

MikroTik wAP ac LTE6

It’s no secret that I love the MikroTik Groove, and MikroTik have released more LTE products in recent months. I got my hands on a wAP ac LTE6 and have been testing it for a while.

This is a single unit that can be mounted in a number of different ways both inside and outside. This could be a really good option for someone who can mount it outside and away from interference, as it would not require external antennas. It is extremely well built, with an aluminum base that is very sturdy and probably acts as a heat sink, antennas in the sides of the unit, and a sliding cover that has an ingenious locking mechanism.

The software is always the achilles heel with MikroTik, and this unit runs the same version as everything else. I was able to get it to connect to T-Mobile via LTE rather easily, but I did have to enter APN details and do a few other things to get going. There is a very useful mode on the Quickset page called “LTE AP” which sets up the system to be an access point using LTE as the internet source.

Powering the unit can be done by the included PoE injector, power brick, or another source of PoE power. As with many other MikroTik products, it supports a wide range of input power – the DC jack can take 10-57 volts. The unit also has 2 ethernet ports which can be used as LAN, WAN, PoE or any combo, although you’ll have to get used to configuring bridges and such in their software.

There are two knock out holes in the case that would allow you to use a connector to run external LTE antennas in the event you wanted to mount this inside and run outdoor antennas, or mount the entire thing outside, and use higher gain LTE antennas.

For $189, this is a fantastic value for an LTE router with a dual band 2.5/5Ghz local access point, very powerful WiFi radios, a CAT6 modem, and options for mounting and external antennas.

GL-X1200 Amarok

A reader suggested I check out this company after having used their smaller mobile hotspot products. I’ve ordered the GL-X1200 “Amarok” router which looks very promising as a mid-level but quite powerful solution.

It has dual radios, dual SIM card slots, 2.4 & 5Ghz local WiFi, ethernet switch built in, and a well built chassis. The most interesting thing to me is that it runs OpenWRT which is a Linux-based operating system that has existed for many years, targeted at embedded systems like a WiFi router. Apparently GL.iNet have skinned it with some custom UI stuff, but the rest is stock, which means things like OpenVPN and other fun features that have been in OpenWRT are native.

I chose two different modems for the unit, a category 4 modem that supports the new T-Mobile band 71, and a category 6 modem that has some nice performance specs.

It is coming from Hong Kong, so it will take a bit to make its way here for testing, but I will definitely be writing about this one as it is could be a very cost-effective way of getting a dual LTE device on board.

New Antennas

Poynting OMNI-402 with CAT18

Along the lines of the routers and antenna ports I mentioned above, one of the things I am focusing on over the next few months is testing various solutions that can support CAT18 and 5G routers. The challenge is the number of antenna ports and required cables, antennas, etc.

I tested the OMNI-402 on a CAT6 Peplink MAX Transit earlier this year and found that the OMNI-400 was likely a better solution given that the 402 was more focused on diversity for a dual antenna setup.

However, with a CAT18 setup and 4 antenna ports, there are a couple of approaches. You can use 4 individual antennas, which would likely be the best solution, but be quite a lot of space. You could use a single OMNI-400 and a booster, but in metro areas where the booster shuts down or makes things worse, you’re stuck either using a single antenna with 4 ports, or just using the factory installed local antennas.

You can also use “puck” style antennas that have an octopus of cables, and some which have 4x antennas inside a very small enclosure. My experience with these has been very bad, as you can see in Best LTE antenna and booster for the boat. Granted, this was a couple of years ago, but nothing I’ve seen since then convinces me that these antennas would be better. There are several companies working on new ones, but they aren’t available yet in most places, and are $500+ for the antenna alone.

The best solution I’ve come up with so far is to use two OMNI-402 antennas, cross wired to the various modem ports on the CAT18 devices. Poynting themselves have been very helpful in providing detailed information on how they would connect it, the expected benefits/challenges, and I’m looking forward to some good testing here.

Poynting OMNI-496 – outdoor WiFi

I have been searching for an outdoor 2.4 and/or 5Ghz WiFi antenna for a long time. Many are single band, extremely expensive, and have only a moderate gain. The Poynting OMNI-496 is quite a bit different – not only is it dual band, but the gain and radiation patterns are quite impressive.

Why, you ask, do I want an outdoor WiFi antenna? While I love the MikroTik Groove, I have always dreamt of a system where remote WiFi was integrated, given how challenging it is to use the Groove, and the fact that it is a separate piece of software.

In a perfect world, I’d love to use the WiFi as WAN feature in Peplink/Cradlepoint and have two nice outdoor antennas cabled to it so that I can choose between various LTE and WiFi as WAN options based on one dashboard / product. The Poynting OMNI-496 might finally make this a reality, which is very exciting!

More Stuff…

I’m still working on a number of other articles such as my Furuno system, an Internet Getting Started article, more tips on MikroTik, my Wallas Heater install, and more. If you’re interested in something in particular, please drop me a note!

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13 thoughts on “New routers & antennas under test”

  1. Hey Steve, great stuff as always. I just received my MAX Transit Cat18 today and now face the antenna question. It’s going in my Meridian 490/Bayliner 4788 and I’m cruising the same waters as you – we’re on G dock at Shilshole.

    You like the Poynting 400 more than the 402 but that means I’m 4 antennae mounted somewhere up top and 4 cables through the already packed conduits. I’m not opposed – in fact, I’m the sort of sick SoB who will do that because it would be measurably better than putting up 2x 402.

    So, where would I want to mount the antennae? 2 on each side of the arch split across the inputs? How much do they care about VHF or radar? Do I also need to give them elevation separation?

    Reply
    • Hi Shawn,

      This is what I alluded to in the article – there are some pros and cons between using a CAT18 setup and the antennas. I have a detailed article coming on my setup with OMNI-402’s and the Peplink MAX Transit CAT18 in particular, along with WiFi antennas, indoor APs from Peplink, and more.

      I chose to go the route of dual OMNI-402’s wired in a specific manner that was recommended by Poynting. Four OMNI-400’s would be better, but that is just too much real estate on my arch when I also need space for 2x OMNI-496 or other WiFi antennas, plus everything else that is already up there.

      I do prefer the OMNI-400 for a single antenna outside, single diversity antenna inside setup. I also prefer it for a booster, as there’s no benefit in having multiple antennas for that. I will be leaving my OMNI-400 for that purpose alone (booster) and have added two OMNI-402s for the CAT18 setup.

      In a perfect world, elevation separation, far away from any other sources would be perfect, but I don’t even have that. My radar is up above them for the most part, but I have a dedicated AIS antenna nearby although much higher. My primary and secondary VHF antennas are about 5′ away.

      Poynting wants 24″ between every one of their antennas or one with similar properties. That’s pretty similar to other manufacturers, although it can vary. I have my 402’s mounted on opposite sides of the arch, offset front to back from each other by about a foot, but at the same elevation. They are about 10 feet apart or more.

      I feel that having the single OMNI-400 for the booster, when needed, and the dual 402’s for the every day use will get me the best performance and signal strength in both worlds without having 4x LTE antennas up on the arch, but if you have the room for 4x 400’s, then go for it. There are also some single unit antennas that have amazing looking performance and have all four antennas inside of them I hope to be testing soon – they’re still making their way to me. Those could be a much more elegant solution for those who don’t want even 2x antennas out there.

      Reply
      • Hi Steve,

        Are you referring to the Peplink HD1 dome with a separate sim injector module? I was talking to Peplink on yacht setups, and they advised me to look at the HD1 dome (cat18) because it just has one UTP cable with POE. You can easily bring it up in the mast for good reception.

        The sim injector allows for the sim cards to be changed below deck, and the whole setup goes into a WAN port of a normal network router.

        This does away with the coax cables, and is very similar to a Mikrotik Groove 52ac setup on the wifi site, although much more expensive.

        Would you recommend this above separate omni 402 antennas and coax cables?

        Reply
        • Peplink has been recommending the HD1 and HD2 a lot in the last year or so, but there are some things to consider with it.

          First is the cost – the HD1 is around $1500, and the HD2 is around $3400. That does not include the SIM injector, which is about $1000, and in my opinion, required to make this setup usable. Otherwise, you have to get to the HD, unscrew it, and access the SIM cards, which usually is a multi-hour task. That puts your price tag at $2500 or $4400 respectively, compared to the MAX Transit CAT18 at $600.

          Yes, it puts the antennas directly outside without any cable loss, but at 4x the cost, I’m not sure it’s completely worth it. Especially with the second issue below…

          The HD1/2 is ONLY an LTE router. Most of the rest of the features we are used to from Peplink are not included in this product. It doesn’t create a local WiFi network or have any of the features with a wired WAN port, which most of us leverage for WiFi boosting. It essentially is a source of LTE internet. This means for typical users you will also need an indoor router. It does have an ethernet splitter which could potentially be used with a MikroTik, but you can’t send PoE through that, so you’d have to wire in the MikroTik power supply right after that connection, and before the cable to the MikroTik. I’ve not tried this yet, but hope to with an HD1 in the next few months.

          To duplicate the typical MAX Transit setup, it would require something like a Balance One Core ($399) or just a MAX Transit, BR1, etc. that doesn’t use it’s LTE radios, and creates the local internal WiFi networks as well as acts as the central router for things like a WiFi booster, which lets just say that’s $500 or so. The MAX Transit could also be used as a backup LTE source.

          So in reality the total cost would be near $3000 for a single HD1 setup.

          The mounting is also not as slick as I would like to see for the marine environment. If you don’t use the ethernet splitter, then you can flush mount it with a decent sized hole. If you do, then you’d need to use the bracket, which would leave the cable exit point somewhat exposed, but it can be mitigated in some ways.

          For a sailboat, the HD1/2 might be the only way to go – placing the entire thing high up somewhere away from interference, and running an ethernet cable back to an indoor router. No additional crazy antenna farms, etc. but it comes at a cost of 4-5x, and it doesn’t have all of the features of the MAX series.

          Reply
          • Hi Steve,

            I have the same concerns, but it does remove all coax cables. The Transit has a Wifi network, but is unusable in my mind because it will be at the back in the boat, where the antennas will be placed. The front cabin surely will have no reception. So either I’m missing something, or you’ll always need an additional access point.

            I would feed both UTP cables into a UBNT USG router (2 wan ports) and then an UBNT AP in the LAN port to create a wifi. This solves all the issues and has the best / easiest management system, but probably will consume more power. Thinking of it, I’ll be needing 48V for the Injector, and the USG. The HD1, the Mikrotik and the AP would be powered through POE.

            * Transit CAT18 + 2 x Omni 402 = 750 + 650 = 1400€
            * HD1 + Injector + UBNT USG + UBNT AP = 3250€

            So cost is x 2,5.

            My gut tells me the price is too high for the setup. I’ll probably look at some accessible mounting place for a Transit Cat18 where I still can switch sim cards. I’m not sure on how efficiently to solve the local Wifi issue with regards to the front cabin. I’m on a sailboat, and the less power hungry items the better.

            What is the maximum recommended length of good quality coax cables would you recommend to avoid loss?

          • It definitely does remove antenna cabling, but in my testing of the OMNI-402s + CAT18 MAX Transit vs the HD1 that I have, I’ve seen more situations where the 402’s+CAT18 seem to perform better in marginal signal situations. I think it has to do with the size and quality of the Poynting antennas, and even though there is loss with the cables, it’s overcome by that vs. the outdoor smaller HD1 antennas. I’m not 100% on this yet, as I am still testing actively – even right now I’m using the HD1 to respond to this 🙂

            I have a 46′ power boat with probably more stuff in the way, and I have my MAX Transit on the tallest level (flybridge) inside a fiberglass cabinet. I can get the signal pretty much everywhere throughout the boat. A single MAX placed centrally on a sailboat might work out, but you’re right – if it’s far aft, it might mean the v-berth would have low or no signal.

            Easily solved with the AP One Rugged, which I also have aboard and use in combination with my MAX for that very reason. They are relatively inexpensive compared to the overall cost of an HD1 system, and they can be controlled by the MAX or HD1 so you have a unified network with handoff, etc. They run off of PoE or DC voltage, and don’t take very much power.

            There’s also another advantage – having the AP One Rugged means you can have that as your primary AP, and turn the MAX AP off if coverage is OK. Then you can use the WiFi as WAN functionality of the MAX and it’s WiFi ports to grab remote WiFi signals, if you prefer not to use the MikroTik, or if you’re close enough to use the stock antennas. Admittedly, this won’t work in your use case, but it does for me since I have the two WiFi ports on the MAX connected to OMNI-496s.

            I also have a UniFi USG, CloudKey Gen2, and two UniFi AC APs which I’ve used aboard, but those take far more power than the Peplink MAX or AP One products. UniFi definitely has more features in their APs (not a ton more) and a better overall WiFi product since that is their primary focus with that product, but I think it is overkill for a boat unless you have a 70+ foot yacht with lots of dead zones or metal. It also means another vendor, another app, etc. I’ve used Tycon’s PoE converters to power the UniFi stuff and there is definitely a lot more power required for it. I’ve also used a TrendNET DC industrial PoE switch (which I’m still playing with) to power them, and that works as well, but again uses a lot more power than just a DC AP like the AP One Rugged.

            The max length of the antenna cables I like to see is 20′ or less. Even shorter means 1-2dB more of antenna gain. Anything longer than 20 and you need to make sure you’re not negating the gain of the antenna completely. Even the Poynting antennas only offer 1-2dB at certain frequencies.

            I also always use LMR-400 ultraflex cable – any of the cheaper stuff and you’re looking at loss as well.

  2. Thanks for the quick reply Steve. I think that makes a lot of sense and I rather not pull that many cables. Any chance you have an affiliate link for the omni-402?

    Reply
    • You’ll still have to pull 4x cables as the OMNI-402 is a dual element, dual cable antenna. I also recommend using LMR-400 or LMR-400 ultra flex cabling because of it’s low loss properties.

      I don’t have an affiliate link at this time, but thank you for asking!

      Reply
  3. Great article, great site content all around! As a new boat owner I’m very interested in an ‘Internet Getting Started’ article. My boat – C-Dory 22 has a wallas stove/heater in it, so far so good.

    Reply
  4. Steve, got the MicroTic you mention and will use it on T-Mobile. Running into config questions regarding APN and PIN settings. Can you describe what they refer to or what you used for it to work with a T-Mobile SIM?

    Reply
    • Hi Andrzej,
      For standard plans in the US on T-Mobile, you can use the APN of “fast.t-mobile.com” and it should work without any other configuration or data. If you got your plan through a 3rd party reseller, or the plan itself has special features, or the SIM has PIN security on it, then you’d need to get the details from whomever issued the plan/SIM to make sure you have it all.

      Once you have that APN configured, it should work right away.

      Reply

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