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Old 12-06-2021, 02:30 PM   #1
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Rooftop wi-fi opinion: Not worth it yet

Throw rocks at me if you wish, but I’m here to say that… while the variations of rooftop wi-fi/LTE units are great for marketing, for most of us they are a needless expense and more trouble than they’re worth. I see a lot of buzz here about 'How do I use this great thing?', and I haven't seen any reason to give the devices that much credit. That is especially true when looking at the array of one company's offerings selling for $800 and up!

In the simplest (non-LTE) form they are nothing more than a wi-fi repeater/extender with a tall antenna. You could buy a home device with the same functionality for $39. The antenna height (being on the roof) occasionally makes a difference, but that was a one-time situation in my experience.

With a 4G (5G?)/LTE card installed they are functionally no different than a JetPack from Verizon or using your phone’s hotspot to provide wi-fi to other devices - yet the rooftop unit and installation are several times the cost.

The real clinker… I have not yet lodged at a campground with enough wi-fi horsepower to be usable for anything meaningful. They either broadcast only from the office – which makes the distance to your site an issue, or they prohibit streaming. Many of them require a unique guest validation code to logon but are a still providing an open/unsecured network, thus obviating any banking activity if you’re smart.

So what’s the point? I contend they’re all $izzle and very little steak. They do not warrant being so expensive.

I *think* my Sky4 Ranger would be sort of OK if I stuffed an LTE card into it, but they only offer a T-Mobile solution. Verizon isn’t perfect but better coverage than the former, and I want an easy way to bundle its cost with my existing services.

Meh, until things become more compelling we’ll just turn on the phone’s hotspot to stream music and Netflix. That solution is easy, cheaper, and functionally just about the same.
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Old 12-06-2021, 02:33 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BatRastard View Post
Throw rocks at me if you wish, but I’m here to say that… while the variations of rooftop wi-fi/LTE units are great for marketing, for most of us they are a needless expense and more trouble than they’re worth. I see a lot of buzz here about 'How do I use this great thing?', and I haven't seen any reason to give the devices that much credit. That is especially true when looking at the array of one company's offerings selling for $800 and up!

In the simplest (non-LTE) form they are nothing more than a wi-fi repeater/extender with a tall antenna. You could buy a home device with the same functionality for $39. The antenna height (being on the roof) occasionally makes a difference, but that was a one-time situation in my experience.

With a 4G (5G?)/LTE card installed they are functionally no different than a JetPack from Verizon or using your phone’s hotspot to provide wi-fi to other devices - yet the rooftop unit and installation are several times the cost.

The real clinker… I have not yet lodged at a campground with enough wi-fi horsepower to be usable for anything meaningful. They either broadcast only from the office – which makes the distance to your site an issue, or they prohibit streaming. Many of them require a unique guest validation code to logon but are a still providing an open/unsecured network, thus obviating any banking activity if you’re smart.

So what’s the point? I contend they’re all $izzle and very little steak. They do not warrant being so expensive.

I *think* my Sky4 Ranger would be sort of OK if I stuffed an LTE card into it, but they only offer a T-Mobile solution. Verizon isn’t perfect but better coverage than the former, and I want an easy way to bundle its cost with my existing services.

Meh, until things become more compelling we’ll just turn on the phone’s hotspot to stream music and Netflix. That solution is easy, cheaper, and functionally just about the same.
Inhale the winegard 4g lte connect 2 and love it. Have 150 g verizon card and no issues with the rare occasion of having to pull card and clean it.
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Old 12-06-2021, 03:27 PM   #3
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I *think* my Sky4 Ranger would be sort of OK if I stuffed an LTE card into it, but they only offer a T-Mobile solution. Verizon isn’t perfect but better coverage than the former, and I want an easy way to bundle its cost with my existing services.
With all due respect your the modem in your Sky4 WiFiRanger router is capable of working with both T-Mobile and AT&T.
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Old 12-06-2021, 03:45 PM   #4
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You can not get improvement if there is nothen to improve or all the bandwidth is being used by the snowbirds? There is no one solution that is a fix to all the diffret issues.
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Old 12-06-2021, 03:57 PM   #5
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I pretty much agree. However, I find a WiFi Ranger Spruce router to be perfect for us in my motorhome. That and the two MiFi/hotspot devices - an ATT Nighthawk and a Verizon 8800L Jetpack.

With these 3-items I'm really completely set. I can connect both MiFi devices at the same time inside the RV to the WFR Spruce or just one at a time depending on which carrier works best. No crawling up on the roof to change SIM cards.

The WFR Spruce costs only $120 and it has both USB and Ethernet tethering with my MiFi devices and it does WiFi as WAN to use any campground WiFi that good enough to use (this only happens about 5% of the time).

Plus, with individual MiFi devices I can upgrade one or both when more capable devices become practical. No need to buy another $900 device to install on the roof.

What about the advantage of roof mounting? Well, I have two broadband antennas on the roof in a "mock-mimo" setup and simply plug the dual TS-9 plugs into whichever MiFi I want to use.

This setup gives me all the advantages of the latest $900 Pepwave gear with 3-devices mounted INSIDE and a total cost around $450.

But the Wifi Ranger Spruce router is the key device that brings all the options into one useful place inside the RV.
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Old 12-06-2021, 06:17 PM   #6
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That has not been my experience when directly replacing an original Pepwave BR-1 first installed in 2015 with an 8800L and then replacing the 8800L with a Peplink Transit Cat 18, all using the same BoatANT rooftop antennae. In fringe areas for the 8800L the Pepwave units have been clearly superior especially the Transit with band locking. Far superior. Usable signals vs just reading a book.

If you're in an area where signal levels are good, or if you simply choose not to spend the money, that's fine.
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Old 12-06-2021, 07:45 PM   #7
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If you're in an area where signal levels are good, or if you simply choose not to spend the money, that's fine.
IMO at lot of this depends on how you use your RV. If you are a boondocker then it may be worth spending as much money as is necessary to ensure a usable signal most the time. OTOH if you tend to stay in RV parks and campgrounds you may not find it necessary to make such an investment. JMO
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Old 12-07-2021, 12:29 PM   #8
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I tend to agree with the OP. We have a old WIFI Ranger Core, Aspen, and Pepwave Solo. Out of the three the Solo is by far my favorite and the most robust of the three.

I can stack three different services from priority from 1 to 3. I have done two test to verify the fall over. One, watching TV and shut down priority 1 and the TV never missing a beat picking up priority 2. Also start a ping and shutdown priority 1 connection and I only get one fail ping before priority 2 picks up the load. It will do load balancing (or what ever you want to call it) but I not willing to pay the price every year to subscribe to the service. I like the ability to switch connections priority with using of mouse and don't have to save the new setup or use the phone app to set priority. My Solo has been running for 57 days without reboot.

The WIFI Ranger core has been solid but seems to have a lot more overhead than the SOLO but over all I like it and use it as a backup to the the SOLO.

The Aspen is in my junk box and I have never been happy with the amount of overhead it has and the number of reboots when locks up or loses connections.
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Old 12-07-2021, 04:03 PM   #9
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The WIFI Ranger core has been solid but seems to have a lot more overhead than the SOLO but over all I like it and use it as a backup to the the SOLO.

The Aspen is in my junk box and I have never been happy with the amount of overhead it has and the number of reboots when locks up or loses connections.
I'm sorry to hear that your Aspen has been performing poorly. It's a far more capable device than is the Core. Do you have them both updated to firmware 7.1.0.b11? Please let us help you figure out what is causing the issues you have experienced.

You may not be aware that with the b11 firmware there is a new Fast-NAT feature that essentially removes the processor from the loop as long as Usage Tracking and MultiWAN services are disabled. This should result in significantly less overhead than you had previously experienced.
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Old 12-08-2021, 11:06 AM   #10
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IMO at lot of this depends on how you use your RV. If you are a boondocker then it may be worth spending as much money as is necessary to ensure a usable signal most the time. OTOH if you tend to stay in RV parks and campgrounds you may not find it necessary to make such an investment. JMO

I somewhat disagree with your premise. Proximity to cellular & WIFI signals & tendencies to stay in RV parks & campgrounds are not mutually exclusive.

Not only does it depend on how one travels (uses their RV's), but, there are other considerations regarding how one uses internet connectivity. Many are willing to expend more resources to achieve a minimal increase in performance/flexibility. That's pretty much true with just about everything associated with PC's, IOT & internet connectivity.

I think most would agree a dedicated data solution is normally going to perform better than a combination voice/data solution. A commercial grade device is normally going to perform better, with more flexibility, than a consumer device.
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Old 12-08-2021, 04:09 PM   #11
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Many are willing to expend more resources to achieve a minimal increase in performance/flexibility. That's pretty much true with just about everything associated with PC's, IOT & internet connectivity.
There are many people who frequent these forums who lack an understanding of digital telephony. Many of them are my age and were raised in a analog era where a stronger signal was almost always a better one.

Today's cell phones, hotspots and routers can operate effectively over a range of more than 50 dB in signal strength. That's easy to write but most people don't realize that 50 dB is a factor of 100,000 in signal strength. As a result it isn't always necessary to spend big bucks to get a slightly stronger signal because doing so may not have much impact on the download speed you will achieve.

As a case in point, the Verizon LTE signal strength at my home varies between -100dBm and -114dBm which is sort of like saying it varies from pretty poor to dreadful! I just used SpeedTest.net to measure a download speed of 129 Mbps with that poor signal. That's without any investment other than a new Pixel 6 Pro phone.

My antiquated 7730L hotspot with a prepaid plan measured 64.5 Mbps with the same signal and I'd be more than happy to have that speed available. (I should note that I can't determine how much of the speed difference between this and my phone is due to the hardware or the prepaid plan the hotspot is using.)

I'm not at all suggesting that people shouldn't upgrade their hardware but it isn't always necessary to get the latest and greatest in order to achieve pretty good results. I think my 7730L has a Category 8 modem which is enough to get some benefit from carrier aggregation. There are plenty of people on this forum who, I'm sure, are using phones and hotspots with Cat 4 modems. That's where an investment in newer hardware will yield big benefits.

If your budget allows you to buy the latest and greatest, then, by all means, go for it. But if you can't afford it all, then do some research to learn where you will get the most bang for your bucks!
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Old 12-08-2021, 04:38 PM   #12
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I carry four different ways to get cell based internet and find that at any given place, anyone of them can be the best. iPhone, MB sprinter, Cradlepoint MBR600, and Cradlepoint with an external directional mimo flat panel antenna.

When setting up camp, I check the easy iPhone and sprinter solutions to see if they are adequate. Most often the iPhone is better than the sprinter WiFi. In more populated areas with lots of cell towers, the iPhone hotspot is often the easy winner.

If neither of these solutions give me the service I desire, I fire up the Cradlepoint with paddle antennas. If that doesn’t get adequate internet, I bring out the mimo flat panel antenna and try speed tests with the antenna facing different directions. Sometimes this gets me adequate internet speeds even in a place where iPhone reports no service.

Having multiple solutions is the key, and no fellow campers are upset when I bring out my box of internet toys and set up the Cradlepoint with the mimo antenna to share in those locations with otherwise weak service.
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