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RV internet with the pepwave MAX TRANSIT CAT 18

This post is follow-up to this post,  in my quest to establish reliable rv internet. I’ll briefly describe my final solution, which utilizes the pepwave MAX TRANSIT CAT 18 router, including two network diagrams showing my “at home” and “camping” scenarios.

The pepwave “CAT 18” is a profoundly capable device is the hub of my RV network, providing the following critical capabilities:

  • Network switching, providing direct access to the router’s LAN.  This is useful for maintenance (a PC can log in directly to the router’s IP address), and also provides access to local end stations such as a Network Attached Storage (see diagram below).
  • Cellular WAN to provide internet access, extended to the local LAN.  This provides access to the public internet over (in my case) the Verizon celluar network.
  • Wifi-as-WAN, to provide internet access from a local Wifi connection, for example from a home network or a campground.  This , combined with the VPN capabilty (next bullet) allows me to remotely administer the trailer’s network while the parked at home.
  • VPN capability to access the router from a remote location.  I don’t need to log into the router while it is utilizing the cellular network, but I do find it necessary to access the trailers network, when it is parked at home, without physically entering the trailer.

 

My trailer network

Here is a diagram of my trailer’s network, when parked at home.  The Pepwave uses “Wifi-as-WAN” capability to connect to my home network, thereby saving cellular data.  In this situation I can transfer files out to the trailer’s NAS or log into the router as an administrator, for example.

rv internet using wifi-as-wan
Using Wifi-as-WAN to connect my RV network to my home network

 

 

 

Here is the network diagram of my trailer when utilizing Cellular data for access to the public internet

rv internet with the pepwave max transit CAT 18
rv internet with the pepwave max transit CAT 18

 

 

The Verizon network

I am using one of Verizon’s latest (as of this writing) “connected device” data plans.  I’ll acknowledge that the market is shifting rapidly and that, of this writing, there are so many different options out there that it becomes very confusing to navigate this space — so confusing, in fact, that there are some who even make a living doing the research, and then selling that knowledge to their subscribers!  Hurray for capitalism.  I just decided not to play, and instead did my own research and discovered a simple and inexpensive way to fund my part-time data needs.

Its just not that complicated for Verizon cusotmers:  You need a phone plan anyway, and you don’t want to have a data cap (been there, done that), so you just pick the right Verizon phone plan for your handset and, voila, you instantly have access to affordable “bring your own device” hot spot data plans.   Why pay well over $100/month for 100GB of data from one of the big boys in this game, when you can get more affordable data directly from Verizon?

What I did requires no secret grandfathered plans, no switching sim cards around to game the system, and no experimentation, even in the “interest of science”.  There’s a whole sub-culture of folks doing the latter but I just didn’t want to play that game either so I went directly to Verizon and found an affordable solution.  Why not use your phone or a tablet as a hotspot? yes that is certainly doable, but the biggest problem there is lack of support for an external antenna — something very handy in fringe areas (like State Parks) where a handheld device would struggle.

 I already have a phone plan utilizing the Verizon “do more” unlimited plan, so I am able to take advantage of a $20 discount on their various hotspt plans.   They call it “50% discount for connected devices”  but in reality it is only $20/month, which happens to be 50% off of one specific plan — the 50GB plan normally priced at $40.  Here are the hotspot data plans of most interest to RVers when you have at least one phone already configured to their “Do more” so-called unlimited plan.

  • “Plus” plan:  50GB/month of 5G data priced at $40, discounted to $20/month
  • “Pro” plan:  100GB/month of 5G data priced at $60, discounted to $40/month
  • “premium” plan:  150GB/month of 5G data priced at $80, discounted to $60/month

How did I take advantage of this?  Through many conversations with Verizon to confirm what would actually happen, I used Verizon’s own web UI to add a connected device.  The Pepwave CAT 18’s IMEI is registered with Verizon, so utilizing the “BYOD” choice on the website gives you access to all of the above plans.  The discount language on the Verizon side is very confusing, and sounds like it was sanitized by the legal departement, but the site worked for me and I have been able to confirm with at least three subsequent conversations with Verizon that the appropriate discount has been applied.

Transit CAT 18 performance

Now for the fun part. I find that the CAT 18 takes VERY good advantage of the Verizon cellular network.  I have 5G coverage at my home and I’ll let the CAT 18 performance speak for itself:

rv internet speed test using the max transit CAT 18
rv internet speed test using the max transit CAT 18, using band 66

 

 

 

106Mbps!   Clearly, the local Verizon towers are built out to Verizon’s “5G-ultra” capability, and the CAT 18 takes advantage of this, even though it is not a 5G device per se.  This speed test utilized Verizon band 66.

Streaming performance

I learned about a very interesting speed test tool, known as “fast.ccom”. This fascinating tool identifies itself as Netflix servers, to test the network’s ability to stream video data.  This is in contrast to the familiar website “speedtest.net” (used in the above photo) which does not identifiy itself as a streaming service.  The use of these two tools provides a very informative look into the Verizon network.  Sure, you can fool almost any network with appropriate trickery,  but I find the distinction between speedtest.net and fast.com to be a good thing.

But I digress.  the bottom line is that Verizon throttles streaming content to 4Mbps!  How do I know this?  Because I used fast.com to test the very same cellular network as the above speedtest.net screenshot shows.  here is the result:

rv internet speed test using fast.com
rv internet speeds on Verizon are throttled when Netflix streaming is involved

 

Ok then!  It turns out that 4Mbps isn’t really a problem for streaming Netflix videos though.  So, for me the fact that Verizon throttles Netflix content is actually a good thing:  According to this website, a single 4K video would chew up every bit of a my 50GB allocation, and then some.  Conversely, one hour of content streaming at 4Mbps is about 2GB.  So those who wish to test the limits of unlimited high-speed data with big 4K streaming tasks will have fun, but probably ruin things for the rest of us.

The amusing thing is that Verizon won’t even acknowledge that they do this.  Not even their 2nd level technical support people know this!   I tried to tug on that thread in a conversation several times,  and all they could say is “you’re not in network management mode” and “we can’t trust third party tools”.   They even offered to raise a ticket to review the performance of my local tower, and of course you know the answer:  They hide behind all of the variables known to man, such as environmental factors, buildings, weather, etc.  They just refuse to acknowledge that when ALL of those variables are constant, and the only variable is the speedtest.net vs fast.com — that Verizon imposes a 4Mps throttle.  I even received a text message saying that their investigaion (of my local tower) was complete, and to please read this article about how the speed problem is your fault!

So, for now at least, 50G GB of premium Verizon data for $20/month is a keeper.  Even 100GB for $40/month is a keeper!

Heres to happy mobile networking,

-doug

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