Greetings RVers. This post is about a recent accelerated learning experience re: RV Routers.
In this post, I described building my RV network around the Pepwave SURF SOHO, a very capable router that checks all of the boxes you need for a working Wifi network inside your RV. This decision was based on a very carefully constructed set of priorities:
- Most important:
- a working Wifi network capable of hosting resources such as a Roku, a file server, Plex Media Server.
- Wifi-as-WAN capabilty to take advantage of a campground (or home) network
- Least important but future compatibility with:
- Cellular internet (it accomodated USB tethers)
It turns out I have adjusted these assumptions, mainly because of two revelations:
- After further reading I decided that the SURF SOHO isn’t the best platform to enable cellular internet at a later date. At first, I thought I was future-proofing my setup with this router by allowing for the addition of a USB modem at a later date, and by not participating in the (current) craze of cellular modems and rapidly-emerging cellular technology in general. However, while the router DOES in fact support USB tethered modems (including Android phones) the list of supported modems is fairly short, and even pepwave’s own 5G modems are not supported. That got me worried. Essentially a five-year old hardware platform, the SURF SOHO mk 3 lives up to all of its claims and performed spectacularly for my most immediate use case, but in my estimation it just doesn’t have the horsepower to accomodate newer modems. In short, this is not a “future proofing” platform it is a splendidly-capable router that is falling behind the pace of current technology.
- The present shortage of wifi chips, the supply chain problem in general, and crazy levels of price inflation has created a very uncomfortable situation for those planning on using cellular internet at a later date. With demand at extraordinary levels right now, combined with the emergence of newer/faster speeds and 5G technologies, the price of celluar internet is not exactly doing down. Those who are “waiting this out” until prices drop may be waiting for a long time.
So, while I have great respect for the SURF SOHO, and value my brief experience with it, I sent it back to the 5GStore where I purchased it. Its a sad good-bye, because I really did fall in love with the Pepwave firmware and the overall Pepwave mindset, although the experience did establish a good relationship with the 5GStore, who helped me a great deatl. They accomodated my shift in thinking very nicely and issued an RMA, giving me full store credit (minus shipping of course). Good folks there at the 5G store.
So whats next?
I feel like entering the celluar internet market with reliable, Pepwave-quality equipment right now is like playing the stock market. Time will tell if the cards I played turn out to be good or bad, but here is the thought process I went through, followed by my eventual choice.
This is January of 2022, and the celluar modem market for RVers is in no man’s land. The Mobile Internet Resource Center, apparently with some inside information from Pepwave, tells us that the Wifi chip shortage is causing Pepwave to literally stop production of the favorites such as the Max Transit and BR1. A thoughtful look at the new Pepwave products now emerging reveals substantial price increases and even some models emerging without Wifi! If you thought the MAX Transit and BR1 routers were expensive last year, wait till you see the new ones, where a new CAT 20 5G router is $1.5K! No thank-you. This information told me that price inflation isn’t going away any time soon, and that I would be best positioned for the forseeable future with one of these older models.
That brought me to a desision point: I have no interest in dual modems, because my RV life doesn’t depend on that kind of connectivity, and I dont have that kind of money to throw at multiple data plans anyway. All of this meant that I either had to shell out $600 for the modest CAT 6 workhorse in the BR1 mk2, or spend another $150 for the CAT 18 Max Transit.
I chose the CAT 18 Max transit. Will I ever need the Gb speed of this device? I hope not, as that kind of performance will chew through any modest data plan very quickly! No, I chose this one for future proofing. 5G is here, but that doesn’t mean I have to take advantage of it, and in fact it will be a very long time before any of the carriers actually phase out and discontinue any and all 4G service. So, the MAX Transit CAT 18, which in 2021 was cutting edge, is now half the price of the newest BR1 Pro 5G device from Pepwave! The MAX Transit CAT 18, due to its extraordinary cellular band support, should offer some advantages in reaching long range towers — it even includes support for the T-mobile band 71 as well.
lets see…. $750 for a CAT 18 device vs $1,500 for a CAT 20 device. I choose door #1 ! Fortunately for me, the 5GStore had stock (about 50 left at the time of this writing) and with the Mobile Internet Resource Center recommending getting this one before they are all gone, I bet this stock doesn’t last…