Mobile Cellular Internet Starter Guide
Home internet and mobile internet are two very, very different things. Before committing to a life on the road, learn about mobile cellular internet and how it will affect your scrolling, streaming, and traveling habits. This article will provide a simple overview of the most important info to understand before you commit to mobile cellular internet. For more in-depth research, explore the articles within our MobilSat Cellular Learning Center or give our expert sales team a call.
Mobile Cellular Internet Basics
First of all, cellular internet is not satellite internet. Though we offer both, they are two very different technologies that work in completely different ways. Cellular internet uses the cellular network, which relies on cell towers that transmit signal to the nearby area. Cellular internet is only available when within the cellular network, with signal strength usually getting better as towers get closer.
To use cellular internet, you will need a router. Expedition Communications offers a whole range of Peplink routers and Cradlepoint routers, with our most popular consumer options being the Peplink Balance 20X, the Peplink Transit Mini, and the Peplink Transit Duo. An external antenna is also a great idea for remote travelers. All of the routers we provide are service agnostic- meaning they can be used on multiple networks- but many hotspots are locked to only work within one service network.
Choosing a Router or a Hotspot
Cellular hotspots are great for small amounts of data usage in urban or suburban areas. They are more mobile than cellular routers because they do not have to be plugged in, but are also much less powerful. Between the two, commercial-grade cellular routers can read cellular signal from a much further distance and offer much more in terms of possible configuration options. If you are staying near cities, hotspots are great. If you are traveling remotely and using large amounts of gigabytes, cellular routers are much better. We break down the differences between cellular routers and hotspots in a different article, but just know that routers are for heavy duty mobile use while hotspots are great for light use in populated areas.
Choosing the Right Cellular Router
Once you decide you need a cellular router instead of a hotspot, you have an entire new series of questions to answer. There are dozens of options for cellular routers spanning popular brands Peplink and Cradlepoint, with your best option depending on your budget, travel habits, and needed reliability.
For most of our customers, a Peplink MAX Transit Mini and a powerful external antenna will suffice. This will be among the lowest-cost options for reliable cellular internet. For a more robust package, the dual-modem Peplink MAX Transit Duo is a great option. It will allow two SIM cards from different service providers to be used concurrently, aggregating data speeds so you have the best connection possible. Some routers are 5G ready, and others- such as the Balance 20X– are capable of being updated to include additional cellular modems or the ability to read 5G.
The Three Major Cell Networks
Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are the three major cell networks in the USA. Verizon is regarded as having the largest coverage area, but also has the most expensive service plans. AT&T and T-Mobile are fairly close in service area and reputation, with T-Mobile growing significantly over the last few years. T-Mobile has become a much more attractive option since purchasing Band 71 which opened up more remote areas to cellular coverage. To find the best option for your needs, compare your travel habits with the coverage maps from each provider.
All of our data plans are for speeds up to 4G LTE, and currently do not include 5G. Band 71 is available only on certain routers that can read Band 71 and only on the magenta network. We highly recommend checking coverage maps prior to moving to a new spot. While maps are not always 100% reliable (they do not show tower saturation or tower maintenance) they do give a good idea of what to expect as you move from place to place. Check the magenta network, light blue network, or red network depending on which plan you are considering.
Average Cellular Speeds and Speed Improvement
There is no such thing as average speeds in the cellular world. Your speeds will change frequently based on many different factors. These factors include the distance from the nearest tower, tower congestion, tower maintenance or damage, the number of devices you have connected, and much more. Simply put, don’t expect the internet speeds that you had at home. Most of our customers experience speeds of 5Mbps to 50Mbps, which is plenty to surf, stream, and more. This entirely depends on location, however. If you are outside of cellular range you will have no coverage, and will have to travel back inside the network to get connected. If you are traveling towards the fringes of the network, your signal strength will generally not be very strong.
As a general rule, speeds can be improved by moving closer to cell towers or reducing the number of devices connected to your router. Even then, if the nearest tower is very congested or undergoing maintenance, you may have slow data speeds.
Cellular connection is also based on the cellular bands that your router can read. Depending on the modem in your cellular router, certain parts of the cellular network may be off-limits to you. For example, only certain routers can read Band 71. Category 4 routers are much less powerful than Category 12 or Category 18, but are generally much more affordable. Furthermore, certain routers like the MAX Transit Duo can use multiple networks at once to aggregate speeds and provide a much more reliable signal.
Mobile 5G and When It’s Important
It is no secret that the 5G network is quickly expanding. Each of the major cellular providers, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, have 5G networks that span across the country. Though 5G has already proven to be a total game-changer, it’s usefulness in a mobile environment is still lacking. Before going with a much more expensive 5G router and a data plan that includes 5G connectivity, look at where you are traveling and compare it to the 5G network. Verizon and AT&T are still largely contained to large cities, while T-Mobile does venture out into more rural areas but with a very low frequency band.
Generally speaking, 5G is great for travelers needing the best connectivity possible while staying in and around heavily populated areas. The routers are more expensive, but offer a significant value if data speeds are important. If you are traveling very remote or need a more affordable device, then 4G LTE is still the best option for you. Expedition Communications provides both reliable 4G LTE routers and powerful 5G mobile routers, striving to provide the best equipment for each of our customer’s needs. If you’re not sure which is best for you, give our team a call.
Cellular Data Usage and Data Management
Your plan comes with a certain number of gigabytes of unmanaged data. Expedition Communications Cellular offers options between 20GB and 500GB. After you pass this amount of data usage, you will continue to receive low-priority data that will offer much lower speeds on congested towers, or your usual speeds on non-congested towers. As a general rule, expect speeds to lower after your unmanaged data is all used, though it may remain the same.
Your plan becomes a lower priority after reaching your gigabyte threshold, but it is not throttled. Throttling usually reduces speeds to a maximum of 500-700 Kbps, while our plans simply reduce your priority level for congested towers. There are no extra fees for added data usage after you run out of high-priority data.
The most important part of your mobile cellular internet will be managing your data usage and your connected devices. Keeping under your unmanaged data allowance and keeping only necessary devices connected will help you keep the best speeds as you travel. As part of the Expedition Communications Cellular service plan and equipment, you will have access to the InControl management system. This system helps you to manage your data use while you travel, but it also helps our team to provide advanced technical support when you need it.
Getting Support with MobilSat Cellular
The Expedition Communications Cellular learning center includes a lot of helpful tips on improving your connection, installing your equipment, and much more. It is the best place to start when you are trying to build a foundation on your cellular internet knowledge.