Selecting a LTE Modem
Using a cellular device is the most common way to get online for RVers and Cruisers.
There are many types of devices that can be utilized: mobile hotspots (aka Jetpacks or MiFis), smartphones, or cellular embedded routers.
And not all modems are created equally.
Understanding the features of a specific device is almost as important as selecting the right form factor for your needs. These features can range from modem specifications, local networking capability, or options for enhancing the signal to your device.
All of these factors can combine together to determine how well a device will work for you and the actual performance you are able to get out of it.
As each of the cellular carriers continues to advance their networks, your cellular data performance will be directly impacted by how modern your device is.
For those who consider mobile internet critical to their lifestyle, we generally recommend evaluating your cellular gear (and the modems inside!) at least every year or two to keep current.
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We then wrap it up with a real world head-to-head comparison of three modems (the Verizon 8800L, 7730L and MHS900L) to show performance impacts. While this video uses Jetpacks as an example, the concepts apply to all cellular modems.
Cellular Features & Standards
An integrated cellular modem is the core of every cellular device. It's what gets you connected to your carrier's network.
Since modem technology is constantly advancing, it is important to know what your device is capable of.
You'll want to check the following technical details:
Most mobile hotspots are designed specifically for a primary carrier.
Just because a device is branded for one carrier, doesn't mean it won't actually have a modem that is compatible with others. It might!
T-Mobile and AT&T devices tend to have a lot of crossover support for each other's networks, but you'll have to shop for carrier unlocked devices in order to successfully SIM swap. Or you'll need to jump through hoops to get your carrier to unlock the device.
Additionally, there are many non-branded devices on the market that can successfully work on multiple carriers.
Higher end mobile routers, particularly, tend to support multiple carriers automatically.
Flagship smartphones tend to have more cross-carrier compatibility, but you still need to check the specific specs of the phone as some are released with features tied specifically to a single carrier.
For more on using carrier specific devices on other networks:
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LTE Performance Category
The LTE performance category is a quick way to compare modem specs and the max theoretical speeds that are capable under laboratory conditions.
Additional Cellular Features & Standards
We continue this section explaining other cellular modem features that can impact performance including Frequency Bands, LTE-A Carrier Aggregation, MIMO Antennas, Antenna Ports and SIM Card Type. This section also includes our current advisement on what frequency bands to optimize for each carrier in your device selection.
What about 5G?
With 5G on the horizon, does it make sense to wait before investing in LTE modems? This section is kept updated as 5G becomes a reality.
Summary: Evaluate Features Every 2 Years
Understanding the features of a cellular device is one of the most important criteria for determining how well it will perform for your needs.
Features like LTE Category, Cellular Frequency Bands, Carrier Aggregation and MIMO antennas will have an impact.
As technology advances and changes frequently, we recommend evaluating your cellular modem at least every couple of years to make sure you have the right and best equipment for your needs.
Selecting Cellular Devices
LTE Modems come in various sorts of cellular devices - smartphones, embedded routers and consumer level mobile hotspot devices. Each has their pros and cons.
For more on the basics of mobile hotspots, routers, and smartphones:
We have specific guides to selecting these sorts of devices:
The guides below have been hand-picked to help further your education about selecting mobile hotspots and best utilizing them in your mobile internet setup.
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