A new player in the RV Mobile Internet space has popped up recently: MaxxFi
The initial pitch for MaxxFi seemed too good to be true - an RV-focused business offering high-end commercial grade hardware made dead simple to use via a 24/7 concierge service, with promises of incredible range and speeds, and connectivity automatically managed across WiFi, cellular, and even satellite.
Seamless Internet coverage was promised as possible anywhere but at the Earth's poles.
MaxxFi was at first even advertising unlimited unthrottled data available - for just $80/mo!
It sounded magical.
But it turns out that MaxxFi had launched a bit half-baked - and ever since we first heard from MaxxFi owner Sean Graham in January the actual offerings and benefits being touted by the company have been in a constant state of flux.
Being "half baked" isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as the baking continues. And over the past few months that we have been in communication with MaxxFi, the promises and the product line have become more refined, and more realistic.
It has however been a "two steps forward, one backpedal back" process that does not yet fully inspire our confidence.
But even if MaxxFi falls short on some of the initial ambitious claims it has made - what MaxxFi is offering is an interesting combination of technology and convenience that could ultimately prove a good fit for a certain audience of RVers.
Just be sure you know what you are getting into - and go in with tempered expectations before you invest.
What follows is our initial overview of the MaxxFi offerings based on our months of on-the-record e-mail conversations, and our initial hands-on time with the MaxxFi Black Edition Cradlepoint Kit they sent us for review.
This special first impressions article was exclusively released early to our premium members on May 10 - and is now available to the public.
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Table of Contents
The MaxxFi Hardware & Costs
The first thing to know is that MaxxFi does NOT manufacture its own hardware.
Initially the MaxxFi website did not make this at all clear - with all the product shots hiding the original manufacturer logos with MaxxFi stickers. But I recognized by its shape that the first MaxxFi router on offer was actually the Cradlepoint COR IBR600 - a commercial grade mobile router with an embedded cellular radio.
But the MaxxFi website and product line has changed a few times since January - with products, names, bundles, and prices seemingly shifting every few weeks. The COR IBR600 was even dropped entirely from the product line, as was the "Global Edition" which promised coverage via satellite around the world.
The current core lineup of MaxxFi routers is as follows:
The three MaxxFi router options:
- MaxxFi Black Edition Pepwave Broadband Kit - $699
This is actually a Pepwave MAX BR1, the same hardware that we currently have in our test arsenal (provided directly from Pepwave). It features a dual-SIM LTE modem that can easily toggle between different carriers, integrated WiFi, and external antenna support.
- MaxxFi Black Edition Cradlepoint Kit - $999
This is actually a Cradlepoint COR IBR1100, featuring a simultaneous dual-band 802.11ac WiFi radio paired with an integrated LTE modem with support for external cellular and WiFi antennas.
- MaxxFi Platinum Edition Broadband Kit - $1,999
This is a Cradlepoint AER2100, Cradlepoint's flagship "distributed enterprise" router with support for two separate integrated LTE modems - potentially connecting to two different carriers simultaneously.
The MaxxFi website is sparse on technical details and specifications on all of these options, and what is there is sometimes misleading. And it is frustrating that MaxxFi does not give the real hardware model numbers, or link to the manufacturer's websites and installation manuals, so that curious potential customers can look up the deeper details on their own. Even key details like carriers and LTE cellular bands supported are not listed.
And the truth is - MaxxFi has nothing to hide.
All the hardware MaxxFi is offering is top of the line, not marked up outrageously, and are solid options to consider.
So why gloss over the details?
Cellular Booster Hardware Too?
In the past few weeks, MaxxFi has begun offering cellular signal boosters too:
- MaxxFi Blanket RV 65dB Cellular Signal Booster Kit - $769
This appears to be a weBoost Connect 4G, a "Small House" residential booster, with a different bundled antenna kit.
- MaxxFi Blanket RV 70dB Cellular Signal Booster Kit - $999
This is actually a weBoost Connect 4G-X, the weBoost flagship "Large House" residential booster. It is not designed for mobile use, and according to the installation manual requires a "minimum of 20 feet vertical or 50 horizontal feet separation" between the outside and inside antenna. How MaxxFi intends to achieve this separation to allow the booster to work without oscillation issues in most RVs is a bit of a mystery.
MaxxFi is marketing residential boosters for RV use - an offering which is in a legal gray area (never operate one of these boosters while in motion!), but which can potentially deliver some great results.
The bigger challenge though will be avoiding oscillation impacts with boosters designed for further interior/exterior antenna separation than is physically possible in any RV on the road.
It is disappointing that MaxxFi doesn't come clear on the potential installation issues that customers may face getting such a setup tweaked to work reliably in an RV. And that MaxxFi does not also offer mobile optimized booster solutions which would avoid these problems seems a bit of an oversight.
Want info on mobile boosters?: Comparison: Mobile 4G Cellular Boosters (weBoost Drive, Top Signal, MAX-AMP vs SureCall)
Concierge Service & Limitations
The heart of the MaxxFi offering to the RV market is the bundled Maxx Concierge service.
All MaxxFi routers are configured to be remotely managed, and MaxxFi provides a 24/7 concierge available via email to manage any router settings.
Arrive at a new RV park and send an email to the concierge with the local WiFi name and password - and you're on.
(Eventually MaxxFi aims to get login information for various RV parks pre-loaded into MaxxFi systems so that the switching will actually be handled automatically when you arrive.)
Want to switch from using a Verizon SIM to AT&T - just drop the concierge a note.
You can probably even ask for help tracking down data hog devices on your network.
The Concierge will even drop you an email if they notice issues with your signal or router, asking if there may be a problem they can help with.
If your MaxxFi router isn't able to get online - the concierge won't be able to remotely control it to help you. And if you can't even manage to get an email out, well, you are on your own troubleshooting.
Initially MaxxFi did not plan to allow customers to have any access to their own routers other than through the concierge, but they've since thought things through - and now make the password available upon request.
Trouble is, there is no simple user friendly control panel or even a clear connectivity dashboard available to help users understand what their router is up to. What MaxxFi is offering is enterprise grade devices designed to be administered by an IT staff, so RVers who are not technically proficient can easily get overwhelmed.
The Maxx Concierge service is free for the first year, and is $79/year after that. The concierge service also doubles as an extended warranty - if your hardware breaks while you have concierge service active, MaxxFi will replace it free of charge.
MaxxFi initially advertised having an unlimited data plan available, and this of course generated a ton of interest and questions directed our way.
MaxxFi described it this way on their support forums (April 2015):
"Yes, the systems will work in both Canada and the USA. As for the USA, we do configure our routers to allow you to take advantage of an unlimited data plan for $80/mo. It will allow you unlimited high speed data with no caps or throttling. The unlimited data plan allows international use at no additional charge in 120+ countries worldwide. ... We use the unlimited plan to the tune of around 200gb per month on our demo units without any issues."
The $80 price and 120+ countries was a dead giveaway - this was actually a T-Mobile plan behind the scenes.
But T-Mobile's $80 unlimited pan is intended for unlimited use on a single smartphone only, and T-Mobile has made it clear that sharing this plan (beyond the 5GB of mobile hotspot data included) is a terms of service violation. Even if you could get away with it, T-Mobile's new "congestion management" may slow these plans way down after around 20GB of usage in some markets.
What MaxxFi was promoting was not in any way authorized or endorsed by T-Mobile.
MaxxFi has now backed away from any claims around offering cellular data plans, letting us know via email (April 23rd) that MaxxFi is no longer promoting any plan options:
"We don't do anything with plans. Any references to plans shouldn't be there."
If you happen to have a grandfathered in unlimited plan from another carrier, you can use it in MaxxFi's devices just as you would in a Jetpack type device. We have been using a Verizon unlimited SIM in our test unit.
But you are on your own lining up a compatible SIM card and plan - and MaxxFi has no special hookup to help anyone get access to unlimited data.
The most embarrassing exaggeration I found was MaxxFi boasting about completely unrealistic cellular range.
I saw this posted on the MaxxFi forums on April 11th (post since vastly edited) - and huge red flags went up:
"The standard+ and higher systems have a 20 mile operating range from cell towers with the external 5-in-1 antenna right out of the box. Your cell phone, mifi, jet pack etc can only operate at a 3-5 mile range from the cell towers. … If 20 miles from a cell tower isn't enough range for you, ask about using our signal boosters. With an amplified signal, and proper antenna, you can operate at ranges pushing 75-100 miles from a cellular tower. This type of cellular range isn't magic, it's just using better equipment than you may be used to."
Actually - that sort of range with cellular pretty much IS magic, no matter what booster is used.
No amount of boosters or directional antennas will ever allow a mobile device to connect to a regular GSM tower over 35km away - the technical limitation in this case is the signal timing tied to the speed of light radio propagation. Unless you can broadcast faster than the speed of light, on standard GSM 35km is it.
LTE has similar hard coded timing limitations that are fundamental and can not be avoided. LTE towers have four different modes they can be configured in - each with a built in hard range limit, ranging from 15km to 108km. If you are 16km away from a 15km tower, no matter what antenna or booster you use the tower will ignore you.
Even with other cellular technologies (CDMA and UMTS) where range limits are not imposed by the laws of physics, cellular towers often have software defined range limits. And even without imposed limitations - cellular radios are primarily line of sight transmitters, and unless a mountaintop is involved, reception over 20 miles from a tower is for all intents and purposes a pipe dream.
When I pointed out just how misleading these magical range claims being made were, MaxxFi at first actually argued with me:
"100 miles is not surprising, and in some situations is actually disappointing. We have a data partner in Charleston SC that actually turns down the power on their marine data so they don't transmit too far offshore." (email - April 20th)
Only when I pushed back did MaxxFi back down, pulling all the magical and misleading range claims from their website.
"Despite my admitted embarrassing ignorance to the specific cellular connection component range, MaxxFi has, and will always be the primo solution." (email - April 21st)
I honestly don't believe that MaxxFi was intentionally trying to mislead anyone - but that MaxxFi was so misinformed about the basics of the products they were offering was disturbing.
"I didn't know the intimate details of the cell connection and went with my best judgement at the range which I based on mathematical formulas directly related to the signal strength. I apologized and I corrected it as soon as I knew better. ... It was confusing and now I know better thanks to you pointing it out. ... If you see anything you consider to be suspect about MaxxFi, please let me know so I can look into it. We are new, everyone makes mistakes and sometimes erroneous information does get out there." (email - April 23rd)
For the moment, I'll take MaxxFi at their word that they've made some honest mistakes.
But until the company builds up some solid history, we will be giving future claims extra scrutiny.
MaxxFi Certified Parks
One other very interesting offer from MaxxFi - Certified RV Parks with guaranteed fast WiFi:
"You can park your RV anywhere you choose within a MaxxFi Certified RV Park and if you don’t have top notch internet service from your MaxxFi system, your stay is on us. If you have the optional MaxxFi Pro WiFi/Mesh kit then double your stay will be on us! We pay the park directly for your stay AND we pay you the amount of your stay."
What an awesome offer!
We would go well out of our way to find RV parks with true broadband speeds available over WiFi. This guarantee is hugely exciting.
As of now, there are exactly ZERO MaxxFi Certified RV Parks.
This is yet again another great idea announced before it was ready. MaxxFi should have at least lined up a few dozen parks in advance before launching this program.
Launching with no offerings just comes off as, well, being a bit half-baked.
We look forward to this becoming fully baked - and really hope that MaxxFi is able to pull this off on a broad scale nationwide.
MaxxFi’s Magical Mesh
MaxxFi is also setting out to build a mesh network that consists of "Certified RV Parks, Certified Dealers, MaxxFi enthusiasts and other MaxxFi Network access points" - designed to bring free WiFi access to anyone within range.
"The MaxxFi Mesh network allows you to have extreme WiFi range and still be able to connect with an access point by allowing your MaxxFi system to utilize other MaxxFi systems for internet access. For Example: You are parked 100 miles away from the nearest internet access point. You have zero cellular signal on either your MaxxFi system or your cell phones. Your MaxxFi will actually connect to other MaxxFi systems that are within 50km of you and "hop" through them to get internet access. The MaxxFi Mesh network allows your system to "hop" 4 times. This gives you the ability to connect to an RV park or other MaxxFi Certified access point that is up to 200km away by "hopping" through other MaxxFi systems that are between you and the MaxxFi Certified internet gateway. The MaxxFi Mesh network will allow you to have unlimited data usage virtually anywhere in the US without using cellular data once enough people have it installed."
Based upon emails I have had with MaxxFi, this mesh technology is being built using off-the-shelf Ubiquiti WiFi CPE hardware not much different than what is built into a WiFiRanger. If MaxxFi is ever actually able to manage connectivity over 10km (without requiring directional antennas) to create an ad-hoc mesh with this gear, I will be very impressed.
If MaxxFi ever demonstrates an RV communicating at reasonable speeds on a mesh network over 100km (much less 200km) - I will be absolutely blown away.
But I'm not holding my breath.
Caution... But Cautiously Optimistic
It is great to see a new company specifically targeting the needs of the connected RV market.
But honestly, MaxxFi made a pretty lousy first impression on me - for the reasons mentioned above, and more.
That said, I haven't gotten the impression that the company is at all out to scam anyone.
If anything - MaxxFi is just overly (exxtremely?) excited about what they are setting out to do, and way overly optimistic about certain capabilities.
And I think this excitement leaves MaxxFi owner Sean overly prone to exaggeration - both on his website, in the MaxxFi forums, and on various other online communities where he has been popping up lately.
But despite the exaggerations and "embarrassing ignorance" - overall, I am actually cautiously optimistic about what MaxxFi is up to, and I am hesitant to wave a red flag warning people off.
But I'm also not ready to give MaxxFi a green light either.
Packaging up high end hardware, figuring out what works well together, and providing remote management and assistance is actually a great concept to build a company around.
MaxxFi is also looking to enable integration with RV home automation systems, remote cameras, and even VOIP phones. Having professional help assembling an integrated system is a great service to offer.
We shall see over time how MaxxFi performs in its mission, earning customer trust and a place in the industry.
MaxxFi certainly isn't cutting corners when it comes to hardware - the Cradlepoint and Pepwave routers on offer are absolutely solid choice for people who are looking for high end capabilities.
And lower priced offerings are in the works too:
"I realize that the mom and pops out there who only need to check their email with only a couple devices on board don't require an enterprise solution, and the investment in one of our enterprise solutions could be seen as a bit of overkill for them. In response to that, I'm working on putting together an entry level solution that's based on the consumer grade solutions with a much lower cost point. Same service and support, just a lower price tag for those who don't have such high bandwidth demands." (email - May 1st)
If any of our readers do decide to explore what MaxxFi is up to - we've been told that the discount code 'technomad' will result in a 10% discount applied to most offerings.
There is a 30 day "no risk" return policy as well.
If you do go MaxxFi, be sure to let us know your experiences.
Hands-On Evaluation Coming Soon
We have received a MaxxFi Black Edition Cradlepoint Kit for review, and have been putting it through its paces.
The hardware itself is initially very promising, and the concierge features have potential too.
For our members - we'll be posting a more in depth evaluation based upon our hands on experience in the weeks ahead - comparing MaxxFi, the PepWave MAX BR1, and the latest from WiFiRanger.