- The Peplink Balance 20X is a primarily a branch office router, but has features of interest to mobile users - including a built-in Cat-4 LTE modem.
- The router is expandable with the ability to add a second cellular modem, including up to a gigabit Cat-18 LTE modem.
- The Balance 20X is Peplink's first mainstream product with a promised upgrade path to 5G.
Peplink introduced its new Balance 20X Router in March of 2020, and even though it's not really intended for the mobile market, it does have some features that make it potentially very intriguing for mobile users.
For anyone looking for a connectivity hub in a boat or RV installation, the Balance 20X is definitely worth consideration - though it does have a few significant downsides as well.
Peplink's Balance lineup is primarily intended to support central and branch offices as a network hub for businesses, and the Balance 20X's integrated cellular backup is intended to kick in when the primary cable or DSL connection goes down. This focus on office connectivity meant the Balance line was in the past not an appealing option for mobile users, but that has changed due to the unique features and value offered by the new Balance 20X.
The Balance 20X has several mobile-friendly features including an integrated cellular modem, the option to add a second modular modem, USB tethering support for also connecting via a phone or mobile hotspot, and future upgradeability to support 5G.
All this comes at an attractive $399 price for the base unit.
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Balance 20X Features
The Balance 20X router comes with an integrated cellular modem plus an expansion slot for a second modular modem, giving the router a dual-modem capability when a second modem is installed.
An unfortunate downside of the Balance 20X is that the integrated modem is only available as a Category-4 LTE device, a disappointing low-end option that we would normally not recommend. But at least the Cat-4 modem does support newer important cellular bands, including AT&T's Band 14 and T-Mobile's band 71.
However, the disappointment with the Cat-4 integrated modem is balanced by the inclusion of an expansion slot allowing the addition of a second module modem.
Peplink currently offers three modular modem options:
- a CAT-6 modem, for $249
- a CAT-12 modem, for $399
- a CAT-18 modem with 4x4 MIMO, for $499
Adding one of these modem modules turns the Balance 20X into a true dual-modem router, and the Cat-18 option can turn the Balance 20X into a Gigabit LTE powerhouse capable of taking advantage of 4x4 MIMO antennas.
Category 18 modems are "gigabit class" LTE modems, capable of combining up to 5x different frequency bands via carrier aggregation. Cat-18 modems also rely on 4x4 MIMO antennas for improved reception in weak areas and potentially doubled speeds in strong signal areas when compared to what 2x2 MIMO is capable of.
Category 18 is near the pinnacle of 4G/LTE evolution - and represents just about the best pre-5G cellular technology available.
But in the future - the Balance 20X will be able to go even further. Peplink has announced plans to release a 5G modem module for this upgrade slot in the future - making the Balance 20X the first affordable cellular router with an upgrade path to 5G.
Another major benefit of the Balance 20X is upgraded internal hardware and processing power which provides peak routing throughput of up to 900 Mbps (more than double what the comparable dual-modem Pepwave MAX Transit offers).
This advanced internal hardware, combined with the expansion module, means the router should be able to support typical 5G cellular speeds in the future once a 5G modem module becomes available.
This upgradability gives the Balance 20X some future-proofing that most other currently-available routers lack.
Another great additional feature on the Balance 20X is a USB port for tethering a USB modem, mobile hotspot device or smartphone - a feature that is absent from most Peplink mobile routers. This adds a third option for a cellular connection, and when you factor in the WAN ethernet port - that means you can bring up to four connections together for load balancing, or to bond via Peplink's SpeedFusion bonding service.
Office Form Factor
Because the Balance 20X is designed for an office environment, it has a different form-factor than Peplink's mobile routers, which come with ruggedized metal enclosures and are designed for reliability in a wide variety of transportation scenarios.
The Balance 20X is therefore not as durable as dedicated Peplink mobile products, but for most RVers and Cruisers with climate-controlled interiors, this shouldn't be a huge issue. The biggest concern is the operating temperature range, which is recommended for usage between 14 and 112 degrees.
Other standard features of the Balance 20X include 5x Gigabit Ethernet ports, 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi LAN, and a GPS port. Although not designed for mobile use, the Balance 20X can handle an input voltage of 10 to 30 volts, so it's easy to wire into vehicle DC power too.
Unfortunately, the router does not support Wi-Fi-as-WAN like most Pepwave mobile routers do.
The Balance 20X also supports Peplink's SpeedFusion bonding technology, which lets you combine multiple connections into a single high-speed connection.
The variety of potential connections available with the Balance 20X makes this feature even more appealing.
The SpeedFusion bonding feature is enabled as part of Peplink's PrimeCare subscription. Like other Peplink products, one year of PrimeCare comes with the purchase of a new Balance 20X. If you want PrimeCare (and bonding capability) after the first year of ownership, it's available for $49/year.
To learn more about Bonding & Load Balancing, check out our brand new guide:
Summary - An Affordable Future-Proof Option
The Balance 20X offers a lot of great features, flexibility, and future upgradeability for a modest $399 starting price point - a truly great price for a cellular integrated router.
We only wish it had a default Cat-6 internal modem and WiFi-as-WAN enabled.
Hopefully, the Balance 20X is the first in a line of Peplink products evolving to bring faster underlying technology and a 5G upgradable path to mobile users.
Peplink has sent us a Balance 20X unit with the Cat-18 modem expansion module for evaluation, which we will be testing and running through its paces against the other router options we have in house.
We'll be sharing our hands-on findings with our premium members.
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