Routers, for those not familiar with the term, serve as the central conductor on any network - acting as a gateway between the 'Local Area Network' (LAN - in other words, YOUR devices within your nomadic home) and the 'Wide Area Network' (WAN - aka 'the internet').
If you want to have more than one device taking advantage of an upstream internet connection - you generally need a router to make this happen.
Typical home routers often connect to a cable or DSL modem via ethernet for the WAN uplink, and then create a local Wi-Fi and wired ethernet network for all the devices in a home to connect to and share this upstream connection.
But in an RV or boat - cable modems and DSL lines are rarely found.
Instead - upstream connection opportunities vary between cellular and public Wi-Fi options - and it takes a special kind of router to be able to interface with and share these connections.
Typical home and office routers are just out of their element in a mobile environment.
Table of Contents
- What Defines a Mobile Router?
- Do you NEED a Dedicated Mobile Router?
- Mobile Routers Product Guide
Mobile Router Guide & Overview Video (Member Only)
- Understanding the Key Features of Mobile Routers (Members Only Guide)
- Mobile Routers - Comparative Spreadsheet (Members Only)
- Bonus Content: "Travel Routers" (Members Only)
- Ways to Use Cellular Data To Get Online: Jetpack, Smartphone or Router?
- Selecting a LTE Mobile Hotspot or Modem (MiFi / Jetpack)
- Changing SIM Card Sizes: Cutting Down & Adapting Up
- The Four Major US Carriers – Which is Best for Nomads?
- Understanding MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) – LTE Speed & Cell Booster Implications
What Defines a Mobile Router?
The core features that set nomad friendly mobile routers apart from traditional home routers is support for at least some of the following features:
- Cellular Support: A signature of a mobile router is providing a USB port that can control a USB cellular modem or tether to a cellular mobile hotspot allowing for a cellular connection to be shared. Or a mobile router might have an integrated cellular modem with the ability to insert a SIM card directly (bypassing the need for a MiFi, smartphone, or USB stick).
- WiFi-as-WAN: A router with this feature can connect to an external Wi-Fi network upstream (such as a campground Wi-Fi hotspot), and at the same time create a private Wi-Fi network downstream for your local devices to share in that connection. This allows all of your personal devices to always connect to your own router, and lets the router worry about what is the best upstream connection option at your current location.
- External Antennas & Radios: Getting an antenna out a window or up on your roof can drastically increase your ability to bring in a solid connection from afar. An external Wi-Fi antenna & radio can reach hotspots further away (such as across the RV park or marina), and a cellular antenna port can provide for a stronger cellular signal by using an outdoor antenna, without needing a cellular booster.
- Flexible Power Inputs: Many nomadic home dwellers want to be able to optimize for 12V power to run off their house battery systems when off-grid. A hallmark of mobile routers is the ability to run off 12V DC directly, though many can also run off 110V AC wall current.
Do keep in mind that not every mobile router will support all of these features, but without explicit support for some sort of cellular connection or WiFi-as-WAN a router will not be of much use on the road.
The Simplest Mobile Router: A Mobile Hotspot
The most basic mobile router is a Mobile Hotspot - often referred to as a MiFi or Jetpack.
These devices have a built in cellular modem serving as the WAN connection, and they create a private local Wi-Fi LAN supporting 5-15 devices connected at a time.
A smartphone creating a "Personal Hotspot" is doing the same in software, acting as a router and sharing its cellular WAN connection with other nearby devices.
For more information on this type of device, check out these links:
- Featured Guide: Selecting a LTE Mobile Hotspot or Modem
- Review Center: Mobile Hotspots and Modems - All the current mobile hotspots on the market compared.
For many RVers and cruisers, a single basic Mobile Hotspot might be all that is needed to keep all your tech connected.
But if you need more capability or flexibility than a simple mobile hotspot can provide, more advanced router options are out there.
Do you NEED a Dedicated Mobile Router?
If your primary focus is only on sharing a single cellular data connection, this article compares the advantages and disadvantages of connecting via a smartphone, mobile hotspot, or a router:
If your needs are simple - you may decide that a dedicated router is overkill.
But there are plenty of advantages that you should carefully consider.
Some of the advantages of a more advanced mobile router might include:
- Allowing you to connect to both cellular and public Wi-Fi as upstream WAN sources.
- Making it easier to toggle between a primary and a secondary cellular carrier for wireless connectivity.
- Simpler device configuration - you do not need to change the settings on all your devices when you change the upstream connection. You only need to make the switch in one place (on the router), and you can often even configure a router to "failover" from a primary to a secondary WAN connection automatically.
- Providing a stronger Wi-Fi LAN signal if you have a larger area you want to be able to cover than a MiFi or smartphone alone can reach.
- If you have wired ethernet devices (such as game systems or network attached storage drives), a router can often share your upstream connection with a local wired ethernet network.
- Additional WAN inputs on some routers can be used for satellite, cable, or DSL connections should you have access to them.
- Some routers even let you connect to multiple WAN networks (ie. two cellular networks, or a cellular and campground Wi-Fi) at the same time for increased speed or reliability.
- Many routers support advanced network management features - such as usage tracking and limits, or the ability to host a server on your private network.
There are a lot of mobile router options on the market ranging from small basic travel routers up to professional grade equipment offering very high end features at a very high end price.
Prices can range from less than $50 all the way up to well over $1,000 - what will be best for you will really depend on your end goals, tolerance for complexity, and your overall budget.
Mobile Routers Product Guide
The grid below features all the Mobile Routers we are tracking on the market that might be of interest to RVers and cruisers.
Mobile Router & WiFi Extending Field Testing In Progress
We have just installed the new WiFiRanger (GoAC, Core, SkyPro, Sky2 & EliteAC), Pepwave SoHo, Alfa Camp Pro Wifi and Winegard ConnecT - and are in progress on a brand new round of head-to-head testing in early 2017!
Members can follow along with our Field Testing Data in our Lab, and all of our in depth reviews will be updated at the completion.
Click on the filter buttons to narrow down your search by feature or manufacturer, and then click on the product you would like to learn more about for our in-depth product page.
Many of these routers we have tested extensively, and we offer free basic reviews, as well as in-depth analysis available to our premium members. Our members are also invited to share reviews and commentary of their own.
Cradlepoint router featuring a USB ports, optional cellular modem and 5 GHz WiFi.
Cradlepoint router featuring two USB ports, and support for load balancing across multiple connections.
Pepwave Surf SOHO
Rev 2 – Peplink’s featured packed router designed for small offices and home offices.
PDQ Connect AllPro
JefaTech WiFi Repeating Kit
Long range WiFi antenna and router by JefaTech.
Alfa Desktop WiFi Extending Router
A basic and affordable option that only provides WiFi extending.
WiFiRanger’s Top End Mobile Router.
WiFiRanger’s roof mounted long range WiFi antenna and router.
WiFiRanger’s most basic roof-mounted system.
Long range WiFi antenna and router by WaveWiFi.
WiFiRanger’s Entry Level Mobile Router.
MoFi’s basic router with cellular tethering.
GLiNet Smart Mini Routers
Ultra compact routers with a lot of features by GL Innovations.
$22 - 35
PDQ Connect One Source
Long range WiFi, Cellular Booster & HDTV antenna kit by PDQ Connect.
JefaTech WiFi Repeating XR
Long range WiFi antenna and router by JefaTech.
Alfa WiFi Camp Pro Kit
A basic and affordable option with an external mounted high gain antenna.
RedPort Halo Long Range Marine & RV Wi-Fi Extending System
WiFiRanger SkyPro & SkyPro LTE
WiFiRanger’s low-profile roof mounted SkyPro features dual antennas for MIMO-enhanced Wi-Fi speeds.
WiFiRanger’s flagship roof mounted long range Wi-FI system supports Bothe 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.
WiFiRanger’s flagship indoor router is designed to pair with and control WiFiRanger roof units, but it also works great on its own.
WiFiRanger’s most basic indoor router is a solid value and worth a close look.
Wireless Internet Router & Data Plans by AT&T
AT&T’s cellular data plans & router intended for homes, but usable on the road for some.
A WiFi booster / router kit that runs on 12V.
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