Selecting a Mobile Router – Bringing Mobile Internet Options Together and Creating a Local Network

Routers serve as the central conductor on any network, acting as a gateway between the Local Area Network (LAN - your devices) and the Wide Area Network (WAN - ‘the internet').

If you want to have more than one device taking advantage of a single upstream internet connection, or you want to connect your local devices together to share files or functionality, you need a router.

Typical residential routers often connect to a cable or DSL modem for the WAN uplink, and create a local Wi-Fi and wired ethernet network for all the local devices in a home to connect to and share this upstream connection.

But on the road or water, 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.


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How is a Mobile Router Different than a Home or Office 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: Utilizing cellular sources of internet is a core feature of many mobile routers. 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 may not be of much use on the road.


Do you NEED a Dedicated Mobile Router?

The most basic function of a router is taking an upstream network connection and sharing it with multiple downstream devices over either wireless Wi-Fi or wired ethernet.

If you never intend to share a single connection across multiple devices, you do not need a router. A simple USB modem plugged directly into a laptop or a hotspotting off a phone or tablet can save you headaches.

And if you only have a few devices that you want to share a connection with, you can probably just use the routing capabilities built into the personal hotspot feature on your smartphone or a dedicated mobile hotspot.

If, on the other hand, you have an entire collection of devices that you’d like to get online, potentially via multiple upstream connections, as well as enabling your devices to talk to each other, you almost certainly would benefit from having a router sitting at the heart of your network.

In some mobile homes, everything from the lightbulbs to the bathroom scale are Wi-Fi enabled, and a router is an absolute necessity!

 

Before you dig too deep into the more advanced mobile routers described in this guide, you should first decide if you really need one.

This article compares the advantages and disadvantages of connecting via a smartphone, mobile hotspot, or a router:

Jetpack? Smartphone? Router?

If your needs are simple - you may decide that a dedicated router is overkill.

Advantages of a Mobile Router

Here are some of the reasons that travelers select a more advanced mobile router:

  • Uses Mobile Internet Sources: Allowing you to connect to cellular and public Wi-Fi as upstream WAN sources, in addition to ethernet input sources (such as a cable or satellite modem).
  • Single SSID (Wi-Fi Network Name): You do not need to change the Wi-Fi connection settings on all your laptops/tablets/streaming devices each time you are using a different internet source. A router allows you to provide a single SSID that your devices can connect to, and you change your current best working internet upstream connection from within the control panel. You can often even configure a router to "failover" from a primary to a secondary WAN connection automatically.
  • Stronger Broadcasted Wi-Fi Signal: 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 (this is in addition to getting a stronger signal to a Wi-Fi source, like a campground.)
  • Ethernet / Hard Wired Network: 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.
  • Navigating Captive Portals: Some mobile routers geared towards RVers and cruisers have specific features to better be able to utilize Wi-Fi networks provided by marinas and campgrounds, that sometimes require special logins and/or acknowledging a terms of use page.
  • Advanced Features: Many routers support advanced network management features - such as usage tracking and limits, ability to host a server on your private network, or load balancing and auto-failover.

Downsides of a Mobile Router

On the other hand, here are some considerations that might not make a mobile router as attractive to some:

  • More Complicated: While a properly setup network can streamline your connectivity and local area networking, getting there can be a complicated process. Many routers are designed for IT professionals to setup and manage, and not for most consumers. If you're not comfortable with technology, you may want to stick to a more consumer focused setup.. or commit yourself to upping your technology knowledge.
  • Pricey: Some mobile routers can get quite pricey - so they become a major investment in your mobile internet setup. Makes sure you fully understand the features so you're best future proofed so that investment lasts longer.
  • Embedded Cellular Modems Get Outdated: The component of a mobile internet setup that is likely to be advanced most rapidly is the cellular modem. Pro-grade cellular modems tend to be updated infrequently and are often a generation or two behind their consumer mobile hotspot equivalents.

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. See our product overview grid at the bottom of this guide for the ones we're tracking.

Prices can range from less than $50 all the way up to well over $3,000 - what will be best for you will really depend on your end goals, tolerance for complexity, and your overall budget.

The Simplest Mobile Router: A Mobile Hotspot

A mobile hotspot like this AT&T Netgear Nighthawk is actually a battery-powered router, sharing a cellular WAN connection.

The most basic mobile router is a Mobile Hotspot - often referred to as a MiFi or Jetpack. They're also fairly affordable at under $200.

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. Some even offer ethernet out support.

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:

Selecting Mobile Hotspots & Gear Guide

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 - which the rest of this guide covers.


Additional Member Only Content

If you're a MIA member, please log in to see the rest of this guide - which contains additional information on:

  • Mobile Router Guide & Overview Video
  • Wi-Fi Features & Standards
  • Cellular Features
  • Wired Networking
  • Special Features: Data Tracking, Failover, Load Balancing, Bonding
  • Travel Routers

 


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.

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 MBR1400

Cradlepoint router featuring a USB ports, optional cellular modem and 5 GHz WiFi.

Cradlepoint MBR1200B

Cradlepoint router featuring two USB ports, and support for load balancing across multiple connections.

$249.99

Pepwave Surf SOHO

Rev 2 – Peplink’s featured packed router designed for small offices and home offices.

$179

PDQ Connect AllPro

Long range WiFi antenna and router by PDQ Connect.

$449

JefaTech WiFi Repeating Kit

Long range WiFi antenna and router by JefaTech.

$166+

Alfa Desktop WiFi Extending Router

A basic and affordable option that only provides WiFi extending.

$159.98

WiFiRanger Go2

WiFiRanger’s Top End Mobile Router.

$239.99

WiFiRanger Elite

WiFiRanger’s roof mounted long range Wi-Fi router.

$359.99+

WiFiRanger Sky2

WiFiRanger’s most basic roof-mounted system.

$199.99

Rogue Wave

Long range WiFi antenna and router by WaveWiFi.

$360

WiFiRanger Mini

WiFiRanger’s Entry Level Mobile Router.

$159.99

MOFI4500-4GXELTE

MoFi’s basic router with cellular tethering.

$149.99

The Wirie Pro & AP+

Marine routers with WiFi repeating and cellular support by Island Consulting.

$399 - 799

Glomex weBBoat 4G Plus

A dual SIM cellular system with built in WiFi extenders for cruisers who are not planning to venture far enough off shore to require satellite.

$995

GLiNet Smart Mini Routers

Ultra compact routers with a lot of features by GL Innovations.

$22 - 35

AER Router Series by Cradlepoint

The AER Routers by Cradlepoint are enterprise level solutions with dual embedded modem capability.

$889+

MOFI4500-SIM4

MoFi’s all-carrier embedded modem router.

$299.99

PDQ Connect One Source

Long range WiFi, Cellular Booster & HDTV antenna kit by PDQ Connect.

Get the Book

$1495

JefaTech WiFi Repeating XR

Long range WiFi antenna and router by JefaTech.

$199.99

RedPort Halo Long Range Marine & RV Wi-Fi Extending System

Long range Wi-Fi extending setup, with claims of up to 7 miles.

$449.99

AirCard Smart Cradle

Transforms a Netgear mobile hotspot into a LTE router.

$199

Winegard ConnecT WF1 & 4G1

Winegard’s unique-looking Wi-Fi extender and mobile router solution is an interesting addition to the market.

$549-$749

Verizon Connected Home Plans and SmartHub

Verizon’s cellular data plans & “smart” router intended for homes.

$199

Airlink MP70

The Airlink MP70 is high end mobile router.

$899

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.

$199

Konnected Router & Data Plans

An upstart in the mobile internet business, offering a mobile router packaged with unlimited type data plans in the near future.

MobileVision MV100

A WiFi booster / router kit that runs on 12V.

$300

WiFiRanger MicroLTE

WiFiRanger’s tiny, less capable roof-mounted combined cellular / WiFi package.

$299.99

TVU Nano Router

Pro class cellular embedded router offering bonding of multiple carriers.

$5000

Winegard ConnecT 2.0

Winegard’s second attempt at a Wi-Fi extender and mobile router solution.

$209-$369

Alfa WiFi Camp Pro / Camp Pro 2 Kit

A basic and affordable option with an external mounted high gain antenna.

$169.99

TracPhone LTE-1

KVH’s first cellular-powered system for cruisers who are not planning to venture far enough off shore to require satellite.

$1699

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