Review: Pepwave MAX BR1 by Peplink (Mobile Router)

pepwave-max-br1-peplink-mobile-router-review

The MAX BR1 has support for dual external cellular antennas, as well as for an external WiFi and GPS antenna.

The MAX BR1 has support for dual external cellular antennas, as well as for an external WiFi and GPS antenna.

Peplink is a large and well respected company in the mobile networking space - primarily focused on high end applications covering everything from providing cellular connectivity to fleets of vehicles to enabling whole-building network installations for hotels and offices.

While Peplink's Pepwave routers are not specifically designed with individual mobile users in mind, they do offer many solid and well supported products that many advanced users have grown to rely on.

In particular - we've long had the Pepwave MAX BR1 on our radar as an option for those looking for a router with an integrated cellular modem, particularly once it was updated in 2015 to have a "universal" cellular radio which could be easily toggled between Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and even Sprint.

The BR1 is a tiny box with a lot of built in capabilities - including a WiFi-as-WAN capable Wi-Fi router, three wired ethernet ports (2x LAN, 1x WAN), and a built in cellular modem - all capable of being powered directly off of vehicle DC power.

Though it does have some annoying limitations and frustrating software issues, overall the Pepwave MAX BR1 is very worthy of consideration and is deservedly a Top Pick.

PENDING UPDATE ALERT: The Pepwave MAX product line is in the midst of a significant product update. New models were initially planned for Fall 2016, but the first updated models didn't make it to market until March 2017.

The update for the basic BR1 model remains "coming soon" - so consider one of the already updated variants (described below), or holding off your purchases to wait for the BR1 update to be released.

Our contacts at Pepwave have given us an estimate of 'Late September 2017'.

More Info: Peplink Embraces LTE-A at Last, but Basic MAX BR1 Update Seemingly Delayed

Specifications - MAX BR1

  • Wi-Fi Router: Yes
    • 2.4GHz Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n - 150Mbps Max, 25dBm Transmit Power (316mW)
    • 5GHz Wi-Fi: N/A
    • Wi-Fi Antenna: 1x RP-SMA/Female Antenna Port, 5dBi Antennas Included
    • Wi-Fi as WAN: Yes
    • Guest Wi-Fi Network: Yes
  • Cellular Tethering via USB: No USB Port
  • Integrated Cellular Modem: Yes
    • Carriers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint
    • LTE Bands: 2, 4, 5, 13, 17, 25
    • 4G/3G: HSPA+ 850/1900/2100MHz; EVDO 800/1900MHz
      Global roaming supported.
    • 2G: No.
    • LTE-Advanced Carrier Aggregation: No
    • LTE Performance Category: Category 3
      (Max Theoretical Speed: 100Mbps Down / 50Mbps Up)
    • Cellular Antennas: 2x SMA/Female Antenna Ports, Basic Indoor Antennas Included
    • SIM Slots: Dual Mini-SIM (2FF)
  • Ethernet Ports: 3x 100Mbps Fast Ethernet  (WAN / LAN Configurable)
  • Special Features: Data Usage Tracking, Auto Faillover, Integrated GPS
  • Power Source: 10V - 30V Direct DC Input, 110V AC Adapter Included
  • Dimensions: 5.8" x 5.0" x 1.6"
  • Outdoor Rated: No
  • Retail Price:  $299 - 5999.99

Other Models & Variations

The MAX BR1 is available in several related variations - most of which come at a substantial price premium over the basic model. Here are a few of them:

  • MAX BR1 Mini ($299) - The non-LTE-A version of the MAX BR1 (released November 2016) is for sale at 3G Store and they have published a detailed preview. It is a smaller version of the BR1 that has just two ethernet ports, and WiFi-as-WAN is disabled. The BR1 Mini costs $299, and a license code to re-enable WiFi-as-WAN and failover features costs $100, making for a total package cost of $399 for a setup that can handle almost everything the full $549 BR1 can.
  • MAX BR1 Slim ($599) - A physically smaller version of the BR1 that can be powered over USB, intended for mobile deployments (think roving reporter backpacks) powered by USB battery packs. It drops one of the LAN ethernet ports, but is otherwise identical to the BR1.
  • MAX BR1 ENT ($699) - The same size as the basic BR1, the BR1 ENT upgrades the ethernet ports to Gigabit speeds, and adds a USB port for tethering a USB cellular hotspot or modem. BUT - the BR1 ENT has no built in Wi-Fi capabilities at all, making it of limited use for many installations.
  • MAX BR1 IP55 ($699) - A special weatherproof version of the BR1 designed to be pole mounted outdoors, with an integrated directional antenna built right into the casing.

An additional closely related model to the Pepwave MAX BR1 is the MAX Transit, which is different enough to merit its own page in our review center.

WARNING: Before the product line was updated in February 2015 to have a "universal" cellular radio, the MAX BR1 was available in several different versions locked to different cellular carriers. If you are buying a used/older model, make sure that you know what you are getting and don't end up with a device that is incompatible with your preferred networks.

Peplink's New LTE-A Product Line (March 2017)

The Pepwave MAX Transit Duo actually has two fully independent cellular modems, allowing for near instant switching between two different cellular carriers.

Much of the Pepwave MAX product line was updated in March 2017 to include more advanced LTE-A cellular modems.

Peplink's LTE-A update adds support for even more LTE bands, making universal support even better.

The new LTE-A models support the following LTE bands:

  • B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B7, B8, B12/17, B13, B20, B25, B26, B29, B30, B41

This includes pretty much every band currently in use by all four major US carriers, including T-Mobile's "Extended Range LTE" on LTE Band 12, and AT&T's newest deployments on LTE Band 30.

The downside of this new LTE-A modem is that it drops support for Verizon and Sprint 3G CDMA EVDO networks - so if you regularly run into remote legacy areas that have not been upgraded to LTE coverage you may want to keep a backup way online on hand.

Here is Peplink's newly updated LTE-A product line:

  • MAX BR1 Mini ($399) - There is the new LTE-Advanced version of the BR1 Mini (seemingly initially exclusive to 3G Store) that costs $100 more and which has a faster LTE-A modem with a few more LTE bands supported, but this version is NOT certified for use on Verizon's network. (Members - read on for some insider tips on this version.)
  • Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro ($799) - The "Pro" version of the BR1 is designed for "enterprise branch networks", and features 4x gigabit LAN ports, and 300Mbps Wi-Fi with support for 2.4GHz or 5GHz 802.11n (one or the other - not both). Though it has gigabit ethernet ports, without 802.11ac it will be lacking for demanding local networks.
  • Pepwave MAX BR1 ENT ($799) - The same small size as the basic BR1, the BR1 ENT has three gigabit ethernet ports and adds a USB port for tethering a USB cellular hotspot or modem. BUT - the BR1 ENT has no built in Wi-Fi capabilities at all, making it of limited use for many installations unless you pair it with a more capable local router.
  • Pepwave MAX Transit ($999) - Pepwave's Transit product line is designed to help commuter buses and trains keep passengers connected, but they can do the job on an RV too. They are the only relatively affordablte option in Pepwave's current lineup for simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi and 802.11ac support. For more on this product, see our review center page.
  • Pepwave MAX Transit Duo ($1899) - With two cellular modems and two dual SIM slots, the Transit Duo allows up to four different cellular providers to be ready to switched between.
  • Pepwave MAX HD2 ($2899) - Similar in size to the BR1 Pro, but with 802.11ac and dual independent cellular modems for redundancy. Also supports tethering to a hotspot via USB.
  • Pepwave MAX HD2 Mini ($2699) - Combines the dual cellular modems of the HD2 with the small size and total lack of Wi-Fi of the BR1 ENT.
  • Pepwave MAX HD4 ($5999) - If you have a need (and budget) for extreme redundancy, the HD4 combines four independent cellular modems, USB tethering, and eight gigabit ethernet LAN ports together into a box that is likely overkill for very nearly everyone. But even this monster of a device lacks 802.11ac.
  • Peplink Balance 30 LTE ($699) - Similar to the MAX BR1 ENT, the Balance 30 lacks any built in Wi-Fi capability but It could function as a companion to a more capable downstream Wi-Fi router.

Unfortunately - the basic MAX BR1 model has yet to to be updated.

TIP: The older non LTE-A versions of all these products remain available (and are generally priced at least $100 cheaper). To avoid getting stuck with older technology, make sure that you specify the LTE-A models if you seek to purchase any of these.

Review & Testing Status

We have the 2015 "universal" version of the Pepwave MAX BR1 in our ongoing testing collection, and have used it extensively as one of the core components of our mobile internet arsenal.

We share our in depth testing notes and analysis with our members in more detail below.

We've been told by Peplink to expect to get the updated 2017 next-generation version of the MAX BR1 sent to us for hands-on testing as soon as it is released, so stay tuned for updates.

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Purchasing Options

  • 3G Store
  • SinglePoint - The SinglePoint 'WiFi in Motion' bundles are built around the Pepwave MAX routers, bundled with RV-friendly antennas, service plans, and support.

NOTE: The basic MAX BR1 LTE-A update continues to be delayed, but the rest of the product line was updated in March 2017.

Related News Center Articles

Pepwave MAX BR1
  • Hardware
  • User Interface
  • Customer Service
  • Overall Performance

Quick Take

The MAX BR1 combines a multi-carrier cellular modem with a very capable mobile router, all in one compact box.

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