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Cellular as a Primary or Secondary WAN (Internet) Connection

There are a handful of different methods for getting an Internet connection into a home or business. In places like Montana, getting a good Internet connection can be challenging and expensive. Rural areas have extra challenges as well since Internet Service Provider (or “ISP”) options are limited, and the options that those ISPs provide do not always fit the need or application. Take the following situation for example.

We have recently been working with a client that has a small business on a rural lake. Other buildings around the lake can get a decent cable Internet connection, but the availability is cut short before the clients’ property. Thankfully, there is a decent Verizon cellular signal at the location, so we began looking into this as a potential option for a primary Internet connection for the business.

Research brought us to order and try out the Pepwave MAX BR1 Mini LTE for this application.

The Pepwave MAX BR1 Mini LTE we are using for testing.

What this unit does is take a cellular data connection and turns it into a useful Local Area Network - or LAN - for use in a home or business. We ordered a SIM adapter kit that allowed a nano-SIM card (the most common for modern smartphones) to be used in this LTE router that only accepts regular-sized SIM cards. The SIM card we used was simply pulled out of an iPhone with an existing phone/data plan from Visible (a subsidiary of Verizon) and inserted into the router with the aforementioned SIM adapter.

Initially, the router was not able to get an IP address as expected. After updating the firmware to the most recent version for the BR1 Mini and rebooting the router, it was able to acquire an IP address successfully and we were on our way.

The router, as you can see in the picture above, comes with three antennas. The far-left antenna is for a wireless signal to allow laptops, phones, and tablets (as well as any other WiFi-enabled device) to connect to the router’s Local Area Network. The middle and far-right antennas are both used to pick up the cellular data connection from a local cellular tower.

Testing produced interesting results. The first item to note is that the BR1 Mini pulled down better download and upload speeds than the iPhone by itself. This makes sense as the antennas on the router are larger and are externally mounted, allowing them to grab a stronger signal than the phone.

Speeds ranged a bit, from 25-40 Mbps for download to 10-15 Mbps for uploads. This is plenty for most applications and would be fine for a small business of 10 or fewer employees in most cases.

Latency, or the time it takes for a data packet to be sent out and responded to by a server, was in the 60-80 millisecond range. In contrast, our cable Internet from Spectrum hangs around 18-25 milliseconds. Anything below 100 milliseconds is respectable and the average user likely won't notice much of a difference.

It is also worth noting that these initial speed tests were taken on the edge of city limits in Missoula. When testing is done at the client site, we are expecting slower speeds and potentially higher latency. To help counter this, we are also going to be doing some further testing with an outdoor mounted omnidirectional cellular antenna connected to the BR1 Mini. This should provide near-optimal LTE connection in an area where data of any kind is difficult to come by.

While the above discussion is in regards to a rural client using a cellular connection as their primary Internet source, the BR1 Mini and devices like it can serve another useful purpose as a secondary WAN (or Internet) connection. While most businesses and homes have a relatively reliable Internet connection, these connections do not have 100% uptime regardless of what the ISP may say. Having a cellular connection like the BR1 Mini can help mitigate these potential downtimes by providing an excellent failover in case the primary Internet provider is having issues or an outage.

The way this works is the primary ISP connection and the BR1 Mini both connect into a separate router. This router will use the primary connection first, and most frequently. But in the event of the primary connection is having an issue, the router can sense the down connection and failover to the BR1 Mini cellular connection. For the business staff or family at home with this setup, there would be little to no interruption for video streaming, web browsing, or messaging services. This would result in greater uptime. If a business only has a single ISP, and that ISP is having issues, then the Internet would be full “down” for that business, resulting in lost productivity and revenue as a result. With a secondary cellular connection, the Internet connection hardly misses a beat and everyone can continue working.

Cellular data as a primary or secondary Internet connection can be an excellent option for small businesses and homes alike. For more information or to receive a free consultation to improve your business’ Internet uptime and reliability, feel free to shoot an email to Justin (


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