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Standard User HolmsiEE
(newbie) Wed 30-Dec-20 22:54:48
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Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


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I recently lost my fibre connection unexpectedly and had to get set up with mobile broadband in a hurry. As others on this forum have been very helpful with my fibre situation, I thought I would share my experience on setting up mobile broadband in case this is of any help to anyone else in a similar boat.

Find an LTE router (Mi-Fi)
I picked up a Huawei E5577 LTE portable hotspot next day from Amazon for about £70. There are some cheaper devices, but living in a rural area with patchy coverage, I expected I would need something that would take external antennas. The unit is very compact and can be run from a battery which also seemed like a plus if I ever want to take it on the road after we get our fixed broadband situation sorted. In hindsight, I probably would have been better with a larger mains powered router, but more on that later.

Picking a Network
Network wise, from each mobile network’s coverage checker (e.g. http://www.three.co.uk/Discover/Network/Coverage) I found that 3 and EE were about as good as it gets where we are for 4G and there is no 5G coverage as of yet. Of the two, EE don’t seem to believe in the concept of “Unlimited Data” and their big data plans are crazy expensive. The best deal I could find was with Smarty, who use 3’s network and were doing unlimited data for £15/month with no contract.

Setting Up
Inserting a Smarty SIM into the E5577 and signing up was all straightforward. The next thing I did was to run a few speed tests (using the Speedtest App) in different locations upstairs in our house and quickly found a particular front window with a reasonable connection. At this point I was typically getting around 8Mbps download, 16Mbps upload. Two things I wish I had known about at this stage are https://www.cellmapper.net/ which will show you your nearby masts and the Device Information page on the router which gives detailed information about which mast is being used and the current signal strength. On the E5577, the later is accessed by visiting http://192.168.8.1 from a browser and visiting Settings > System > Device Information.

Improving the Setup
I picked up a couple of Bingfu LTE ‘whip’ antennas with TS9 plugs for just over a tenner and tried these out. Mounted at 90 degrees and in just the right spot in the window to maximise signal strength, I’m able to get speeds of around 30Mbps upload and download. I’m still quite sceptical of these antennas (mainly due to the cheap coax cable which comes fitted to them) and I’m pretty sure that any success is more down getting an antenna in the right spot rather than them really performing much better than the internal antennas on the E5577.

Portable isn’t Perfect
The small portable E5577 works great if you’re within a metre or two of it, but it’s wi-fi bubble certainly doesn’t reach nearly as far as a home broadband router we’re used to. We got around this with a TP-Link RE220 Wi-Fi extender which we picked up for less than £20 but its another thing to buy and set up.

The E5577 is also limited to 10 connections. This may seem like plenty, but they do fill up quick when you’re connecting an extender, a couple of mobiles, laptops, perhaps a smart TV, an iPad, a printer, even a smart speaker? At this point, we’re probably stretching the poor little hotspot beyond its comfort zone and a mains powered router would be better suited.

The Bad
30Mbps for £15/month is perfectly fine for our needs, but of course, there are a few catches:
* First, whilst we’re lucky to have pretty much line of sight to the 3 mast, it is about 1.5km away. This means that heavy fog or rain do hit speeds.
* Second, you’re at the mercy of others on the network, this is true of any network but seems to be more pronounced on ‘mobile’ internet than our old fixed fibre connection?
* Third, for some reason, every once in a while everything slows to a crawl (1Mbps) and can only be resolved by restarting the router. I’ve checked that we’re connected to the same cell mast before and after restarting and that the signal strength is similar and can only assume that this is an issue with the E5577 rather than the network itself but its hard to prove.

If we’re without fixed broadband for a while, the next things I’ll look at are a better antenna and a mains powered router (in that order). Hope this is of some help to anyone who finds themselves in a similar boat.
Standard User RobertoS
(elder) Thu 31-Dec-20 00:11:30
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
Two thoughts.

One, I would go for a Three SIM rather than the Smarty. Purely on anecdotal evidence from this forum. I get the feeling on heavy load on the mast by the total number of connections to the mast at any given time, (not the number of users you have on your connection), the throughput on the mast may be apportioned more to the mainstream long-contract Three customers than the cheaper(?) and more volatile Smarty ones. Less busy periods probably no difference, but you do seem to have a potential heavy load yourself.

However that's a bit of a longer-term idea as it involves a long-term contract. But it could be tested with a free Three PAYG SIM and a small top-up of 5 or 10 GB.

Second, if your fibre router gives better wifi coverage you could turn off its DHCP and feed a LAN port on it by ethernet from your LTE router. Using the fibre router as a WAP. Which is what is inside it providing your previous wifi.

Assuming they will be quite close together it might also be advantageous to give the two different SSIDs and different fixed channels. Then experiment around that setup, with nearer devices connecting to the LTE and further away ones to the "fibre" router.

__________________________________________________________
Sovereignty Means Sovereignty

My broadband basic info/help site - www.robertos.me.uk. Domains, sites and mail hosting - Tsohost & Ionos.
Connections: OnePlus 8 Pro max 165Mbps down, 24Mbps up on Three, and B311 4G, tbb tests normally 35-45Mpbs down, 65Mbps off-peak, 9-24 up.
========================
Experience shows us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Standard User DanielCoffey67
(member) Thu 31-Dec-20 07:14:25
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
EE do 4G Unlimited Data for £25 for 12 months but the deal is not in the Broadband section of the website, it is in the Phone section. It is a SIM Only offer and it works perfectly for Broadband if you have your own router (as you do).

Don't bother with their 5G for £35pm/12 month unless you can actually get 5G. You can always upgrade without penalty during a contract as it refreshes the 12m timer.

The speed you are getting is not bad for a small Omni antenna but if you do have physical line of sight then a Directional antenna will help you squeeze more out of it. When I went from a 6dB Omni to a Poynting XPOL2_V3_5G antenna (even though we are on 4G only, the 5G is their new type of antenna) my speeds on EE rose from 20-25Mbps to 65-70Mbps.

You are right about time of day affecting your speeds. With my current setup I can get 25-30 at peak, 40-50 off-peak and 65-70 at what I would call deep off-peak. Uploads seem to be a lot less susceptible to congestion and are more consistent at 25-35 peak and 30-40 off-peak.


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Standard User jchamier
(eat-sleep-adslguide) Thu 31-Dec-20 10:02:50
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
The E5577 is end of life on Amazon, and as a 150mbps device, it is an old design, that max speed would make it Category 4 LTE or approx a 2014 design. With a speed rating of 150 mbps, it won't support carrier aggregation which is pretty essential in the UK for capacity. (NB: this is more than about speed !)

You would be better off with something with a Cat 6 or higher (recall modern phone handsets are Cat 18) such as the Netgear AC810 if you can find any stock. Unfortunately Huawei are poor are documenting their range as they intend to sell branded product through mobile operators.

A current specification unit is the Netgear M1, which is Cat 16, which is the "gigabit" spec, so in a city you might get real world speeds of 400 Mbps or higher, but in rural areas you have a chance to connect to all the frequencies being transmitted by your chosen network.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/NETGEAR-MR1100-100EUS-Night...

As others have suggested, try ALL the networks, and do research (e.g. Cellmapper) to see what frequencies are being transmitted in your area.

In your specific example, on the Three network, note that Smarty is reported to be noticeable slower and to have a transparent proxy, which a Three SIM does not have.

Your speed drop sounds as if your device has swapped from Band 3 (15 MHz capacity) down to Band 20 (5 MHz capacity). Band 3 runs at 1800 MHz, and Band 20 is at 800 MHz, so travels indoors further, and was originally intended for indoor voice calls. For data services, Band 20 gets overloaded fast, and hence you receive speeds as low as you have seen. For mobile handsets this works for notifications and WhatsApp messages etc.

If you had a better device, supporting carrier aggregation, (ie, Cat 6 or higher) then it is likely you would be using both frequencies together.

21 years of broadband connectivity since 1999 trial - Live BQM

Edited by jchamier (Thu 31-Dec-20 10:07:17)

Standard User andynormancx
(committed) Thu 31-Dec-20 10:46:38
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
In reply to a post by HolmsiEE:
* Second, you’re at the mercy of others on the network, this is true of any network but seems to be more pronounced on ‘mobile’ internet than our old fixed fibre connection?


This is because in mobile the operators have far less scope for adding extra capacity to fix congestion.

In a fixed line setup, the operator has control over how much fibre connectivity to put between the cabinet and the exchange. They or the ISP also have control over how much connectivity to put between the exchange and the connection to the Internet. If they choose to they can supplement or upgrade this capacity when they need/want to.

On mobile the operators have control over the connection from the mast back to the Internet. If they choose to they can supplement or upgrade this capacity when they need/want to.

However, when it comes to control over capacity on the mobile side, operators are very constrained in what they can do to add capacity. They can:

- use extra frequency bands
- use wider frequency bands
- use more advanced encoding/protocols that are more efficient
- add extra masts

On the first two solutions, they can only get extra frequency capacity when it becomes available. There are occasional government auctions where the operators will compete for new chunks of frequency. But this doesn't happen often and when it does the cost of the frequency bands and of rolling out new hardware to masts to support the new bands is massive.

The mobile networks are always upgrading the encoding/protocols to make use of the frequencies they have more efficient. But they are also dependant on all the uses of the network keeping up. Flagship phones tend to, cheaper phones and 4G routers tend to lag a long way behind.

Adding extra masts is hugely difficult. "Everyone" wants a better mobile signal, but "no-one" wants one built within 5 miles of where they live/work/go to school. One of our local towns has terrible mobile signals at one end, because of the lay of the land. It could be easily fixed by a new mast on the other side of the river, largely hidden away in a wood. But every time the networks try and get planning for it, some of the locals fight tooth and nail to deny it. We've been here seven years and they've still not managed to get planning for it.
Standard User HolmsiEE
(newbie) Thu 31-Dec-20 20:18:36
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: RobertoS] [link to this post]
 
Thanks for the advice on Three vs Smarty, I’ll see if I can get a Three SIM and test it out. I’m finding it quite hard (perhaps just time consuming) to make comparisons between networks to be honest, since you really need to collect several speed test results throughout the day on each with similar signal qualities to draw any real conclusion. If there’s an easy way around this, let me know!

The fibre router as an access point is another great tip. In my case the E5577 LTE router I currently have is just a portable job with no ethernet connection so a Wifi extender was the easiest solution for me.
Standard User HolmsiEE
(newbie) Thu 31-Dec-20 20:35:05
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: jchamier] [link to this post]
 
In reply to a post by jchamier:
The E5577 is end of life on Amazon, and as a 150mbps device, it is an old design, that max speed would make it Category 4 LTE or approx a 2014 design. With a speed rating of 150 mbps, it won't support carrier aggregation which is pretty essential in the UK for capacity. (NB: this is more than about speed !)

You would be better off with something with a Cat 6 or higher (recall modern phone handsets are Cat 18) such as the Netgear AC810 if you can find any stock. Unfortunately Huawei are poor are documenting their range as they intend to sell branded product through mobile operators.


A newer router is a good shout, I opted for the E5577 when I thought I might need cover for a few days as it was one of the cheapest I could find. As this is turning into weeks I’m looking more seriously at upgrading. Its a big step up in cost to get something more modern though. In addition to the Netgear units you mentioned, I’ve also looked at the TP Link MR600 (CAT 6) and Huawei B818 (CAT19) if anyone has any experience with these?

In reply to a post by jchamier:
Your speed drop sounds as if your device has swapped from Band 3 (15 MHz capacity) down to Band 20 (5 MHz capacity). Band 3 runs at 1800 MHz, and Band 20 is at 800 MHz, so travels indoors further, and was originally intended for indoor voice calls. For data services, Band 20 gets overloaded fast, and hence you receive speeds as low as you have seen. For mobile handsets this works for notifications and WhatsApp messages etc.


It is generally connected to a band 3 cell. The other cell it sometimes connects to isn’t on cellmapper unfortunately so hard to say. This might be band related, but even the web interface into the router locally slows to a crawl, so I still suspect it’s something related to the router firmware. Perhaps it is bouncing between bands or something.
Standard User RobertoS
(elder) Thu 31-Dec-20 20:35:36
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
Sorry, I'm no expert on the subject of signal improvement. I am the only person here, and lucky to have adequate signal on my low-end Three router and very good on my OnePlus 8 Pro. See my sig.

I have great respect for jchamier's posts on the topic, if that helps. He clearly knows what he is talking about smile.

__________________________________________________________
Sovereignty Means Sovereignty

My broadband basic info/help site - www.robertos.me.uk. Domains, sites and mail hosting - Tsohost & Ionos.
Connections: OnePlus 8 Pro max 165Mbps down, 24Mbps up on Three, and B311 4G, tbb tests normally 35-45Mpbs down, 65Mbps off-peak, 9-24 up.
========================
Experience shows us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Standard User jchamier
(eat-sleep-adslguide) Thu 31-Dec-20 21:35:01
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
In reply to a post by HolmsiEE:
A newer router is a good shout, I opted for the E5577 when I thought I might need cover for a few days as it was one of the cheapest I could find. As this is turning into weeks I’m looking more seriously at upgrading. Its a big step up in cost to get something more modern though. In addition to the Netgear units you mentioned, I’ve also looked at the TP Link MR600 (CAT 6) and Huawei B818 (CAT19) if anyone has any experience with these?
I don't, I have a Cat 12 Netgear Aircard which is no longer available.

As well as looking at hardware, also look at the networks in your area; Three may not be the only option. If EE is transmitting on the same mast, they usually provision 20 MHz on Band 3 as their base layer, and often add carrier aggregation also on Band 3, of an additional 10, 15 or 20 MHz. My local mast for EE is now 2x 20MHz on band 3, and even in a residential area can achieve 180 Mbps, whereas the Three signal from the same mast is 1x15 MHz on band 3, and maxes out at 38 Mbps.

It is generally connected to a band 3 cell. The other cell it sometimes connects to isn’t on cellmapper unfortunately so hard to say. This might be band related, but even the web interface into the router locally slows to a crawl, so I still suspect it’s something related to the router firmware. Perhaps it is bouncing between bands or something.

In a rural area it would be very unusual to not have Band 20 as well as Band 3 on a Three mast. That said, the Three network is undergoing a large amount of upgrade work on both their 4G and new 5G networks nationally, so things can change.

If you are able to post the Cell Site eNB number, then others can look at the cellmapper info, and see what is about. If you are very rural the likelihood is that cellmapper data will be incomplete, as it needs people running the app on each of the four physical networks to map the country.

The balance is transmitted capacity (e.g. how much MHz across multiple bands) versus how much load the local area generates. The latter we have zero information or control over, so the aim is to find the most MHz and a price plan that makes sense for your usage.

21 years of broadband connectivity since 1999 trial - Live BQM
Standard User jchamier
(eat-sleep-adslguide) Thu 31-Dec-20 21:39:23
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: RobertoS] [link to this post]
 
In reply to a post by RobertoS:
I have great respect for jchamier's posts on the topic, if that helps. He clearly knows what he is talking about smile.

Worked out from trial and error! In many cases signal loss on cabling from external antenna can cause the problem. Some others on this forum recommend externally mounted radio/modem units (e.g. MicroTik) which then use USB or Ethernet to connect to a router internally.

That way the 800 (b20) / 900 (b8) / 1500 (b32) / 1800 (b3) / 2100 (b1) / 2300 (b40) / 2600 (b7) MHz 4G (LTE) signals are not lost in the cabling. (5G NR in the UK is currently on 3500 MHz (Band n78) with hope Ofcom will auction more spectrum in 2021).

21 years of broadband connectivity since 1999 trial - Live BQM
Standard User HolmsiEE
(newbie) Thu 07-Jan-21 22:04:08
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Re: Getting set up with mobile broadband (in a hurry)


[re: HolmsiEE] [link to this post]
 
Just an update on this for anyone who may find it helpful in the future. I managed to pick up a Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0002 directional antenna second hand on eBay and have been doing a bit more testing. With this pointed at the nearest mast (indoors through a window) signal strength has improved significantly. RSRP is up around 10dBm, SINR is up around 10dB too (now typically 25dB). RSRQ was already pretty good but now hovers around -3dB. We’re still at the mercy of a busy network, but at least the connection is now really solid whatever the weather. During off-peak times, download speeds are up from around 30Mbps to 60Mbps which isn’t bad for the cheap little Huawei router. I’d definitely recommend a similar directional antenna to anyone in a similar situation to us and this Poynting unit has been excellent.

I’ve also had chance to do a bit of comparison between 3 (via Smarty) and EE. Both deliver 60+ Mbps download and 40 or so upload in off peak times and both vary quite a bit during the day. EE is definitely a bit more reliable overall though, at it’s worst moments, the speed never drops quite as low as we’ve found with the Smarty SIM. When I get chance, I’ll try some comparison of 3 vs Smarty to see if its the actual 3 network or just them throttling Smarty users.
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