At Lake Norman State Park Campground, 38 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, we tested a WeBoost Drive 4G-X OTR, a Sprint MiFi 8000 Mobile Hotspot (with a Netgear MiMo antenna), iPhone 11 with T-Mobile (e-sim) and Verizon (physical sim through MVNO US Mobile), Google Pixel 3a with Google Fi, and AT&T’s Connected Car.
Admittedly, the number of devices and services is overkill, but our goal was to find out which of these devices provided the best – and most consistent – connectivity in this remote location. We’ll return at least one of the devices and discontinue at least one of the services.
The WeBoost Drive 4G-X OTR is a $499 device that is designed to boost 4G LTE and 3G signals up to 32 times. In the location where we tested the WeBoost, the system failed to impress. It was inconsistent at best.
WeBoost Did Not Boost
Using the iPhone 11, T-Mobile via WeBoost performed poorly on the first go: .35 mbps download, .28 mbps upload. On another try, T-Mobile via the WeBoost jumped to 5.8 mbps download, .01 mbps upload. Upon further testing, T-Mobile via WeBoost was inconsistent.
I also have a physical SIM in the iPhone. The SIM comes from US Mobile, which uses Verizon’s network. US Mobile receives good reviews (see video below as one example), and I appreciate the fact that service can be snoozed for a monthly service charge of $2.
Using US Mobile connected to the WeBoost, we saw 1.26 mbps download and .89 mbps upload.
I also have a Google Pixel 3a operating on the Google Fi network. I primarily use Google Fi as a secondary business phone, and so long as I don’t use data, I pay only $20 per month.
Google Fi, which is also an MVNO, uses T-Mobile and Sprint, and its “Designed for Fi” phones, such as the Pixel 3a, are able to automatically switch networks for the best connectivity. However, Google Fi performed miserably through WeBoost. The download speed was .50 mbps and .43 mbps upload.
The phones generally performed better without WeBoost. With WeBoost unplugged, T-Mobile showed 2.4 mbps download, .74 mbps upload.
Verizon, on the US Mobile sim, showed 4.09 mbps download, .24 mbps upload with WeBoost turned off. Also without WeBoost, Google Fi came in at 2.23 mbps download and .80 mbps upload, a big improvement.
Step In, Sprint MiFi 8000
The performance winner, hands down, was the Sprint MiFi 8000, which was consistent in all tests. The Sprint MiFi device had download speeds ranging from 7.99 mbps to 9.25 mbps and upload speeds ranging from 2.27 mbps to 2.69 mbps. These are speeds that will allow us to work remotely.
In fact, using Sprint’s MiFi, I downloaded 642 mb movie from Amazon Prime in a matter of minutes. You can find a thorough review of the Sprint device can be found here, in which the reviewer states that the device can be unlocked. I may unlock it and use Verizon on the US Mobile plan. For those who want to do a little more digging, the Sprint MiFi 8000 manual can be found here.
UPDATE: I called the Sprint MiFi 8000 manufacturer, Inseego. A tech support rep told me that the device is currently only for Sprint. It is incapable of being unlocked. A model that is almost identical, however, the MiFi 8800 works with Verizon. The rep also said the Novatel (the company’s old name) 7000 is a global version, which you may be able to find unlocked.
Also, in the video I mention that the Sprint MiFi 8000 is available through FMCA at a discount. True, but you must be a member for at least one year before being able to take advantage of the benefit package. If you have been a member for one year, you pay a one-time rental fee of $39.99, a savings of $200 over the purchase price, and $49.99 a month for unlimited data. You may temporarily suspend service by paying a service fee of $13.99 per month. You can only suspend service for 9 months over a 24-month period. If you choose to cancel membership, you’ll need to return the device.
In Second Place, A Surprise Peformer
In second place, AT&T’s Connected Car Wifi gave us 6.36 mbps download but only .31 mbps upload. Connected Car costs $15 and change per month ($380 for two years) for unlimited data.
The downside, at least to my knowledge, is that the Sprinter ignition has to be on for Connect Car WiFi to work. AT&T’s Connected Car also keeps the Boldt connected while driving so that drivers can, in theory, access the internet through “Hey Mercedes.”
I’ll hold on to the Sprint MiFi 8000 and will probably return the WeBoost device. In our tests, the Sprint device seemed to be best for reliable connectivity, and unlocked, we can also switch SIM cards to tap into the Verizon network. Fortunately too, with the Boldt being a Class B vehicle, breaking down camp and heading into a an area with phone connectivity is not difficult.
Thanks to Cherie and Chris at the Mobile Internet Resource Center for their videos, which pointed me toward the Sprint device. In the first video, they ask Do You Need A Cell Booster? In my case, maybe not?
A few interesting comments from members of the Boldt Owners and Wannabes group on Facebook.
From Shaun: Your results make sense. It’s important to understand why the MIMO routers generally work better in many areas than boosters. If you’re in a very remote area with cellular towers few and far between, the booster will usually outperform the MIMO device, but the download speeds will be slow. The booster will always be slower because the MIMO device uses two antennas with two signal feeds, but the booster uses only a single channel. In a very marginal reception area, the booster can often grab that single channel but the MIMO device can’t.
In the far West, marginal reception is extremely common. Out here, boosters are quite effective. On the East Coast, cell coverage is far denser and boosters can’t compete.
The other thing I’d note is the price/performance. Boosters are carrier-agnostic, so they are a one-time ($$) cost to the buyer. MIMO routers are tied to a carrier with a continuing subscription cost.
From Daniel: A MIMO antenna on the roof coupled with a good cellular router or hot spot will outperform anything you do with a cell booster. Boosters have the downside of interfering with MIMO. ln fringe areas the booster can help, but if there is good coverage, it will hurt. A lot.
He uses Peplink routers. “I recommend the MAX BR1 MK2. It’s certified for all carriers. I use T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon SIMs. Best to get data plans via resellers, not direct from carriers (you can get better unlimited plans that way).
From Cheryl: Sadly, I’m guessing you’d get entirely different results all over the county … I made a copy of this for my RV folder, just so I’d know where the major gaps are …