Options for Consistent LTE Connectivity
Updated: Oct 31
If you have spent any time in the world of mobile/LTE internet you know that it is a tumultuous and unsteady landscape to navigate. With constant changes in equipment, plan offerings, serviceability, pricing, and more, it can make it hard to understand what is going on, and more importantly, why your internet may not be working. So if you have been or are stuck wondering why things aren't working the way you think they should, here is a quick guide for the world of LTE as it stands today.
There are realistically only three tier 1 carrier networks in the United States. They each have slightly different, but similar network footprints that cover the vast majority of the United States. It is possible one works better than the other wherever you are, but most providers can get some sort of signal nearly anywhere. All of them are in the game to make money, and obviously all of them are pretty good at that. Part of that strategy for them is to expand their network to provide coverage everywhere, the other is to trim down their offerings to simplify and increase their profit. This leads them to make changes that are not beneficial to us as their client, and thereby you as our client, which leads us to our next topic: Plans.
Plans for each carrier are similar, but have subtle differences. For instance, each will claim to be "Uncapped" but will carry a soft data cap, meaning once you reach a certain amount of data use they will "deprioritize" your usage, which essentially means if anyone else is using data on the same tower/network as you, your requests (whatever you are streaming or browsing at the time) goes to the back of the line. This results in buffering, slow loading for webpages and apps, etc.
Additional differences in plans include their Terms of Service (TOS) which have different stipulations for what their network can and cannot be used for. For instance, they do not permit their network to be used for nefarious purposes such as hacking, identity theft, phishing, spamming, etc. You will often see resolution limiting for video streaming down to standard definition (480p) and some limitations on a litany of other functions.
How they detect these functions is by observing the IP addresses which your router is communicating with. For instance, if you watch Netflix, they can see that your router is communicating with a Netflix IP address, and they will impose rate limiting for that service as a result. Similarly, if they see a Windows IP address come through, they will assume you are doing updates to a Windows machine and potentially limit or terminate services as a result (yes, that is in their TOS.)
Ultimately the carriers hold all the cards, and if they terminate a plan they have broad authority to do so as written in their TOS. So it is up to us (and you) to work around those restrictions. There are some things you can do on your side, and some things that are seemingly impossible to get around. Keep reading for some possible solutions.
Unfortunately while the cost of bandwidth across wireline and WISP carriers seems to be a race to the bottom, LTE carriers are consistently increasing their prices. There are some logical reasons for this, and some that we would consider plain greedy.
First, and logically, the carriers are doing massive network upgrades to attain 5G which are extremely expensive. While this does not benefit everyone, they do have to pay for those upgrades somehow.
Second, (somewhat logically), they are pushing as many subscribers to buy data capped hotspots from them as possible.
Third, network capacity in some areas is limited, so they do everything they can to discourage high data usage on their network. That means high cap or no cap services are charged a premium. Just like how most carriers eliminated data cap free cell phone plans and are reintroducing them at massive price increases, they are doing the same to the data only market as well.
Technology changes regularly for a myriad of reasons. From innovations that result in higher speed, lower latency, greater security, and power efficiency, there are always changes. What we find is that old hardware is being disallowed by the carriers for various reasons. Common LTE router models such as the Netgear LB1120, MR1100, and the Mofi 4500 are being picked off. We are not sure if this is due to consistent abuse on these devices, security concerns on the part of the carriers, or upcoming technological incompatibility. But the fact remains that servicing these devices is becoming increasingly complicated and costly.
What this means for you is if you have purchased an LTE router in the past, like all technology, it is not guaranteed to work forever, and you may have to purchase a different device in order to receive service.
What Can You Do?
There are a couple of small adjustments that can be made on your part to help keep yourself beneath the carrier's radar. The primary change you can make is implementing a VPN for your Windows based devices (PCs, laptops, tablets.) A VPN may sound intimidating, but it really is very simple, especially when used directly on your device. The most common VPN providers are Express VPN, Nord VPN, or Pure VPN.
How does a VPN work, and why does it help? The simplest explanation is that a VPN takes whatever you are doing in your home and transmits it from a third party location, making it impossible for your internet provider to determine what you are doing online. This is a decent idea no matter who your internet provider is as it can shield you from targeted ads, snooping by your internet carrier, network security while you are on public/guest WIFI, and is generally a safe network practice.
You can also limit the amount of data you consume. This is easily done by reducing the resolution of the video you are streaming from 1080p (the standard resolution for most streaming platforms) to 720p. This will reduce your data usage for video streaming by more than half.
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