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Narrowboat solution - looking for 4G/5G router with external antenna

petch

Casual Member
Hi all,

I've gotten myself tied into a 24 month contract with Three for their 5G hub (ZTEe MC801a), but it seems I cannot get it to work with my external antenna. I'm also reading on these forums that the external antenna are for 5G only?

My situation is probably not the norm - I want this router for a narrowboat that will be moving around the inland waterways. Sometimes there will be 5G available, sometimes 4G - or maybe not even that some of the time. Since narrowboats are essentially big metal tins with very poor reception inside, I bought a Poynting XPOL-1-5G 2x2 MIMO Omni-Directional Antenna to go on the roof.

So what I need is a mobile broadband router that actually works with external antenna (and doesn't just have the ports that seem to do nothing) but also works with 4G as well as 5G. I don't know much about this stuff, is there a reason one pair of antenna ports can't cover more than one frequency band?

I was looking at the Zyxel NR5101 router, but their online documentation here seems to state that the external antenna only work between 3300-4200 MHz, which I understand is just the 5G frequencies. I've asked their support for clarification on 4G with the antenna, but I'm not hopeful. I'd really like a router that also supports the 600-700MHz 5G which will hopefully provide coverage to more rural locations. But that would just be a bonus.

Any help would be much appreciated!
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
Cancel if you're in the 14 day period.
People have been having so many problems with this router.

Find a good router and go payg with Smarty for example. Payg also wouldn't lock you in so you can change operators to something that covers the area better, if you're going to be very mobile.
 

meritez

ULTIMATE Member
I've been looking around £350 but could go higher if needs must
I don't think going higher would be needed.
Which network provider are you aiming to use, your Poynting antenna doesn't support band 32, the supplementary downlink band that Three and Vodafone deploy alongside band 20 and band 28.
This in turn would limit carrier aggregation and potentially provide a slower service.

The mc801a external antenna are 5G only, you could drill your own extra mounts, but you may end up requiring two antenna, one for 4G and one for 5G.

Where will you be narrow boat travelling?
 

petch

Casual Member
I don't think going higher would be needed.
Which network provider are you aiming to use, your Poynting antenna doesn't support band 32, the supplementary downlink band that Three and Vodafone deploy alongside band 20 and band 28.
This in turn would limit carrier aggregation and potentially provide a slower service.

The mc801a external antenna are 5G only, you could drill your own extra mounts, but you may end up requiring two antenna, one for 4G and one for 5G.

Where will you be narrow boat travelling?
Not sure on network, it was (and currently still is) going to be Three but that was just because of the cost

It'll be kept on the Leeds Liverpool canal, most travelling will be done up North (Yorkshire, Lancashire)
 

meritez

ULTIMATE Member
Okay, so we'll start with the cheapest options and make our way up:

ZTE MF286d, cat12 4G router, full support for all of 3's 4G bands, around £69 from Amazon or £45 from cex. External antenna are SMA and will comfortably work with the Poynting. Can also be put into bridge mode allowing you to purchase a different router if needed.
The advantage of the mf286d is as it has support for band 32 1400mhz it will prove your Poynting.
It's also cheap but as it's cat12 it's not bad for the price point compared to the equivalent tplink, zyxel, dlink and Alcatel which are cat4, cat6 or cat7.

Cheapest 5G router is the mc801a, £120 from cex but you would have to modify it to allow the 4g antenna to connect to a second Poynting antenna for 4g only.

I would not be attempting this with a contract device.

Those are the budget options and the mf286d would be a simple test if you're going to be on the narrow boat soon, as everything else I'm going to suggest in a separate post may have issues with chipset availability.
 

dabigm

ULTIMATE Member
Ditch the poynting! get it on ebay you might even make your money back the way things are now. Then swap it for a proper one that covers UK bands
 

petch

Casual Member
Ditch the poynting! get it on ebay you might even make your money back the way things are now. Then swap it for a proper one that covers UK bands
Such as? not sure what I'm missing honestly, this is from the datasheet
1656275034888.png
 

meritez

ULTIMATE Member
I take it back, I guess yours covers more than my poyntig xpol does, but still no 1400Mhz, and three is up to 4GHz (n77). There are similar priced antennas that do 600MHz-6GHz.
That's my concern, as on 4g masts out near the canals, 3 uses a lot of band 32 as supplementary downlink for band 20.

The ZTE mf286d would prove the Poynting, as while it states it doesn't support 1400 MHz, the SMA ports would allow @petch to see the performance.

It's a curious omission, and would also negatively affect the mc801a
 

petch

Casual Member
There's so much more to this than I first thought!
So are there no routers with SMA ports that work on both 4G/LTE and 5G? If that's the case I might be better off with a 4G router until 5G coverage improves?
 

Meatball

ULTIMATE Member
Especially if you will be using it on the move as you are unlikely to get much 5G but may get some at the marinas or where the canal runs parallel to major roads. Elsewhere it likely to be 4G or worse, very patchy and may also need a Dual SIM solution. A reasonable 4G LTE speed is probably the best to hope for.

I'd check the coverage maps against the lock and mooring points. Also ask at the marinas as some hire boats have 4G WIFI and they probably already have a view of the overall best and you can then select a backup SIM but with low points and heavy vegetation there will be spots without any service.

Finely tuned Router/Antenna setups may be OK for fixed location/mast but if moving about you will probably come across every mast type/config going.

The problem we have currently is the 5G routers are still not coming down in price and good LTE CAT 18+ routers/mifi are few. Hence I am continuing use tethered 5G (Samsung A22 5G or Moto G50 5G) at home and campervan (Ethernet & USB) that also are high CAT LTE. Just back from a successful (although wet) tour of Scotland (EE/ID Mobile/VM). In practical terms they get the best possible out of the nearest mast (if one is available) without having to manage setups. Just swap SIM or tethered phone to change provider or use a router with fail over.

For the boat you could have a phone in a waterproof (lots of bathroom cases available on AMAZON) or hobby case on the outside with the usb cable to all the Ethernet converters/power/router kit within. Tethered phone can be placed on a telescopic pole when moored.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
@petch @Meatball see what dabigm did with the Unicom vn007+, it's not that complicated. You can connect some external antennas that way.

I'm in the process of modifying the vn007+ to run outside btw, in a weatherproof (but ventilated box). I'll post details when done.

I wouldn't keep a phone in a bag outside, you need to think about cooling, maybe a small instrument screen at the very least.
 
Last edited:

Meatball

ULTIMATE Member
@Lucian. Good point I wouldn't have it in direct sunlight and yes the boxes need holes. Also small USB fan if more equipment included. I am using the phones with everything off other than providing tethered and haven't observed high temperatures even on 24/7.

Missed the recent weather in England.

Pole comment was meant if in a particular location with poor signal for short period e.g evening on campsite or mooring. I have a 5m telescopic which has helped on occasion.

Yes watching progress keenly on vn007 and others. But I am looking for something less bulky or cheap enough to strip the boards out of.
 

GazzaSat

Casual Member
It is worth testing the Poynting antenna anyway if you have the chance as my Poynting XPOL V2 directional 5G does pull-in the B32 from my Three mast about 1.5 KM away just fine and B20+B32 brings me 120Mbps down and 8-10Mbps up on Huawei B525. The antenna frequency spectrum shows that it does not give any additional gain at 1400Mhz is all - true you may lose some signal due to cable loss overall but in my case the directionality improved the performance overall versus the internal or bunny ears ones.
 

meritez

ULTIMATE Member
The product page for the XPOL-1-5G is not great, It's not until you go to the Technical Specifications it states:
This antenna performs exceptionally well in the following frequency bands: 698 – 960 MHz, 1427 – 1517 MHz, 1700 –2700 MHz & 3400 – 3800 MHz, with a peak gain of 3.5 dBi across the frequency bands of operation.

Meanwhile the product page states:
This antenna performs exceptionally well in the following frequency bands: 617 – 960 MHz, 1700 – 2170 MHz, 2300 – 2700 MHz & 3400 – 3800 MHz, with a peak gain of 4 dBi across the frequency bands of operation.

Which is it Poynting, 3.5 dBi or 4 dBi?
If I read between the Marketing lines, Band 32 1400 Mhz only gets 3.5 dBi, while all other bands see 4 dBi.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
@meritez it's 2dbi for b32 from what I can read. See attached.

Perhaps @pieter.prinsloo (who claims to work for Poynting) can clarify.
 

Attachments

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dabigm

ULTIMATE Member
Yes watching progress keenly on vn007 and others. But I am looking for something less bulky or cheap enough to strip the boards out of.

VN007 is perfect for stripping the board out of. You can reduce the VN007 to this.
xynWJWu.jpg

You could go a bit further if you don't mind not having it all neatly held together. I was thinking to make a redesigned case for it and 3D print it. Whenever I get time.
 
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