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Pepwave MAX BR1 Classic/Mini/MK2 External Antenna Guide

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Looking to get the best possible data rates from your Pepwave MAX BR1?

You’ll want to purchase and connect external MIMO antennas to the device’s two SMA ports.

In this guide, we'll:

  • Recommend the best external antennas to use.
  • Show where the SMA ports are located.
  • Explain how to aim the antennas for best results.

In this guide

The Best External Antennas For the Pepwave MAX BR1

Using a MIMO antenna outside your building, pointed at the nearest tower, can help you get the fastest LTE data rates possible.

The Pepwave MAX BR1 has two SMA ports at the back. These allow for a 2x2 MIMO antenna to be connected to the device.

We recommend two different MIMO antenna options for use with the Pepwave MAX BR1:

Best For Most Users

This MIMO panel antenna kit will provide meaningful signal improvement, even if you're surrounded by trees, hills, or tall buildings.

For most users the best external antenna choice for the Pepwave MAX BR1 is our MIMO panel antenna kit. This antenna doesn’t require line-of-sight to the tower.

Best With Line Of Sight

These cross polarized log periodic antennas are have higher gain and are more directional, but work best if you have direct line-of-sight to the tower.

However, if you have line of sight to the nearest tower, we recommend using a MIMO log periodic antenna kit instead. The higher gain on these antennas can get you better performance, but only when you have a straight shot to the tower.

Why External Antennas Are Critical for Improving Data Rates

There's one big misconception about external antennas.

Most people think that external antennas primarily help you increase your data rates by increasing the signal strength.

But that's not the case.

An increase in signal strength is actually probably the third most important way that external antennas help.

Here are the three main ways that external antennas help you increase your data rates:

1.They Improve Signal Quality

In 4G LTE networks, signal quality is measured as SINR (Signal to Interference plus Noise Ratio) or sometimes as RSRQ (Reference Signal Received Quality).

Improving signal quality has a huge impact on your data rates.

Higher data rates allow your hotspot to communicate using "higher order modulation schemes." That means they can use the same wireless spectrum to send more data per second.

However, there's one big caveat:

In order to improve your signal quality, you need to both aim and shield your outdoor antenna properly. We talk more about this in the next section.

2.They Allow You To Connect On More Bands

Routers like the Pepwave MAX BR1 support an LTE feature called "carrier aggregation."

Carrier aggregation allows the Pepwave router to connect on multiple cellular bands simultaneously.

The more bands you're connected on, the greater the bandwidth, and the higher your data rates.

However, many of the higher frequency bands aren't able to penetrate into buildings. Using external antennas allows you to access higher frequency bands, which are often less congested and offer higher speeds than lower frequency bands.

3.They Increase Your Signal Strength

As you might expect, using outdoor directional antennas can help increase the signal strength.

This helps increase data rates, but only up to a point.

If your signal strength (called "RSRP" in LTE networks) is stronger than about -100 dBm, stronger signal won't speed up your connection any further.

Positioning and Aiming MIMO Antennas

Positioning and aiming MIMO antennas well is crucial to getting the best performance to your Pepwave, or indeed any other router.

We've actually compiled a detailed instruction manual to accompany our own MIMO Antenna Kits, where we go into depth on the best ways to aim the antennas.

The goal is to find the best location and direction for the antenna(s), to maximize data rates to the hotspot. It can take a little patience, but can have a huge impact – it’s worth a bit of extra effort!

Before getting started, it's always a good idea to run a couple of speed tests indoors from a device connected to your Pepwave's WiFi. The results will fluctuate a little, but this is the baseline you're trying to improve.

Location of the SMA ports on the Pepwave MAX BR1

Location of the SMA ports (top) on the Pepwave MAX BR1

Now connect the MIMO antennas to your Pepwave MAX BR1 via the SMA ports, and go outside with your "test-rig".

With each location and direction you try, run a couple speed tests, and make a note of the results. Here are all the locations and directions where we recommend testing your MIMO antenna:

Where to test your signal

Where to test your signal

Pro tip: Don’t just go to the highest point of the roof! While signal is generally stronger the higher you go, there’s also often more interference. We’ve found it’s often better to mount the antenna(s) on the side of the building where the structure can shield the antennas from interference.

Once you've found the position which gets you the highest data rates to the Pepwave router, that's where you'll want to install the MIMO antenna. Go ahead and mount the antenna, run cables inside, connect everything up, and enjoy superior data rates!

Advanced Optimization

If you've gone through the trouble of installing and accurately aiming a MIMO Antenna Kit, you're likely already getting excellent data rates from your Pepwave MAX BR1.

That said, there's always more that can be done!

Band locking is a great way to optimize data rates through an LTE router or hotspot. The idea is that you test every different frequency band being received by your device, and lock it onto the band that results in the best data rates.

The Pepwave MAX BR1 is one of few lines of routers that allow manual band locking in their web interface - here's a step by step guide of how to do it.

Band Locking the Pepwave MAX BR1

The reason this works so well, is because different frequency bands transmit with different bandwidths.

Generally speaking, higher frequency bands (like 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz) offer more bandwidth but travel less far and penetrate building materials less well than lower frequency bands (like 700 MHz and 800 MHz).

As a result of travelling less far, higher frequency bands tend to be less “congested” - they have fewer users connected to them, and data rates are often faster.

This isn’t always the case though, sometimes a lower frequency band may have better data rates, depending on your location.

This can be quite time consuming, but often results in significant improvements to data rates.

We'll keep the steps below as simple and concise as possible! If you need a little more guidance, you can find a video about this here.

Step 1: Access the Pepwave's web interface

  • Use a computer to connect to your Pepwave's LAN network via ethernet, and open a web browser.
  • Enter "192.168.50.1" into the URL bar to log into the Pepwave web interface.
  • Login to the interface with your username and password - default username is "admin" and the password is "admin".
  • You will be required to change the password on the first logon.

Step 2: Navigate to the cellular settings

  • On the main dashboard, you will see a number of fields under "WAN Connection Status".
  • Find the cellular option with a SIM card detected, and click on "Details". There's a fair amount of useful and interesting information to be found in this section of the web interface. For now, we're only interested in the band locking feature.
  • Scroll down past "Cellular Status" and "WAN Connection Settings", until you see "Cellular Settings".
Navigating to cellular settings on the Pepwave web portal

Navigating to cellular settings on the Pepwave web portal

Step 3: Activate manual band selection on the Pepwave MAX BR1

  • Expand the dropdown under the active SIM card slot, and change "Band Selection" mode to "Manual".
Activating manual band selection on the Pepwave web portal

Activating manual band selection on the Pepwave web portal

Step 4: Lock the Pepwave MAX BR1 to a frequency band

  • From the list of bands that appears, select only the band(s) to which you'd like to lock the Pepwave router.
  • In the example below we've selected all of the bands that are available, you will probably only want to select a subset of the LTE bands.
Manual band selection on the Pepwave web portal

Manual band selection on the Pepwave web portal

Once you've selected the bands you'd like to use, reboot the router for the changes to take effect.

Now, lets test each available band in your area, to determine which will result in the best data rates.

Step 4: Test and select the best tower and frequency band

  • Look up your nearby towers. This can be time consuming and accuracy is often questionable - we've listed our suggestions in an article on the Best Ways to Locate Nearby Cell Towers.
  • Aim your external MIMO antenna(s) at each nearby tower and band lock the Pepwave MAX BR1 to each band that the tower transmits.
  • Run 3 to 4 speed tests on each band to find the fastest bands. Speedtest.net is a great tool for this.
  • Repeat this for every tower in your area, and make notes of the speed test results you get from each band and tower combination.

Once you've identified the best tower and band combination, lock your Pepwave to that band, and make sure your outdoor antenna is secured so that it doesn't move in the wind.

Pepwave MAX BR1 Versions and Technical Specifications

The Pepwave MAX BR1 router comes in three main versions:

  • MAX BR1 Mini - This version is the "budget friendly" option, and sacrifices an ethernet port, for a total of two 100 Mbps ports.
  • MAX BR1 Classic - The base model, and the one we reference throughout this guide. This has three 100 Mbps ethernet ports
  • MAX BR1 MK2 - This version upgrades it's two ethernet ports to gigabit (1'000 Mbps) and add's dual band WiFi.

All three modems have the same chipset, come with the same management features, and look very similar. For people on a tight budget we'd recommend the Mini version, but for a couple hundred dollars extra, the MK2 version offers some meaningful performance improvements.

The specs below refer to the base MAX BR1 Classic, which appears to be the most common version out there.

Technical Specifications

Supported 4G LTE bands in the US

  • AT&T: B2, B4, B5, B12, B17, B29, B30, B14, B66
  • Verizon: B2, B4, B5, B13, B46, B48, B66
  • T-Mobile: B2, B4, B5, B12, B25, B26, B41, B66, B71

Cellular Modem

  • MIMO Support: 2x2 with internal or external antennas
  • LTE-A Carrier Aggregation: Yes (2x 20MHz channels)
  • LTE Performance Category: Cat 6
  • Max Theoretical Speeds: 300Mbps Download, 50Mbps Upload

Wi-Fi

  • Technologies: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bands: 2.4 GHz (MK2 model supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz)

Ports

  • Cellular Antenna Ports: Dual SMA
  • WiFi Antenna port: Single RP-SMA
  • Other Ports: 3x Ethernet, 1x WAN, 1x GPS, 2x SIM

Other

  • Power: AC power only (no battery)

Other Helpful Resources

A helpful video by Mobile Internet Resource Center

Documentation

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