Cellular Modems (all carriers)

Hello. I live in an area with poor coverage from most LTE/5G carriers. Based on FCC coverage maps, AT&T provides the best coverage in my area. There is no option in my area for traditional cable or DSL.

I am also low income and receive the ACP benefit. For those that don't know, the ACP benefit gives me a discount (I believe $30) on consumer Internet service.

AT&T provides a consumer grade service for $55/mo (plus equipment costs) with a 50GB data cap. It's $10/5GB after that. They also offer, for the same price, $55/mo mobile hotspot which throttles to 128kbps which is an addon to their data plans (I believe - it was a little confusing hearing it explained). Finally they offer a business grade service for $70/mo (plus equipment costs) which is unlimited, but I can't apply my ACP benefit to this service. I can bring my own equipment, but it has to be supported.

I haven't investigated T-Mobile as thoroughly. I know they offer unlimited 5G for $50/mo (including equipment costs?) which is a great deal, but my landlord who lives nearby has this service and I'm not impressed. In this area she only receives 2 bars of LTE and the equipment provided seems cheap and unreliable. It includes a built-in Ethernet switch, but I'm not sure if it's configurable enough to connect an external router with better antennas.

Currently I have my lifeline benefit through the T-Mobile MVNO, Assurance Wireless. I can get 2 bars if I leave the phone outside and use the hotspot for another device. Subtle movements will drop the signal. It's a pretty frustrating and unreliable solution.

I'd like to try AT&T since the coverage is better and compare it to my landlord's device, but I'd like equipment that supports any and all carriers. 5G equipment seems expensive and it's unlikely I'd pickup a 5G signal through any carrier. I'd also like to connect it to my router. I think it's also likely I'd leave the modem outside and run a cable to the router indoors and have an antenna run outside as my home structure is built out of concrete blocks and degrades the signal substantially.

If all goes well I'd like to setup APs on the property to cover all of it and get a better deal on my rent from my landlord as she and the other tenants could use my wifi.

My biggest concern is the LTE equipment. I don't want to cheap out on it, but I'm also on a budget. I also want the ability to switch carriers if AT&T doesn't pan out.

Any suggestions or recommendations are appreciated. God bless.

It's not really clear what it is that you are asking for here... "suggestions or recommendations" about what exactly??

And can you please clarify how this is related to OpenWrt?

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I've been researching LTE hardware and this forum comes up frequently.

Specifically for OpenWRT I'd like a LTE USB dongle that's known to be compatible with OpenWRT routers since my intent is to connect it to one.

But also an LTE USB dongle that supports all carrier frequencies for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

I believe I have WRT54G routers, but they are in storage about 3 hours away, so it's difficult to check. One has OpenWRT the other has DD-WRT firmware.

These do not have USB, so an LTE dongle that connects by USB would not serve any purpose in your situation, unless you will be obtaining a new router.

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Your right. I have the wrong model. It might be wrt-####ac or something like that I wish I could check.

They do all have USB though.

Is having USB the only requirement? I'm assuming it was designed for NAS but OpenWRT allows them to function with other devices like modems.

Well, it's obviously necessary if you expect to use a USB dongle. But no, there are more requirements:

  1. The device must be supported by OpenWrt. Really, it should be running a recent version of OpenWrt (i.e. 22.03 or soon 23.05).
  2. The device must have enough storage to install OpenWrt and the drivers for the USB LTE dongle.
  3. The device must have sufficient RAM to run these smoothly (it would not be good if you have crashes due to "out of memory" errors).
  4. Ideally, the device will have a well supported wifi chipset. If it doesn't, the wifi performance may be nearly unsuable.

So... before you even go down the route of figuring out what LTE stick to get, I'd recommend that you start by finding out what router you plan to use.

  1. The router needs to be able to supply enough current over USB, LTE (or 4g/ 5g) modems are thirsty and run hot (in other words, they may also tend to overheat), not all USB ports can cover that.
  2. The router needs to be fast enough to push meaningful throughput over the USB ports (e.g. the WRT54G and anything else of that rough era will cap out hard around 1.5-2.5 MByte/s, you need to get somewhere recent for reasonable performance).

It's not a WRT54G. I just know it's a Linksys and that model is stuck in my head from working at Best buy a long time ago.

Anyway, assuming I have the hardware, is there a USB dongle that would support all carrier frequencies that's relatively inexpensive?

Let's go back to all of the requirements... until you know exactly what model router you have, even if it has USB, it doesn't mean you will be able to use it with OpenWrt (and/or with the LTE dongle). It is a complete waste of energy to research the USB dongle options until you know that your router is sufficiently resourced to be able to run it.

There are probably many forums out there that specialize in discussions of LTE sticks and carrier compatibility. I would recommend using those forums to find the answers to this part of your questioning. The OpenWrt forums are well suited to discussing OpenWrt compatibility, but not necssarily carrier compatibility.

Built in modem ec25-af well proven on att and verizon

Note that there are solutions to this: I needed https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PV8ZN1X to solve issues with an Alfa 802.11ax USB interface connected to a GL.iNet GL-MT3000 travel router - GL-MT3000 (MT7981) USB host reliability - #5 by fdm

(I mention a powered hub there, that also works, but the injector cable was more compact.)