Notice: CellSpot data usage counts towards your monthly allowance, Scroll to bottom for details
I ordered one Tmobile's new 4G LTE Cellspots in an attempt to help beef up my cellular coverage and signal strength. It arrived today. In this writeup I will chronicle my experiences with this device.
First many people are wondering what exactly does this device do? How does it work, and how does it compare to the other devices T-Mobile provides to customers with less than excellent coverage? I will answer those questions first, then move on to the setup.
It is a mini Cellular Tower. Just like regular towers it broadcasts on the Cellular Frequencies in which T-Mobile has licenses for. It then takes that data and sends it through regular landlines to T-Mobile's Network. The CellSpot operates in the same way, except it's antenna runs at much lower power, and they use your home internet connection to transmit the data rather than commerical land lines.
T-Mobile claims their devices gives you up to 3000 sqft of coverage. So in theory it should provide strong signal for an average sized home.
Tmobile also has a 4G LTE signal Booster. In which they ship you 2 devices. One you place next to a window or some where in your home where you get the best signal. The other you place on the opposite side of your home. It then boosts the signal, repeating it between the two devices. I currently have this setup and it has worked well, but of course I am always looking to improve my coverage.
The other device is an ASUS Router that has a custom firmware that prioritizes WIFI Calling over other services. I have a friend that has this setup and it works good most of the time, but he has problems with his phone not ringing or inbound calls going directly to voicemail at times. I can't put this 100% on the router, as it could also be a network issue.
Wifi signals operate on the 2400mhz and 5000mhz spectrum. While T-Mobile operates at the 700mhz, 1700mhz and 2100mhz spectrums. Most of the LTE and 4G is on the 700mhz spectrum. Contrary to what some people might believe higher frequencies are not better. The higher the frequency the harder it is to penetrate interior walls. That is why your cell phone can lock onto a tower 1 mile away, but might have trouble connecting to your wireless router down the hall. The frequencies a CellSpot uses will penetrate your home's walls better than Wifi. Anyone who has used Wifi calling know its not a perfect solution. Wifi has tons of interference from other wifi devices and networks in the area, this can cause you drop calls, and even not get incoming calls or text messages. This has been both mine and my client's experience with Wifi Calling. T-Mobile does have a router optimized for Wifi calling and it helps, but still is not a perfect solution.
Here I will list out my experiences with the device and any issues I run into along the way.
UPS delivers my new Cellspot device. I immediately open the box and begin the setup.
Included in the box is an English and Spanish Setup Guide, Cellspot device, AC Power Adapter, Cat 5e Network Cable, GPS Antenna, Mounting stand, GPS Antenna Cord bracket.
The rear connections include 6VDC Power input, WAN (RJ-45), LAN (RJ-45), GPS port, Reset Button
Tmobile CellSpot connected to my Cisco Router.
The manual claims that if you are having trouble connecting that you need to ensure the Device can communicate through UDP Ports 123, 500, 4500. I assume they mean the device needs to be accessible by T-Mobile for incoming connections on those ports. So I logged into my router and setup port forwarding of those ports to the CellSpot Device. I also setup a static local IP Address for the device to ensure in the event of a power failure it doesn't get reassigned to a different local ip address.
First I want to point out my network setup, as this will differ with each customer depending on what ISP and hardware they are running. I have Comcast Internet with 105 Mbits Down, 25 Mbits Up, and have cut the cord on their other servies ( No Phone, No Cable ). I bought my own DOCSIS 3.0 Modem (motorola SB6120), and my own Wireless Router (Linksys e4200 v1). Buying my own hardware means I don't have to pay their monthly equipement rental charges, and I highly recommend this to other Comcast customers who are looking to save money.
I plugged in the CellSpot's WAN port to port 2 on my router. Turned it on and waited. Yellow lights for a few seconds then flashing power light. I left it alone as the directions said it can take a while to come online. After 10 minutes it was still blinking green. I read about the 3 UDP ports that needed to be opened, so I went ahead and did that and rebooted the device. Another 10 minutes later still a green blinking power light. On the Troubleshooting guide it said to contact T-Mobile customer support about this. So I gave them a call
11/17/2015 5:50 PM
I called T-Mobile customer care, and a friendly american voice (which is rare these days), answered. After confirming my account, and explaining the issue, they transfered me to technical support. After explaining the issue to technical support, they transfered me to advanced technical support. Seems T-Mobile has setup a team of support techs just for this device. The guy with advanced technical support ( once again American ) greeted me and went through the setup. I explained to him that I already opened the ports, but the power light was still blinking. He said they are having an issue with the CellSpot devices right now, and that about 5000 Tickets have been opened for them. Makes sense as everyone is getting these right now, and only a few of them have the knowledge on how to open ports on a router. He said that they found to get the device to work, they needed to be plugged directly into the modem, and then your router plugs into the cellspot. So I tried that and still no difference. He created a ticket for me, and said he would give me a call in about 3 days to follow up. We ended the call on good terms.
After getting off the phone with T-Mobile I noticed my internet was not working. Seems my router wasn't able to communicate with my modem when the Cellspot played middleman. So I unplugged the CellSpot and reconfigured my hardware like I had it before I called into T-Mobile. Which would be with my Modem connected to my Router, and then the router connected to the CellSpot. After rebooting my modem and router, internet came back online and I continued to work on other projects. I figured I might have to wait for T-Mobile to resolve their issues and give a call back in a few days.
I looked over at the CellSpot and noticed that now the power and GPS lights were now blinking. Good Sign!
11:17/2015 6:35 PM
Now the GPS light is solid green, but the power light is still blinking.
11/17/2015 6:42 PM
Now All Lights are solid green with the exception of the 4G/LTE light which is blinking green.
I looked at my phone and I had full bars. Over the next hour the 4G/LTE light would go between blinking and solid green. According to the troubleshooting guide this means that the device has already reached its maximum 8 active voice and data connections for each technology.
11/17/2015 7:20 PM
I went to different places in my home and tested my signal strength with the LTE 4G CellSpot. Background. My Phone is a Samsung Galaxy S4 that is rooted and running Cyanogenmod 12.1 (11/14/2015 Nightly), and it has an Anker 7800mah Extended battery. Extended batteries all have the same weakness in that they will lower your signal strength. Keep this in mind with the following results as phones running with the stock battery may see better numbers.
This is the signal I get point blank with my phone resting against the CellSpot. -46 dBm
This is the signal strength I get when my phone is sitting on my desk 8 feet away from the cellspot. -69 dBm
This is the signal strength I get when testing from the other end of the house in the Master Bedroom. -103 dBm
And finally the weakest spot in the entire house, the Master Bathroom comode. For those of you who don't know what this is. The master bedroom has a small closet that the toilet is in. This spot has the most walls seperating me from the CellSpot, and poses the biggest challenge. This place holds the title for no signal, and dropped calls, but also being its where I do my business, its a place where I want my phone to work the most catching on my news, and surfing while nature calls. Here you can see I am getting -105 dBm and I am still on the LTE network.
I was so excited to get this setup I didn't take the time to take photos before. So instead I am going to unplug the device and take some new readings showing how bad the coverage used to be in my home.
Signal Strength with CellSpot turned off in same location as before
Signal Strength with CellSpot turned off with phone located at my desk
Signal Strength with CellSpot turned off and phone located in the Master Bedroom
Signal Strength with CellSpot turned off and Phone located in the Master Bathroom.
One thing you should keep in mind is when the Cellspot is on its really operating as a mini tower. This means that its not just your phone that can communicate with it. Anyone close enough to get a signal will connect to it. This is a plus for businesses that might want to provide a better Mobile data experience for their customers, but this might be a negative if you are running on slower internet at home, and your ISP doesn't provide you with unlimited data.
T-Mobile charged me a $25 deposit, and shipped it free to my home. I get the deposit back if I ever need to return the device.
As long as you can plug it into an internet connection and ensure it can communicate on those 3 UDP ports, it will work. Originally they told me it needed to have at least 1 bar of coverage from another tower to function. But I think they were talking about the 4G LTE booster. In a later converstion they said it does not need a tower to work. You can plug this in out in the middle of No Mans land, and as long as you have a decent internet connection it will function as a Tower. This ia great news, as I am going to visit family soon ( in the middle of no where ) and will test what kind of coverage I get with the mini tower.
This is a common question, and the answer is no. But I have found that the device does occasionally reboot and reconfim its GPS coordinates. Without the GPS antenna plugged in it may have trouble locking on to a signal. So I recommend you just leave the GPS antenna plugged in, and coil up the extra wire on the bracket on the back of the unit.
If you have weak or moderate cell phone coverage with T-Mobile, I highly recommend you call them and have them send one of their 4G LTE CellSpots to your home. Thus far I am very happy with the performance. I will post back to this blog over the next few days to update everyone of how its working.
I have had this running for a while now, and I can honestly say its the best technology upgrade I have made to my home ever. This device alone is reason to switch to tmobile.
Today I had to make some changes to my account. We have 2 lines on our account and needed to remove one. The account I was on was a special 2 lines for $100 for unlimited everything including 4G LTE data. I had to resetup my account on a single line plan which is $50 a month but only includes 2GB of data. If you want Unlimited data you have to an additional $45 for that. Of you can do $15 for 6GB, or $30 for 10GB. When I asked them how much data am I using. They said I have used 1.78 GB of data in the past 4 days. Which would be about right for my total data usage, but I was home for most of the past 4 days. Most of this time I was connected to my 4G LTE cell spot. I don't use home WIFI because due to the higher frequency of the 2.4Ghz and 5.0 Ghz WIFI signal, penetration of interior walls it bad. The result is my WIFI is very slow when I am at one end of my house. So I leave my phone with WIFI disabled, as its lower frequency has the power to reach all the way out into my yard, and even into my neighbors yard. What I realized was that Tmobile doesn't not seperate data usage between their towers and their 4G LTE cellspots. Even though they are using my Home internet connection ( 105 Mbits down, 25 Mbits up ) to provide coverage. Sure the data goes from my home internet connection (Comcast) to their network, but this can't be as costly as data going through their towers. I am paying the electric bill to run their 4G LTE cellspot device, and I am providing a very high speed internet connection for it. Considering how hot this little device gets I was curious how much electricity its using. So I put my Kill-a-watt meter on it.
Its using 17 Watts. runs 24 / 7, which at my electric rates of 8.5 cents per KWH is costing me about $1.04 per month. Sure thats not much, but that only takes into account powering the device. It does not take into account cooling costs from the heat it generates, and this little device gets hot!
Yet Tmobile still is going to charge me for any data going through their cellspot. To me this completely goes against everything T-Mobile is about. If you want to charge my neighbors for data usage through my 4G LTE cellspot that is fine, but its not right to charge me for it. I am already providing power and an internet connection for the device to work. My TMobile Phones should be exempt.
I am sending a Tweet to John Legere's Twitter Account to see if he can do something about this. It just seems like it goes against everything T-Mobile Stands for.