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I don’t care about the upcoming 3G shutdown… or should I?

I kept seeing articles explaining that the cellular carriers plan on shutting down their 3G networks later this year and my first inclination was to ignore them because I’m a “high tech” kind of guy who only has 4G hardware. But after I started doing a bit more reading, I began to understand that I could be affected by the shutdown even if all my phones, hotspots, tablets and watches are relatively new 4G/LTE devices.

Abstract vector created by vectorpouch -
Sunset is coming to 3G cellular. Image designed by Freepik

It turns out that lots of 4G devices are designed to use the 3G network as they “authenticate” (that is, when they log on). You might ask why this is the case and the best answer I can come up with is “it was available and easy”. It’s not that doing this was wrong but, rather, that it didn’t consider the fact that eventually the 3G network would be phased out. The techies among us will explain that devices on the LTE network can be defined as being “voice centric” or “data centric” and some of those voice centric devices are in danger of losing their connection to the cellular networks when the 3G network is disabled.

And when will the 3G networks be disabled? Well, for AT&T that’s going to happen on February 22! (For Verizon and T-Mobile) it will be closer to the end of 2022.) So, if you’re an AT&T customer you don’t have a lot of time to act!

So how does anyone find out if their devices are affected by the 3G shutdown? One way is to ask the manufacturers of your devices. WiFiRanger is posting this blog as part of our effort to contact our customers to explain that the Quectel modems used in our routers potentially would be impacted by the 3G shutdown unless we took pro-active steps to prevent it from causing a problem with your Ranger and its modem. Of course, if you don’t have a modem in your WiFiRanger router you can ignore the rest of this blog; the 3G shutdown won’t affect your Ranger.

For those of you who do have Rangers with modems, we have created a pair of software “work-arounds” for the issue and we have both of them online. We’ve implemented them as a “hot fixes” which means that you don’t even have to download a new firmware update. All you must do is get your Ranger online and click on the Cloud Disconnected/Check for Updates link in the upper right corner of the control panel. Click on the link a couple of times until blue bars start to scroll. When they finish scrolling , if the link reads “Update Firmware,” you MUST update your Ranger’s firmware to latest version, 7.1.0b11 which will upgrade the router and apply the “hot fix” as well. Otherwise, the link will read Check for Updates and your “hot fix” will have already been installed. Then use any one of the SAVE buttons on any page of the Ranger’s control panel and, finally, reboot your Ranger. Now, you’re finished!

The reason we needed two different hotfixes is that we currently have two “classes” of modems in use by customers. Most of you are using modems that have allowed your Rangers to be updated to the current 7.1.0.b11 firmware, whereas some of you are using older modems that restrict your Ranger to using the 7.0.8 firmware. Both hotfixes are applied in the same manner. If you refer to the “how to implement a hotfix” document which is linked to this blog, please note that the screen shots in it will only show the 7.1.0b11 version.

We strongly urge you to go through this hot-fix process even if your RV has been laid up for the winter. Otherwise, if you have a Ranger with an AT&T SIM card in its modem next spring you could well find that your modem no longer will connect to the cellular network. Of course, you would still be able to implement our hot fix, but you would have to get your Ranger online with something other than its cellular modem.

However, even though we’ve just explained how to update your WiFiRanger to avoid the impact of the 3G shutdown doesn’t mean that you don’t own other devices that also require updating. We encourage you to check with the manufacturers of any device you own that has cellular connectivity to see if updates are required. This includes phones, watches, tablets, your cars and even some smart machines. The issue is far more widespread than most of us would have thought

(A step-by-step process to apply the 3G Sundown HotFix can be found here.)

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Two Connections Can Be Better Than One

Written by WiFiRanger Ambassador, Joel Weiss “docj”

Most of us who are dependent on cellular data connections know that even the best of them aren’t all that stable. In fact, if you use a speed test like you’ll observe that the speed of any cellular connection can vary rather dramatically even during the course of a speed test. In addition, both my OTR Mobile and my Verizon unlimited prepaid Jetpack SIM are subject to momentary “outages” lasting a couple of seconds. These often evidence themselves by brief rebuffering events on my YouTube TV.

Even though these brief outages are worse with plans that are heavily “network managed” even the hotspot on my postpaid Verizon plan exhibits significant variation on a moment-to-moment basis.

To combat this situation, I’m now using my WiFiRanger in Load Balance mode to “join” my two connections. The Ranger does not do true connection bonding (which is more complex and usually more expensive) but it does select which connection it wants to use for every webpage element or streaming segment. When one connection becomes slow the Ranger can choose the other. The result is that I’m now pretty much immune to the variabilities of my two connections. It’s not all that likely that both of my connections will slow at the same moment.

I’ve attached a screenshot which shows the real time data usage through my Ranger for a period of a couple of minutes. Usage through my Jetpack is shown in orange with the green representing the OTR Mobile AT&T hotspot. You can see how the load shifts from one connection to the other. You can even see moments when the green line seems to take over entirely from the orange one.

Screenshot of Control Panel with Load Balanced Ethernet WAN & Cellular Usage

What we’re doing here won’t help you if neither of your connections is fast enough to stream video, but it is quite helpful if you are concerned about moments during which one of your connections may drop below the threshold for high resolution streaming. When that happens, the router simply shifts the data stream to the other connection.

I won’t try to claim that WiFiRanger is the only router that has this Load Balance capability. But, typically, it is found in higher priced devices. If you’ve never tried it you might find it useful. It’s available on all WiFiRanger products including the new Converge models. It’s easy to set up and doesn’t limit your internet usage in any way.

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Making Your RV’s Internet Connection Nearly Unbreakable

Screenshot of the Realtime Bandwidth Utilization graph from the WiFiRanger Control Panel showing usage from multiple internet sources at the same time.

Written by WiFiRanger Ambassador, Joel Weiss “docj”

By now most RVers are pretty well acquainted with the difficulties inherent in trying to maintain 24/7 internet connections when your only options are cellular connections. There are many, many threads on the subject.  Even the best of cellular connections can result in varying download speeds on a continuous basis.  Quite often the download speed can vary from superb to downright awful over a very short time interval. 

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Understanding Internet Security Threats

Photo of businessman with his face held in his hands in frustration and fear of digital security problems.

Internet security is a highly important topic. Security breaches can leave credit cards, bank accounts, or even your identity at risk. Those with a mobile lifestyle experience even more security threats than typical internet users. As such, it is vital to understand key security issues and protect yourself.

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