- Unlimited LTE data on tMobile Network
- No throttling or data caps
- Subject to deprioritzation over 50 GB data per billing cycle
- No Conract
- $69.99/month pre-paid, billed every 30 days by on file credit card
- $75 activation fee
- $59.95+ tax for Alicorn USB hotspot Device
- $15 device shipping fee (USPS priority)
- 14 day return policy – all but the $75 activation fee is returned
- Up to 10 users can connect simultaneously to the hotspot
If you spend much time traveling you will quickly learn that good internet access can be difficult to come by. We’re not huge users, we don’t stream TV and the kids don’t stream high demand games very often. They do however use some online schooling tools which use up our Verizon hot spots pretty quickly – so quickly in fact that I have to question how Verizon meters your usage, but that’s another story. We’ve also had numerous issues with RV park internet services. We are currently in a park which charges $50/month for 300 kb/s service (yes… kb/s) per device! The last park we were at had similar speeds, but at least didn’t charge extra for it or limit the number of devices that could connect to it. Even so, it was unstable and generally not terribly useful for the tasks we needed to accomplish. So we contacted several suppliers to try and get a reliable unlimited hotspot plan.
In doing so, we concluded you can pretty much forget dealing with the major carriers directly. They are just not interested (for logistical reasons) in providing that sort of service. If they did, they would likely overload their networks with mass users and ultimately make their services useless to everyone. This policy of limiting usage ends up having the opposite effect in which there is excess capacity in the system. The major carriers will offer this extra space to third party providers. Each provider negotiates the devices and types of services they can offer and they enter into a contract with the service provider to allow that. That’s where places like infiniteLTEdata come into play. There are several of these services out there, each reselling for a specific provider or providing specific equipment/plans for multiple providers.
Infiniteltedata resells unlimited data plans on the tMobile network which will work with the Alicorn USB Aircard. Their website is not particularly clear on the device capabilities. It comes with a pre-configured SIM card and can be plugged into any USB port like a USB charging station, or an Onyx hub which is also offered as an option by Infiniteltedata. The USB port only needs to supply power to run the Aircard. The website fails to clarify that the Aircard is in and of itself a wifi hotspot hub that allows up to 10 simultaneous device connections and the Onyx is not needed for that functionality. The Onyx does have better WiFi antennas, which extend the distance that the Aircard can communicate with your devices. However, for an RV environment that should not be necessary. The Onyx antennas do not improve the cell connection of the Alicorn device, for that you’ll need a supplemental antenna or a separate cell booster like a Weboost.
Using the device couldn’t be easier. Plug it into an powered USP port and let it boot up. Upon booting, the device will automatically connect to the tMobile network and make itself available to wifi connections. Included in the package is the password to logon. Once connected you have access to (sort of) unlimited LTE data. All for only $69.99/month with no contract.
You’ve probably noticed that I repeatedly have said (sort of) before unlimited when describing this service. All of the information provided on their site is accurate. There is no capping of data where after X gb of data used they automatically throttle you back to (up to) 600 kb/s. This is a common policy used by the major carriers with your tethered cell phone or jetpack. However, that’s only part of the story. As explained by their rep (who was incredibly pleasant to speak with) on the phone, they can deprioritize your data during congested times if you have used in excess of 50 GB during your billing cycle. This means if you are a heavy user and the tower you are connected to is seeing a lot of traffic that is not subject to deprioritization (phone calls), or is from users that use less data, then that traffic will be handled before yours. The amount of deprioritization is dependent on how far over the 50 GB you are. So, if you use hundreds of GB/month you may run into slow service due to deprioritzation during peak times.
So, you will always have full LTE speed access, you just may have to wait in line to use it. From a technical standpoint, your phone service is probably subject to the same deprioritization so the Alicorn hotspot behaves just like the direct cell phone internet access that’s part of your cell phone plan.
The other issue is that if you are an excessive user they can terminate your service unilaterally. As was explained to me, the service is ideal for general internet usage and moderate streaming. If you’re using 500+ GB of data a month then you may run into problems with this service. You can have multiple hotspots which they offer at a discount rate. Going that route can spread your usage over multiple devices which will help keep your apparent usage levels lower.
For the service to work it’s best you have to be within 3 miles of a t-Mobile tower. You can check their service map here. You’ll want to be in the dark red areas. Lighter red/pink areas may work but they’ll be slower. To improve reception you can use an WeBoost cell phone signal booster or the Alicorn Aircard can connect directly to the Netgear 6000450 MIMO Antenna with 2 TS-9 connectors.
The ordering experience:
Ordering was very easy. Fill out a small form and provide credit card information on their website. It only took a couple minutes. I only had 2 issues with the process. The address fields provided are not adequate for really entering a real address. I ended up just putting the address in as comma separated on a single line. That worked out fine. The other issue was that they state they have to call you to confirm the order and read you a disclaimer. The website says that they will send you an email letting you know when they’ll call with the number they’ll call from so you know to take the call. If you fail to answer, they’ll cancel the order. Well, they called about 30 seconds after I submitted the order so there was no time to get an email detailing when they would call. Fortunately, I answered it so it wasn’t a real problem, just know that they can call in a hurry.
The gentleman that called was very pleasant and we ended up talking quite a while about the service. He was very knowledgeable and was able to answer all my questions. All in all, it was a very good experience.
Getting the device:
So, the device arrived today and it was very easy to get up and running. The t-Mobile website says there is customer confirmed “excellent” signal at our address but we are on the edge of that area. When it booted up, we get a blue light (connected to internet) but also get a flashing red light which indicates an “unstable signal”. This is with both of the included antennas installed. The flashing red light also indicates that it’s connected at 3G, not 4G speeds. Running speed test from a connected computer seems to confirm this depending on your definition of 3G data. We’re getting between 1.5 Mb/s and 6 Mb/s.
This is a bit disappointing but it is fast enough to support the kid’s schoolwork needs, which is why we ordered it. There is a 14 day return policy from the date you order it (not the date it’s delivered). To make good on the return you have to contact the provider by email within 14 days of the date of order. You then have 10 days to get the device back to them (at your expense). Once they receive it, they will refund everything but the activation fee. We’ll probably end up keeping it, but we’ll use it for a few days to make sure. If we decide otherwise, I’ll update this post to reflect that.
We have been using the device a couple days and concluded that the original speeds of 1.5 to 6 mb/s we were seeing were not consistent or representative of reality. As we used it more, we seemed to be getting more consistently around 0.5 – 1.0 mbs. To try and and improve that we decided to order these antenna.
The netgear mimo antenna listed earlier in the article is cheaper and seems slightly higher rated by end users but only offers 2 dbi of gain. These are rated at 8 dbi (which one reviewer pointed out as being optimistic). In either case, we figured these would be the best choice in this situation.
With the stock short antenna we get values like:
Download ~1.0 mb/s
Upload ~ 0.4 mb/s
RSRP – Signal Strength Provided by the device: -110 to -107
SINR – Signal to Noise Provided by the device: -6 to -2.2
With the antenna inside spaced 22″ – 36″ apart
Download ~5.0 mb/s
Upload ~ 5.0 mb/s
RSRP – Signal Strength Provided by the device: -106 to -102
SINR – Signal to Noise Provided by the device: 0 to 4.4
With the antenna outside spaced 22″ – 36″ apart
Download ~10.0 mb/s
Upload ~ 7.0 mb/s
RSRP – Signal Strength Provided by the device: -105 to -96
SINR – Signal to Noise Provided by the device: 1.8 to 11.6
To get the SINR and RSRP (and other signal strength) values, connect to the the wifi via a device with a web browser. got to http://192.168.0.1 and log in. The select “information” from the left menu and “device information” from the submenu.
You’ll notice I did not mention bars for connection space. It consistently shows 2 – 3. The biggest factor in the speed seems to be the SINR or signal to noises ratio in our connection. Generally, any value above zero seems to dramatically increase the speed even though the bars don’t reflect a better connection. The antenna definitely helped, but we’re still not getting 4G speeds. I checked and the closest T-Mobile tower is only 1.5 miles away. Not sure how close you need to be to get full 4G speeds, but I was told you should get them if you’re within 3 miles (which we clearly are).