Spitz V2 4G LTE Wireless Router Review: Country Roads | WIRED

2022-11-01 05:45:01 By : Ms. Sunny Zhang

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If you have fast internet in the US, it's probably because you live in the right part of a major city. The rest of us get, well … this WIRED headline from 2007 sums is up nicely: “Rural America Will Never Get Fast Internet.” Out here, we get the scraps. These days, with 3G mostly shut down, that's either nothing or, if you're lucky, like me, 4G service.

Rural 4G service is essentially your phone plan, except you have to use it for everything. It's always metered (Google Fi offers 50 gigabytes a month "unlimited,” which is what I've been using lately.) It's usually slow, relative to something like the cable or fiber internet available elsewhere.

One thing I've found can really squeeze a bit more out of these shoddy connections is a good 4G modem. I've tested half a dozen now and am working on a guide, but Gl.inet’s Spitz 4G LTE router is one the best. At under $200, it's relatively affordable.

In rural South Carolina, many of my neighbors just get by with their phones, either as their primary computing device or by using it as a hot spot. The phone-as-hot-spot works, and for some it may work well enough, but in my case my phone doesn't get much reception indoors. I've come to rely on 4G routers, which usually have larger antennas and get better reception.

Gl.inet's Spitz 4G router looks like many other routers in our guide, albeit smaller. It's not until you open it up and find the SIM card slot that you'd even know it was a 4G router. There's also a spot for a microSD card (up to 128 gigabytes) so you can use it as a media server if you like. The slot fits a micro SIM.

I tested the Spitz using a variety of SIM cards from different carriers and MVNOs (which you'll need, if you're serious about having connectivity out here in the sticks). I initially tested using a T-Mobile SIM and an AT&T SIM, but also got it to work with a Google Fi nano SIM by carefully aligning it in the slot. I don't recommend this long term, but it works while you're waiting for your SIM card adapter kit ($4) to arrive, which you will need to use a Google Fi or other nano-size SIM chip. Gl.inet has a guide to setting up Google Fi on the Spitz.

The included LTE antennas manage to pick up signal that my phone can't, but it would be nice to have some MIMO ports to connect an external MIMO antenna. Otherwise, though, the hardware is simple and small. There are five LEDs on the top showing power status, WAN connection, 2.4-Ghz, and 5-Ghz activity and LTE connection status. On the back is a power supply port, as well as a LAN and WAN sockets for wired networking.

Once you've got your SIM card inserted, you connect to the Wi-Fi network and point your web browser to the Spitz admin page. This is a big part of what makes the Spitz very powerful. Behind the scenes, Spitz uses the open source OpenWRT modem firmware, which allows you to use some tools and access features normally found only on much more expensive routers, like network-wide VPN access, ad-blocking, parental controls, time-based controls, and much more.

GL.iNet Spitz GL-X750V2 4G Wireless Router

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Gl.inet uses a custom skin, so if you're familiar with OpenWRT, what you get with the Spitz will be slightly different. All the features are there—and you can install anything extra you want—but things might be in slightly different places than you're used to.

It would take too long to detail what's good about OpenWRT here, but certain features in particular help make the Spitz great. The first is band locking. Cell towers use different bands that cover different swaths of frequencies. Depending on where you are and what sort of towers are around you, some bands may be faster than others. This is partly due to local support, partly due to congestion, and partly due to something mystical, which is to say factors beyond your control. Much of the time, I have found that changing bands can make a difference in speed.

The Spitz makes it easy to change bands by running what are called AT commands. That might sound complex (and some of it is) but changing bands is easy. All you have to do is pick the right options from the drop-down menu and then click Send. The web interface said the command had failed, but when I checked, the band had indeed been switched. After experimenting with this feature, flipping though bands over the course of several weeks, I found that, where I am, band 4 gives me about 2 Mbps faster speeds than other bands.

I also set up the Spitz to use Mullvad's VPN through the Wireguard settings, and now that I've set up a router-level VPN I'll never go back. Alas, sometimes I do leave the house, so I keep the apps on all my devices for when I'm connected to other networks, but it's nice to not have to think about it at home. I did not play around with network-wide ad blocking or some of the other OpenWRT features, but you can browse the project's wiki for more details.

I’d say the main use for the Spitz is as a 4G modem, but it can also be used as a repeater or a WAN extension, or it can be tethered to your phone. I did not extensively test any of these scenarios other than to verify that they all worked.

The real appeal of the Spitz is the controls you get through the OpenWRT firmware, which allows a level of customization and the potential to tune your reception that you won't get in most other routers. That said, years of experience with flaky 4G networks has taught me that nothing is guaranteed. What works in one situation might not help at all in another, which is another part of what I like about the Spitz—it's cheap (for a 4G router).

There is one drawback to the Spitz, which is that it doesn't have a 12-volt power supply. It's not a great choice for road warriors living out of vans (unless you have an inverter.) If that's your use case check out the Mudi, which features the same great firmware, but has a battery and charges off USB-C, making it much more mobile-friendly. If mobile isn't a concern, though, the Spitz is a great option.

GL.iNet Spitz GL-X750V2 4G Wireless Router

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