Build your own router dome using Poynting's EPNT series


One of the biggest challenges for installing a cellular router on a boat is dealing with long antenna cable runs. Most people want to get maximum range so opt for an external high gain antenna. But in order to get the most out of the external antenna you need to keep your cable runs between the router and the antenna as short as possible – preferably less than 20 feet total. Otherwise you may end up with more loss from the long cable run than gain from the external antenna. But locating the router close to the antenna may not be practical or even possible. 
An interesting solution to this challenge is to install an antenna that has the cellular router located inside the antenna enclosure. By locating the router right beside the antennas, you eliminate virtually all loss from the very short antenna cables inside the housing.
There are some off the shelf solutions such as the Peplink MAX HD1 Dome LTE Router that do exactly this. This product has an LTE-A Pro CAT-18 router build into its enclosure which also houses the four cellular antennas. This single dome enclosure is then connected to an access point or secondary router in your boat using an ethernet cable powered using a Power over Ethernet inserter. There is also a dual modem Peplink MAX HD2 Dome Dual Cellular LTE Router available as well which has one CAT-12 modem and one CAT-6 modem. By using ethernet between the Dome and the access point in the cabin, you have the ability to locate the Dome just about anywhere on the boat without being concerned with cable length since ethernet essentially has zero loss. Both of these products support Peplink’s SIM Injector which allows you to do SIM management down in the cabin rather than having to open up the Dome to change SIMs as needed. 
While both these products work well and are popular for some scenarios, we get a lot of requests for a 5G dome or a dual modem dome with faster speeds. Peplink is likely to come out with a 5G version of the HD1 Dome at some point but if you want to build you own dome now, it is possible to build your own with a very innovative antenna with router enclosure product from Poynting
The new EPNT kits from Poynting includes two products. 
The Poynting EPNT-1 Omni-Directional Combo Antenna with Enclosure is a combo antenna that includes four omni-directional cellular antennas and two omni-directional Wi-Fi antennas. This enclosure opens up to allow you to place your cellular router inside and connect directly to the antenna ports. The EPNT-1 features peak gain of 5 dBi. 
The Poynting EPNT-2 Directional Combo Antenna with Enclosure is similar except it has two high-gain directional antenna elements for cellular, two omni-directional cellular elements as well as two omni-directional Wi-Fi antennas. The EPNT-2 features peak gain of 11 dBi for the directional antennas..
The EPNT-1 is ideal for a 4x4 MIMO cellular modem such as what is found in a 5G router. The EPNT-2 works best with a dual 2x2 modem solution such as the Pepwave MAX Transit Pro Router with one modem connected to the directional elements and the other modem connected to the omni-directional elements. In this case, you would use the omni-directional antennas on your primary modem and the directional antennas attached modem when you are able to aim the antenna at a cell tower that is many miles away. This setup can also help if you have poor cell reception in your home marina. By pointing the EPNT-2 towards the cell tower, you’ll have a stronger signal for your second modem.
The EPNT products come with lots of parts for assembling your own solution. Plus there are options for enhancing the total solution by adding other capabilities such as Power over Ethernet. 


With this background, why would we want to do this? The goal is to get your cellular antennas as high as possible or at least free and clear of other structures and metal on the boat and get your cellular modems as close as possible to the antennas. By doing this, you get a double performance improvement. With your antennas high up above other structures, you get increased range and by having the modem in the enclosure you have virtually no cable length loss issues. In my testing of these solutions, I saw very impressive performance that exceeded what I got using traditional antennas and long cable runs. Plus, if you use marina Wi-Fi a lot via the Wi-Fi WAN feature on your router, this gives you a great Wi-Fi antenna solution that again gives you extended range.


So let’s walk through how to build a couple of these solutions. In the first example, I discuss using a single 5G router solution coupled with the EPNT-1 omni-directional antenna model. The steps are the same for building a dual 4G modem solution coupled with one pair of omni and one pair of directional cellular antennas using the EPNT-2.
For the 5G example, I am using a Pepwave MAX Transit 5G Router. The Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router also works although the square footprint makes it a little tight for mounting inside the enclosure. 
For the dual modem example, I am using a Pepwave MAX Transit Pro E Router. This would work in the same way if you used a Pepwave MAX Transit Duo LTE Router or the new Pepwave MAX Transit Pro Router.
Since you need to power the router, I chose to use a Tycon Gigabit Ethernet 802.3at PoE Splitter to 12VDC 25W Out adapter. This essentially converts the MAX Transit router into a PoE device allowing you to power the device with the same ethernet cable you are using for data. A powered ethernet cable is connected to the inbound port of the splitter and an unpowered ethernet cable comes out the back of the splitter which is plugged into the ethernet LAN port on the MAX Transit. There is also a power cable with the correct PIN connector for plugging into the back of the MAX Transit. At the other end of the ethernet cable, you will need a PoE inserter such as the Tycon 802.3af/at Power over Gigabit Ethernet Inserter (DC voltage input). The other option for powering your router would be to run a power cable in parallel with a standard ethernet cable.
I also purchased a Male – Female Ethernet Coupler so that I could have an ethernet port on the bottom of the enclosure. 
Finally, you will need four short SMA cables for the cellular ports and two short RP-SMA cables for the Wi-Fi antenna ports. 

Core components

Here is the shopping list for building an example of a 5G router dome using this concept.

EPNT-1 and 5G router

Here is the shopping list for building a dual modem 4G router dome with one directional antenna set and one omni set using this concept.

EPNT-2 and dual 4G/LTE router

I also used an Outdoor LAN Coupler Adapter to provide a weatherproof connection point for the ethernet cable.
Heavy duty Velcro can be used to attach the router and PoE splitter to the enclosure.

Assembly is fairly straight forward.
  1. Unscrew the 9 screws on the EPNT enclosure and remove the back.
  2. Insert the SIM cards you plan to use into the router.
  3. Adapt the bottom pass-through plate for whatever method you decide to use for passing the ethernet and possibly a power cable through for your outside connection.
  4. Attach the four SMA cables and two RP-SMA cables.
  5. Connect the PoE splitter power cable to the router. If your router doesn’t have a 2.1mm x 5.5mm female connector then you will need to cut the pin off and use the bare leads. Note, the MAX Transit 5G and Duo both have a compatible female power connector for use with the Tycon splitter.
  6. Plug the unpowered ethernet lead from the PoE splitter into the LAN port on the router.
  7. If using the LAN Coupler, plug the ethernet from it into the inbound ethernet port on the splitter.
  8. Run ethernet cable from the EPNT to a powered port on a PoE inserter or switch inside the cabin. Typically the unpowered port on the inserter would go to an Access Point inside the cabin or even to another router if you are using this setup to add additional cellular WAN connections to an existing router setup. 
  9. If you decide to use a 12-24vDC power lead instead of PoE then choose a method for passing the lead through the bottom plate and attaching to the router.
  10. Power up the router via the PoE inserter (or 12-24vDC power) and test the configuration before placing the back on the enclosure.
  11. Once you are satisfied everything is working, Velcro the router and splitter in place.
  12. Next, attach the back of the enclosure being sure the small cables of not in the way and the bottom plate is lined up. Make sure you have a snug seal all the way around the back. Without a snug seal, the enclosure will not be watertight.
  13. Try out several potential locations to see where you get the best signal.
  14. Fasten the enclosure in its final location and run the ethernet cable down to the cabin. 
  15. Configuration of the router can be done using Peplink’s web-based admin dashboard or using InControl2. This allows you to remotely select the SIM you want to use, setup Wi-Fi WAN, change WAN priorities and more.
That is the basic setup. Since this is a kit, you are free to build this out in a number of other ways.

Does it work and is it worth the effort?

The simple answer is yes and yes. I have tested both the EPNT-1 with a MAX Transit 5G and the EPNT-2 with a MAX Transit Pro E and found them to work very well. 
With the MAX Transit 5G, I got the fastest speeds I have ever seen with a MAX Transit device in a marina with decent T-Mobile 5G service (295 Mbps download, 50.9 Mbps upload). It also worked well in marginal areas although as with all 5G devices, it sometimes works better in 4G mode if the 5G tower is far away especially if connecting to AT&T or Verizon 5G.
With the dual 4G modem and the EPNT-2, I tested the setup in a marina known for its weak cell reception (Port Madison, Washington). I got a decent signal on AT&T using the omni antennas which provided a usable 38 Mbps download rate and both Verizon and Google Fi got ok coverage using the directional antenna when pointed in the direction of the tower many miles away. By binding the two modems together using Peplink’s SpeedFusion technology I got a smooth 50+ Mbps download rate which is more than adequate for getting work done. In Elliott Bay Marina, which is also notorious for poor cellular reception, I got a very decent 40 Mbps on T-Mobile 4G with the directional antenna alone.
I generally consider any connection that is above the FCC’s recommended minimum of 25 Mbps download as useable for most business workloads. Another note when selecting your dual modem router – if you are a T-Mobile customer then it is recommended to get a router that supports band 71 when using LTE mode. This 600 MHz band is proving to be a great performer for long range coverage. The older MAX Transit Duo and Pro E models do not support band 71 but the new MAX Transit Pro supports band 71 on the second modem. All of these models do support the other T-Mobile extended range band 12 at 700 MHz. If you are using Verizon or AT&T, then all of the models support all of the current LTE bands. But also be aware that the EPNT-2 does not officially support band 71 or 600 MHz and its published specs show the range starting at 698 MHz. So that may impact whether you want to use this solution or not.
If you are going with a 5G modem, then the current Peplink 5G products support all of the essential 4G and 5G bands for all of the carriers. It is also worth noting that the EPNT-1 omni-directional model does support band 71 so it will work well with any of these 4G or 5G routers.
It should be noted that when correctly sealed the EPNT enclosures keep the router inside dry. I have tested both models in Seattle rains and cold winter weather and have seen no issues with water intrusion. 
I generally see two main scenarios for using the EPNT. The first would be using an EPNT with your only cellular router in order to get the best possible installation location with no cable loss issues and running ethernet down into the cabin to a Wi-Fi Access Point. With either a single 4x4 modem or dual 2x2 modems you can decide whether two modems on different carriers makes sense or a single fast 4G/5G modem is a better fit.
The other scenario would be to use this in combination with another router connected to a traditional antenna. This is how I use the EPNT. I have an EPNT-1 with a MAX Transit 5G with the ethernet run to the WAN port of a MAX BR1 Pro 5G in the cabin connected to a Peplink Maritime 40G Antenna. This gives me a dual 5G modem solution with two different cellular antenna configurations and by using SpeedFusion, I can bind two 5G connections into one very stable, very fast virtual connection. Or by using the two modems individually, I can have one using one carrier and the other on a different carrier which allows for seamless switching from one to the other if I run into a dead zone for one of the carriers. I also use the EPNT-1 setup for Wi-Fi WAN which works really well, allowing me to dedicate the BR1 Wi-Fi radios for use as my in-cabin access point. I have both the Maritime 40G and the EPNT-1 mounted on a single four-foot pole on my stern rail. I could potentially see even better performance from the EPNT if I mounted it higher.
I should also mention that the dual LTE modem configuration could also be built with the EPNT-1 omni-directional antenna setup. This might be a better way to go if you don’t anticipate wanting to use or manage a directional antenna or if you really need to have band 71 support. I ultimately settled on using the EPNT-1 for these reasons.
In closing, this is a very interesting solution to consider for scenarios where long cable runs are required. Since these are kits, some assembly and creative thinking is required to get this all working but the benefits are worth the effort.
If you have suggestions or additional tips, feel free to use the comment section below.

Happy cruising.

Doug Miller

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