if you have The internet in the US is fast, probably because you live in the right location in a big city. The rest of us get, well… this 2007 Wired headline sums it up nicely: “Rural America will never get fast internet.” Here we get fragments. 3G is mostly off these days, which is either nothing, or, if you’re lucky like me, 4G service.
Rural 4G service is essentially yours phone plan, unless you have to use it for everything. It’s always metered (Google Fi offers “unlimited” 50 GB per month, which I’ve been using lately.) It’s often slow relative to the wired or fiber internet available elsewhere.
What I’ve found that can really squeeze more out of these poor connections is a good 4G modem. I’ve tested six now and am writing a guide, but Gl.inet’s Spitz 4G LTE router is one of the best. At less than $200, it’s relatively affordable.
cell phone alone
In rural South Carolina, many of my neighbors simply use their cell phone as their primary computing device or use it as a hotspot. The phone works as a hotspot, for some it might work just fine, but in my case my phone didn’t get much reception indoors. I’ve come to rely on 4G routers, which usually have bigger antennas and better reception.
Gl.inet’s Spitz 4G router looks like many others Routers in our guide, albeit smaller. You don’t know it’s a 4G router until you open it up and find the SIM card slot. There’s also a place for a microSD card (up to 128 GB), so you can use it as a media server if you want. The slot is suitable for a micro SIM card.
I tested Spitz with various SIM cards from different carriers and MVNOs (you’ll need these if you really want to connect in these devices). I initially tested with a T-Mobile SIM and AT&T SIM, but also made it work with a Google Fi nano SIM by carefully aligning the slots.I don’t recommend this long term, but it works while you wait for you SIM Card Adapter Kit ($4) To get there, you’ll need a Google Fi or other nano-sized SIM chip. Gl.inet has a A guide to setting up Google Fi on Spitz.
The included LTE antenna was able to pick up what my phone couldn’t, but it would be nice to have some MIMO ports to connect an external MIMO antenna. But otherwise, the hardware is simple and small. Five LEDs on the top show power status, WAN connection, 2.4-Ghz and 5-Ghz activity, and LTE connection status. On the back is a power port, as well as a LAN and WAN socket for wired networking.
After inserting the SIM card, connect to a Wi-Fi network and point your web browser to the Spitz admin page. This is a big part of what makes Spitz very powerful. Spitz uses open source behind the scenes OpenWRT modem firmwarewhich allows you to use some of the tools and access features typically found only on more expensive routers, such as network-wide VPN access, ad blocking, parental controls, time-based controls, and more.
Gl.inet uses custom skins, so if you’re familiar with OpenWRT, you’ll get slightly different results with Spitz. All the features are there – you can install whatever extras you want – but things may be a little different from what you’re used to.