Tweaking the Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 for RV travel

So, you signed up for an unlimited network plan and while it worked great at first, you’ve moved to a new location and you’re now getting < 1Mbps speeds.

You might think that you need a booster if your signal strength is low or you might be at a complete loss for what to do if your signal strength is ok to good but you’re still getting terrible transfer speeds.

It could be that your router is not quite clever enough and latching onto the LTE bands that are strongest yet provide terrible bandwidth.

This happened to us when out in the wilds of Bushnell FL back in June of 2019.  The first night of our stay we had great signal strength but atrocious throughput.  When we sought out help we were told that yeah, cell access there is just terrible.  We could walk to the opposite corner of the park and probably get a decent signal but everywhere else we could forget it.

Ummm.  No.  We were going to be at the park for a week or two and there was no way we were going that long using our precious limited minutes on our Google Fi plans, from which we got both decent signal and speeds.

I was going to find a way to get something, anything, usable on our unlimited plan from OTR Mobile.  Especially since on the first morning of our stay we had pretty decent speeds.  Until it started to rain at which point bandwidth went into back the toilet.

NOTE: I am providing this information in the hopes that it will help other people.  YOU are responsible for anything that happens to your device and/or if your cell provider decides to cut you off for modifying your device configuration.

I haven’t heard of anyone being cut off like that but then I hadn’t heard of this little guy until the day I did.

So, having said all that, if you run into problems do give me a shout and I’ll do what I can to help.

You should also keep in mind that Signal Strength or Bars does not equal Bandwidth.  In much of the country you can probably ignore that fact but you’ll run into areas where that fact will absolutely rule your life.  One of those is Bushnell FL and the other is the NRQZ where you won’t have bars ever.  Just forget it.

Ok, on to the meat of this article.

The first thing I did was order a MIMO antenna for the router.  I’d been thinking of ordering one for a while since I knew it was only a matter of time before it would be necessary and that time may have arrived.

While waiting for the delivery, I also started monitoring what channel the router was using when I had good and bad throughput.

You can get to this information by going to the router web interface and clicking on the Settings menu followed by Diagnostics and you’ll see something similar to

While watching the router behavior I noticed that  LTE B12 and B66 were shown under Current Radio Band when throughput was in the toilet.  Take a look here for the available LTE channels and you’ll see that those are fairly low bandwidth channels.

Signal strength (RSRP) wasn’t that great, as shown above, but even with a booster and values around -90, speeds were terrible.

Keep in mind that whatever channel is displayed, may not be the only channel the router is using.  It *may* be the primary channel but you can pretty much count on the MR1100 using more than one at a time because of the MIMO design.  Though there’s not a good way to see all the channels currently in use.

Unfortunately this page is the best information we have to work with and in this case it led me to take a closer look at the LTE channels in the chart linked above.

At this point I knew I wanted to find a way to keep the router from choosing these “bad” channels.  I contacted OTR support to see if they could help.  Unfortunately they couldn’t, or wouldn’t recommend a way to specify what channels to use.

So off to the internet I went and quickly found this guide.  Some of the information is geared toward European use but overall it was a good starting point.

Two things you should know before going forward

  1. You will be creating new menu items in the Cellular options and if you create too many (about 9) you will soft-brick your router.  That can be fixed by doing a factory reset and will only cost you some time but be forewarned and start with just one or two menus.
  2. You might find that the AT command set on your router has been password protected by your provider.  If so, you may just have to give up now.  You can ask your provider for the password but most won’t give it out.
  3. You’re going to start out using a program call ‘telnet.’  If you’re using Windows, there are instructions for installing it here and if you’re using another OS, I’m afraid you’ll need to get to googling.

Ok, first thing you need to do is connect your router to your computer using the USB cable that came with it.  You can try the following steps with the computer connected through WiFi but most people I’ve seen haven’t had success that way.  I certainly haven’t.

Also, I have sometimes had the problem where connecting the router doesn’t result in a new network connection from my laptop to the router.  If you experience this, you’ll need to unplug and plug in the router until it works.  You may also need to plug the router in and leave it for several minutes.  I haven’t had this happen often enough that I have a surefire way of getting it to work every time.

Open a command window and type in telnet 192.168.1.1 5510 and hit enter.  If you’ve made any modifications to your router and have a different address on your unit, put that where I have ‘192.168.1.1’

You’ll be presented with an empty window if telnet was able to connect.

Now type in AT!BAND=? and hit enter.  Don’t worry that each character is repeated.  That’s normal.

This shows the LTE menu selections currently available.  Yours will be slightly different, most likely containing only the first three.

It also shows the values you’ll use for each of the LTE bands.

Now you’ll want to set up some of your own menus so that you can switch between bands as needed.

The first set I created were using the following bands.  You can either start with these or the next set, shown as High1 in the screen shot above or build a new one just for your use case.

Grab your favorite Hex calculator.  The one included with Windows can be set for Programmer mode using Hex.  Take all the bands you want to include and add their hex values (the number before the dashes in the list below) together similar to:

0000000000000010 – B5
0000000000000008 – B4
0000000000000002 – B2
0000000004000000 – B5  (850)
0000000000800000 – B2 (1900)
= 480001A

Now switch to your telnet window and type in the following command:

AT!BAND=03,”LTE B2 4 5″,0,480001A

and hit Enter.

The elements of the command are:

03  tells the router to make this the 4th menu item since they all begin with 0.  Be careful not to overwrite the default menus of 0-2

“LTE B2 4 5” is the title for the menu item and can be anything you want but you should keep the text short.

0 sets the non-LTE band mask.  Since we’ll only be dealing with LTE bands for now, you can leave this 0.

480001A is of course is the LTE value you computed above

If this is the only menu you would like to add for the moment, follow that command with:

AT!reset

followed by Enter.

This will cause your router to reboot and once it comes back up you’ll have a new menu under the Cellular settings that says LTE B2 4 5.  If you choose that menu and click Apply, the router will disconnect from the cell network and attempt to reconnect using only the bands available in that menu item.

Cell Channels2

Another menu you may want to add is a menu with the relatively high bandwidth channels to give the router a wider selection.

0000200000000000 – B46
0000000020000000 – B30
0000000000000040 – B7
0000000000000010 – B5
0000000000000008 – B4
0000000000000004 – B3
0000000000000002 – B2
0000000000000001 – B1
0000000004000000 – B5  (850)
0000000000800000 – B2 (1900)
0000000000400000 – B1 (2100)

AT!BAND=04,”LTE HIGH1″,0,200024C0005F
AT!reset

 

You should feel freel to experiment with alternate channel menus but be careful not to end up with more than 9.  You may cause your router to hang after reboot and at that point you’ll have to factory reset it and start from scratch.  If that happens to you, take a look at the bottom of this page.

While you’re directly connected to the router you can also see how many channels it’s using and the signal strength for each channel.

In the telnet window run the command

AT!GSTATUS?

you’ll see output similar to:

GSTATUS

If you see a only the PCC block that means the router is only using a single channel.  This is not necessarily a problem.

SCC1 and beyond means that it’s using at least one more channel.

Now that you’re familiar with using telnet to get more info from the router, you can use the AT!GSTATUS? command when you arrive at a new location and tune the channels for that location.  If you decide to go this route, I recommend putting the channel selection back on “LTE All” and letting the router do its thing for 10 minutes before monitoring channel selection.

In most places, you can likely put the router in “LTE All” and just leave it there unless you need to tune performance for your special situation.

Questions, comments or complaints?  Leave them below.

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Author: Michael Harrison

Husband, Programmer, Irish dancer, tinkerer, astronomer, layabout (as much as possible)

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