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The Ultimate Internet Access Project – Prologue


UPDATE 9/19/09

I never intended this series to run to this many installments or span over 6 months.  Maybe it gets a little wordy and unfocused at times but my intent was to educate the readers (you) on the why as well as the how.  If you are truly interested in learning about aircard internet access in your recreational vehicle set aside a block of time, get your favorite beverage and read the series through to the end.  It has more twists and turns and drama than the old quarter matinee on Saturday afternoons back in the day.   If you can remember going to the movie on Saturday afternoons and doing it all for less than a buck — admission, jujubees and a drink– you really need to read the whole series because you are an old fart like me.  We didn’t grow up with this technology and we have to work twice as hard to understand just how it all comes together.

End Update
How do I start this off? Maybe a frank admission is the best way. I am an internet junkie, an online addict, a slave to the technology. Being over half a century old, I did not grow up texting and twittering like the young people of today. Some of the technology is a stretch for me to get my brain around but I do OK with the basics. Back in the day, when I left corporate America, I turned to the Internet as a source of income.  This was before blogs, Google going public and monetized websites.  It took some time to actually start making money over the Internet.  My daughter, who was living with me at the time refers to that period as “The Baloney Years”.   I tell her it was a character building exercise.

The period prior to going to work for my brother was the most rewarding financially.  I was living in my motor home full time out at the shop where the kids and I tinkered on cars and made a little money on the side.  I had invested in some local real estate (which I still have) and I was receiving income on a monthly basis from about a half dozen Internet related ventures.  Even with all that going on, it had all gone a little stale.  My daughter enlisted in the Air Force and my older son re-enlisted after living with me for a year and a half.  The job offer from my brother came along at a good time.  You know what they say  – Everything happens for a reason.

Concentrating on learning how to operate various pieces of heavy equipment took the upper hand and the focus on the Internet became secondary.  Instead of working at my computer 8 hours a day, I was sitting in the cab of a bulldozer pushing dirt.  I would come in for the day and do a little work on the Internet but nothing like before.  It was a good fill in for a rainy day or a weekend when we were not working in the field so I did achieve a balance of priorities.  The Internet income stream dropped off substantially when the concentration shifted but it has never gone away.  In order to maintain the Internet part of my “diversification plan” it has always been a priority to have an Internet connection regardless of where the Fish Bus was parked.

I researched plenty of different Internet access options when I started fulltiming in the Dolphin 32D.  I would have really liked to have one of those moto sat dishes that glow blue at night and give you a satellite Internet connection anywhere – anytime.  I just couldn’t justify the  $6-$7000  startup cost and the higher monthly fees. I went  with an aircard setup ( detailed here ) which has worked pretty well.  If you frequent the recreational vehicle forums, you will see it mentioned over and over.  It consists of an aircard, an external antenna and a signal amplifier.  In most cases, it has been adequate.  I spent 6 weeks in an extreme boondocking situation that was hit or miss and very frustrating.  Some days I could not get on the Internet at all and I would have to drive down the hill to a specific spot to make a call on the cell phone.  However this has been the exception and not the norm.

We have been on a work break due to weather  the last few days and I am getting the “itch” for a new project.  I have toyed with doing a solar or wind power project with the Old Girl but you know that is just not practical here in  Texas.  We have eight months – from March to November when air conditioning is more or less an absolute necessity.  I know of no battery bank or inverter that could be installed in my old RV that would power two roof air conditioning units.  So I shifted my focus to improving my Internet connection to what I would consider the ultimate Internet access system short of a satellite dish.  I posted a thread on RV.net looking for advice and I was a little shocked by the level of advice being given.   It seems many of my fellow RVers think adding an external antenna to your aircard is pretty radical and adding an outside antenna and a signal amplifier really, really is pushing the envelope.  It has been disappointing.   I have that setup.  I have used that setup in probably more extreme conditions than they have ever imagined and I am ready to move on!   I even joined a yahoo group which the referrer said was populated by hard core data card gurus who could “really help me out.”  Sadly, the information hit the same end point as the thread at RV.net.  My present setup — in their minds- is s good as it gets.

So now I had a challenge and life is getting better by the minute.  I started digging on the Internet. Google search is your friend you know! 🙂  I had to sift through all the stock BS and then I started finding some real jewels.  It seems back when an analog  signal was the norm some enterprising individuals could grab a signal from 50 miles away!   Now we are getting somewhere!  With the new technology,

Yagi directional antenna

Yagi directional antenna

it seems the cell companies are limiting the reach of the digital signal to 25 miles.  Still not bad and this may or may not be true in every case but a 25 mile capable system is a good goal.  It also appears that a yagi directional antenna is the way to go. I may even need two of them to cover both the bands that AT&T uses.  I have been looking closely at the Wilson Cellular amplifiers as well.  When I bought my first one, I just looked for the one that worked on my network and bought it.  If you really start to study the specs on the Wilson amps they are all different in some way.  I have probably 4 different ones I am considering now and it is going to take quite a bit more research to determine which one is the ultimate amp for my project.  Then we get into signal loss with different types of cables which is a daunting research project in itself.

I am certain I am going to have to change the antenna mounting system on the Old Girl as well so it is going to be a clean sweep. I do not think a single piece of equipment  except for my Merlin aircard that is presently in use will be utilized in the new system.  I will just take it all out and sell it on eBay to offset the cost of the new equipment.  Stay tuned for updates as the project moves forward!

Read Part Two Here

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