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Internet Access on the Road

UPDATE 3/18/09- I am updating my Internet access equipment to what I hope is going to be the Ultimate Internet Access setup without using one of those expensive and complicated Moto Sat systems. You can follow along here. I would suggest setting up an RSS feed to keep up with the new posts.  You can do that by clicking the RSS logo on the right of this page.  Updated Entry — Click Here

Internet access is now a necessity for most households in America.   A nice fast cable internet connection is the preference and we just take it for granted.  Most of us that go on the road in an RV or choose to live full time in a recreational vehicle also require internet access in some fashion.

There are many internet access options available for the RV crowd.  If you are going to park most of the time in an RV Park most of them have WIFI access.  It just takes a little planning ahead to locate them.  Another option is satellite internet access offered by companies like Hughes and Wild Blue.   Satellite internet access works much like DISH Network or DirecTV.  You have a separate dish and receiver that allows you to have a fairly fast internet connection.  When i checked on this option, I found the equipment costs, installation fees and monthly fees to be quite expensive.

My decision was to go with an aircard from At&T.  An aircard works just like a mobile phone for your PC.  As a matter of fact it actually has a phone number attached to it and just like the name says, it is just a small card you plug into your PC.  Most cities have a great 3G coverage area and I have found where ever I have cell service, I can also access the internet.   The aircard itself was deeply discounted when I signed up for a 2 year contract.  Monthly service is $59.00.  It is also important to realize AT&T and Verizon use different technology and the equipment will only work on one network or another.  For the purpose of this discussion, all my references and discussion will be about the AT&T system.

Dell Wireless Aircard

Dell Wireless Aircard

Things were just going great!  I got the aircard up and running and was on the internet in no time flat at my homebase in Dallas.  Speeds were not nearly as fast as cable internet but it certainly was usable.  Man oh man, I was liking this setup!  The time came to leave for the next job that was in a remote area 20 miles north of Coleman,TX.

The first thing I noticed when I got to Coleman and got the RV base camp set up was that I had little or no signal on my phone.   With an uneasy feeling,  I plugged the aircard into the laptop and it would not connect.   The only way I could connect was to get on top of a large hill and then the connection was very weak.  Nothing to do but get on the internet and research a solution.

I found that  Wilson Cellular made a highly regarded line of cell phone amplifiers that were reported to work great on the AT&T Network.  I ordered the wireless amplifier, some extra cable and an external antenna.

Wilson Electronics 801201 Cellular PCS Dual Band In-Vehicle Amplifier Signal Booster 824-894/1850-1990 MHz 40 dB – Purchase dual band outside external antenna with FME female connector separately

And the antenna:

Wilson Electronics 301119 Dual Band Roof mount RV Trucker Antenna (806-894 MHz 1850-1990 MHz) with Spring and 11.5 feet Coax Cable with Female Connector

I also bought a stainless steel ratcheting antenna mount like this one:

Shakespeare 4190 Ss Rail Mount – Antennas – Antenna-Hardwar

Wilson Antenna on top of bus

Wilson Antenna on top of bus

I really puzzled over the installation on this amplifier. Many people said they had good
results with one of those stick on glass antennas. I knew I was going to be camping in more extreme areas and I wanted the antenna on top of the bus where I could receive the best signal. I mounted it on the cargo rail right at the top of the ladder using the ratcheting antenna mount.  When I am going to move my RV,

Stainless Steel Ratcheting Antenna Mount

Stainless Steel Ratcheting Antenna Mount

Wilson Cellular Wireless Amplifier Installed

Wilson Cellular Wireless Amplifier Installed

I just climb up the ladder and lay it down flat.  Once I arrive at my destination, it just takes a second to climb up the ladder and extend the antenna.  There is some signal loss because I chose this location.  I mounted the amplifier box 20 ft away right by the dinette in my bus.  I could have mounted the antenna directly above the dinette area but then it would have been a real hassle to raise and lower the antenna.   After using this installation .for over a year now I have to say I am quite happy with it. So much so that I put the same amplifier in my Suburban so I would always have a signal.  The amplifier requires a 12 volt connection and I wired it into the 12v power supply for one of the overhead lights.  A bonus is the fact that the amplifier radiates a wireless signal.  I do not have to attach it directly to the aircard.  Since I also have AT&T phone service, my cell phone benefits from the boost of the amplifier as well.

In my estimation and opinion, The Wilson Cellular Amplifier is an indispensable piece of equipment.  I have been in some  very remote locations and have yet to be without internet capability.  I was fueling my bus one day and a gentleman pulling a fifth wheel wanted to know what that antenna laying down on my roof was for.  I told him it was for internet and I also had a cellular signal booster to go with it.  He told me they were headed for Toledo bend Lake and he jad no service up there.  Next thing I know, we are inside the bus and i a showing him the amplifier and he is writing down the name and model number.

As I write this post, I am 14 miles northeast of Newton, TX in an area AT&T says is “marginal” on their coverage map.  Marginal is right!  Without the booster I have spotty to no service with no bars showing on my cell phone.  When I flip on the booster,  I have 3 bars.

The Ultimate Internet Access Project

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