It seems that Wi-Fi is one of the most important items for an RV’er these days. Who am I kidding, it is REALLY important. Even more so to the upcoming RV’er who live on the web and thus must be sure to have access. Brenda and I are some of those people. Everything we do, we seem to do on-line. Be it planning our next stop, shopping, or to make a living, the web and thus the Internet, is the place we need to be.
Now I will say that there are a lot of places in the USA that you may care to go that you simply will not have ANYTHING. No 3G or 4G, nor Wi-Fi. You will be so far out that you will be cut off from that ever vital data stream. That is of course unless you have satellite Internet service. We did have, at one time, a DataStorm G74 automatic satellite dish with service via HughesNet. But that subject for us now is in the past.
So that leaves us with what seems to be a growing question we receive. What do we do personally for Internet on the road? Let me start by making this clear…This is the way WE do it. There are surely less expensive devices and even the hardware we use for the radio (Wi-Fi Antenna) can be purchased for much less money if you know how to deal with setting it up. But even though I do know how to setup such things, I opted for ease of use and thus paid for a setup with custom firmware that makes the experience much more enjoyable. Their are A LOT of products on the market. So again, this is what we do and how we do it.
Please note: We paid for everything we use. We did not get them for free from a company to “Test” and thus hopefully market by talking about it on our blog. In fact, EVERYTHING we have ever reviewed or recommended we paid for. This is because we also do not ever want someone to question why we may be recommending this over that. We do not want to have a question in someones head if what they are reading is really an ad for X product or if there is a bias. In today’s world, this is actually called “Brand Journalism” or “Native Ads”. Simply put, ads that do not read as ads, but really are. Here is a funny video about it… “HBO – This Week Tonight – John Oliver’s – Native Ads” .
So, this will be quick and easy overview of what we use and how…So lets get to it…
Improving Cell Phone Reception…(Which also means improving 3G/4G data reception.)
The quickest thing to use these days is a Wilson Sleek 4G. The Sleek is a reception booster that is an all in one simple package that you can mount to your dash or somewhere else if you choose. You connect the antenna, plug it into 12V and place your phone (or MyFi or HotSpot) into the cradle. It really is as simple as that. The cradle has a booster (amp) built into it as well as a patch antenna. Your phone will see that and use it like it thinks it is the cell tower. (And it is, as the cell tower is actually just repeated.) This will boost your reception of both the voice side as well as the data side of the phone or HotSpot.
For even better reception you can mount an external antenna on the roof and run the lead to the Sleek vs. using the antenna that came with it. We mounted a Wilson Roof Mount Cell Antenna and ran the cable down the driver side windshield post to under the dash and then to the Sleek. (Proper cables, extensions, and adapters may be required.)
It is good to note however, that this is an amplifier. And as such, it does require having a good signal to boost. In other words, if you are in a very poor cell area, it will have a very poor signal to amplify. But also good to note, that the antenna it comes with is better than the antenna in your phone and thus you will do much better. And even more so if you use a roof mounted antenna as that is even more powerful and thus can receive and transmit to a cell tower that is further away. For example…we have had cell and data service when the coach next to us had none based on our setup with a roof mounted antenna and Sleek. In fact, as I write this, we are in a park where cell service is bad. I get one bar and 3G. If I put my phone into the Sleek, I get three bars and it switches to 4G data speeds.
There are also repeating systems that will take the cell single and then repeat it inside your coach. While these can be good, it is only good if you are close to the internal antenna or if you have a good outside signal as these are mostly used to bring the cell signal inside an enclosure. I do not prefer this approach as it greatly varies vs. having your phone or HotSpot right next to the patch antenna that is in the cradle. I did have this at one time, but stopped using it when the Sleek came out a few years back.
Hint…If you are in a bad cell area and the only way to get service that does not drop calls is if your phone is in the Sleek, use a Bluetooth headset to talk on the phone. As such, you can walk around your coach and your phone can stay in the cradle.
Wi-Fi and Boosting RV Park Reception…
Ok, now these are the two questions that I seem to get over and over. “How can I improve the Wi-Fi from the park inside my RV?” and “How can I better protect myself on an open Wi-Fi network?” The answer to this is of course that it can be done in a few ways and with a large number of different products. I will however talk about our current setup. Of course we have used over the years, and thus have experience with, a number of different products.
The way we handle BOTH of the above questions is to use a Wave Wi-Fi RogueWave. What the heck is that? Simply put, it is an Ubnt Bullet radio with an 8.5db antenna with custom firmware that makes it easy to use. The unit shows you all the SSID’s (Wi-Fi networks) in the air at the location you are at. You then simply click on one to connect to it. So now you may be asking, “How is this different than using just the Wi-Fi in my computer?” For one, it is a large 8.5db antenna and thus it cannot just only pull in a better Wi-Fi signal, but it also can transmit a better signal based on the powerful 800mW (+29dBm) output radio it has. After all, it takes two to have a conversation.
Quick Lesson… A lot of the time, you may be able to “see” a good signal and think you have a great connection. But in fact, your computer, phone, tablet, or whatever is reporting the power of the signal it is seeing. The park could be putting out a very strong signal from a powerful radio. However, your computer is sending out a transmission that is to weak too reach back to their radio. In simple terms, in a crowded room, they are using a megaphone to talk to you and you are trying to whisper back to them. Oh, and you are doing this over all the other talking that is going on, aka noise, in the room. Make sense?
So what this means is it is a two way street. You need both sides to be able talk and that is where such a devise such as the WiFi RogueWave comes in as it not only receives a signal very well, it can also talk back just as well. Lets’ face it, we have all be in an RV park where you are parked far from the access point so you can not use the Wi-Fi. So this greatly helps in an RV park where the spot you may be in usually has poor Wi-Fi as you will now have the power of the RogueWave. In fact, I have been in an RV park where the Wi-Fi was so poor, I was able to use the RogueWave to connect to the McDonalds down the road. (Ok, no need to debate if I should have done that. But I did at least buy an Iced Cafe Mocha Latte.)
Oh, that also brings up a good point. Even if you have a WiFi RogueWave and thus a good connection to a park Wi-Fi, this does not mean they have good Wi-Fi or even good Internet. Many factors come into play when using a free network. Some of which included the number of people using the Wi-Fi, the amount of data service they have coming into the park, and the equipment they use. Some parks may have Wi-Fi but what that could mean is that they have a home Wi-Fi router in their office, and if you can see it from your site, you can use it. In that case, the RogueWave can be of help to reach such a poor setup. But let’s face it, bad is bad and in that case not even the Rogue will help. So that is when you are surely glad you have your own HotSpot and Wilson Sleek.
Also this answers that second question as to using an open Wi-Fi network and Wi-Fi security. The RogueWave has a built in router and firewall. As such, you do not get a public IP from the network that everyone else is also on, you get your own private IP handed out by the RogueWave and the RogueWave gets the public IP. As such, anyone that may try to look for other computers on a network to gain access to will not be able to reach your computer.
The WiFi RogueWave is simple to use. It does require power and two network cables. You plug in the power and that goes into what is called a POE Injector. That stands for Power Over Ethernet and does nothing more than uses some of the wires in the network cable to carry power to the RogueWave so then only one wire is needed to go to the RogueWave. (Which is good if you mount it outside, as you should.) The other network cable then plugs into the other side of the POE and then into your computers, or routers, network port. Note…your computer would need to be set to get an IP via DHCP. All are defaulted to do this and unless you changed it, you will be set. Using your web browser you then go the RogueWave’s user interface and select the Wi-Fi network you want to use. Poof, you are now on-line.
NOTE: You can also use the RogueWave to connect to your own personal HotSpot’s wireless SSID. Be it your phone acting as a HotSpot or if you have a MiFi or something like it. So if you want to use your own HotSpot for whatever reason, if you have it turned on, you will be able to see it’s SSID in the RogueWave’s interface and be able to connect to it. One of the nice features of the RogueWave is that you can store favorite Wi-Fi SSID’s to automatically connect to. So I have my phone and Brenda’s phone in the list so whatever one we may activate, if not wanting to use the parks Wi-Fi, it will auto connect once it sees it. Thus ways are using the RogueWave to connect to Wi-Fi.
But wait, what if you want to use more than one device and not connect it directly to your computer? The answer is to use a Wi-Fi router. (Which you can also purchase at the same time through Land and Sea WiFi – Best prices I found for the Wi-Fi RogueWave.) The RogueWave is still used, but instead of going into your computer, you plug the network cable into the WAN port of the router. Any Wi-Fi router you may choose to use will work. Sorry, but I cannot walk you through setting up the router as their are many types. But most of them come with simple setup wizards to help you get going.
The best part of using a router is that all your Wi-Fi devices can then connect to your own private internal network and have Internet access via the RV Park or your HotSpot through the RogueWave. As such, you always connect to your own SSID and not the parks.
This also means you then can use a Wi-Fi printer as it you would just connect it to your own private Wi-Fi network and then can use it without turning on a HotSpot, as you may have to do now.
Ok, so that was A LOT of information and it may or may not help you and may end up leaving you with more questions than before. There are a number of products that cater to the RV’er that we have tried, but we have found the above solution to be the best.
For example…We have tried, and tried, and tried to use the WiFiRanger which caters to the RV industry, but it was just way too buggy and could not be counted on. So much so that we believe, as others, they took down their own customer support community forum as it was just filled with complaints. Now I am not sure if the product has improved or not, but all I know is that it was a major issue to keep running and something I could not count on. And Wi-Fi is something we have to count on. And that was a product that was actually given to me, free of charge, to use in hopes we would blog about it. I could have been writing about that.
WiFiRanger Company…If you have fixed your issues of the past, please feel free to let me know, as I kind of liked the interface. Me being a techie, I like bells and whistles, thus offering some more control. That is something you do offer over the Rogue as the Rouge is it just point and click with not much more needed to be done. (It really is simple and efficient.) Then again, not being able to control my own DHCP server with static IP’s was an issue with the Ranger. Maybe you also fixed that. You have a lot of users, and thus I have to think, and hope, it is much improved.
The below links are to the parts we use in our motor coach for full time Internet access even when traveling down the road…
Wilson Sleek 4G
Wilson Roof Mount Cellular Antenna
Wilson Home Office Kit can be used for to window mount the antenna if not using roof mount.
WiFi RogueWave Kit
Asus RT-N66U Wi-Fi Router (This would be overkill for most users but I wanted dual-band.)
Samsung S4 Smartphone (Used as a HotSpot in the Sleek cradle when not using RV Park)
Our Connection Path For Access…
- RogueWave is plugged into the WAN port of the Wi-Fi router.
- All personal Wi-Fi items are connected to BottNet.
- Wi-Fi RogueWave is connected wirelessly to RV parks Wi-Fi or our HotSpot.
- If using our HotSpot it is always in the Wilson Sleek 4G cradle for boosting.
- Internet is then available to all devices over our private network.
Few, that was a lot to write. So lets also try it in a video chat which some of you enjoy and asked for…
Click For Part Two — > Wi-Fi and Security on an RV parks open Wi-Fi network.
Please be sure to share this if it was helpful. :)