In preparation for our 2015 West Trip we recently installed a cell phone booster and antenna on the camper. Although we generally like to unplug as much as possible from our phones and computers while camping, for this trip Kristin will be doing some work (for her day job) and we will likely be in some areas where normal cell reception may be spotty at best. Full-time RVers typically use several options to maintain connectivity, including: cell boosters, Wi-Fi boosters, directional Wi-Fi antennas, etc. I started researching all the different options and decided that our solution would need to meet the following criteria:
- Easy to set up and tear down as there will be times when we are only at a campground for a brief stay.
- Able to be used in both the van and camper. There will be times when Kristin plans to work as we are driving down the road and other times when she will be working from the camper in a campground.
- Cost-effective (for us that meant under $150).
There are some great posts on others websites about how to get internet while camping (we have pinned many over here) so I will give just a brief explanation of why we chose what we did and why we did not go with other options.
Wi-Fi directional antenna and Wi-Fi boosters: As an amateur radio operator this was a very tempting option. However, these failed to meet all three of our criteria. Set up and tear down can be difficult (especially if you choose a directional Wi-Fi antenna) and there is really no way to use these as you are going down the road in the van. Also systems such as Alpha Wi-Fi hotspot and Yagi Wi-Fi antenna often need an additional Wi-Fi repeater to be considered secure, which starts to get expensive. There are several campers that will say this is one of your best investments so that when you are in campgrounds with free Wi-Fi you do not have to use your phone’s data plan. They have a valid point and at some time in the future I may get one of these systems, but not for this trip.
Wi-Fi Ranger: The ultimate connection tool is a Mito Mirrors SkyRanger. Mount this on the top of the camper/RV and you will most likely be the talk of the campground! However, at close to $400 it was outside our budget AND it would not help us when traveling in the van.
Cell booster and antenna: This is the option that I decided to select for our trip. This will work by tethering our laptops to our smartphones and tapping into our cell data plan (a good explanation of how to do that is here). So for this system, I purchased the following three items:
Our internet connectivity plan:
We will use the booster (with the included mag mount antenna) when we are on the road. When we are in a campground we will use the external dual band antenna and booster (with the home/office accessory kit). Here is how it meets all our qualifications:
- I mounted the dual band mirror mount antenna on the top of our camper’s TV antenna so that all we have to do is crank up the TV antenna and it is ready to go (post coming soon on how I installed it).
- Since we have two antennas and we are going to be tethering our computers to our cell phones, the set up can work in the van or camper.
- I did go over budget spending about $205 and yes we will have to increase our cell data plan while we are on the road so that we can tether our computers. But Kristin’s day job suggested that this was a secure way to connect to the remote server, thus we spent the extra money and went with this option.
I am optimistic that this will be a dependable solution as we camp and tour. Once we have spent some time on the road I will post an update and let you know how it is working. I set this same system up for my dad at his summer camping location and without the system he had no service or only one signal bar. After the install, he now usually has three to four cell signal bars and he can surf the internet on his iPad. So I think we should be good to go!
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