Boosting Your Internet In the Boonies
Tis a happy man who doth have internet access in the boonies
(Nina Fussing, 2010)
It was the perfect site. Gorgeous woods, the scent of nature in the air, leaves drifting like rays of sunshine in colorful fall. Oh yes, all was right with the world. Except…..there was no internet access. Nothing, nada, zip, ziltch. Not a bar in sight, not a byte of data on the horizon. It’s enough to make a grown geek cry, and since we make our living by investing it’s not good for the pocketbook either.
We’ve been there quite a few times on our trip across the US. As you may remember we chose Verizon wireless data service and overall it’s been pretty good, but there’s been spots where we’re too far from the cell tower, or there’s been too many trees, hills, and other features in the way and the ‘ol cell signal just wasn’t usable….and those spots are exactly the type of places we like to go. Of course there’s satellite and that may still be something we look at down the road (technomadia did a good review of various options in a recent post here), but the other, and significantly cheaper option, is to boost what you got.
As far as boosting a cell phone signal the most common methods are to use an antenna and amplifier. Now, there’s got to be “something” there to start with, even if it’s only a teeny, tiny signal, but with this set-up you can electronically make a mountain out of a mole-hill, so to speak. Here’s the details:
1/ External Antenna – a high-gain external antenna can help suck-up a weak cell signal and feed it either into a cellphone, your datacard or into an amplifier. You want an antenna with the biggest gain you can get (for about every 3 db, sensitivity more or less doubles). Than, take that baby and place it as high up in the air as you’re physically able to do. “Directional” antennas usually give a higher gain, but need to be pointed/positioned to get the best signal. “Omni-directional” antennas are usually somewhat lower gain, but have the advantage that they don’t need to be pointed. We chose the Wilson Omni RV Antenna that’s 21.5″ long and claims 10-15dB of gain. We usually place it either in the front window of the RV (if signal is workable), or strap it to the top of our ladder in the back (for a better boost). Some RVers will connect it permanently to the outside, but we like the option of moving it around. There’s also people who build masts like these folks, and that’s probably something we’ll be adding to our set-up too.
2/ Internal Amplifier – An amplifier basically takes whatever signal its given and boosts it. It’s a bit like taking an egg-white and whipping it up to get a large and fluffy mass….you get more out of less. But, just like eggs you can overdo it. You want an amplifier that boosts the signal but still gives a clean, usable output so it’s worth buying a decent one. We chose the Wilson dual-band (800 MHz and 1900MHz) direct-connect amplifier and it’s got one of the better reputations on the market.
That’s basically it. We run the signal from the amplifier directly into our Verizon modem (the modem we have, Pantech UMW190 has a jack for direct connection). The modem then sits in our Cradlepoint MBR1000 router that broadcasts the signal around the RV so we can connect our laptops to it. Our simple antenna/amp solution cost ~$330, was a cinch to set-up and we bought it online at 3GStore.com, a very good outfit which I’m happy to recommend.
There’s other sellers (e.g. Maximum Signal) and other solutions including wireless amps that allow multiple devices (e.g. both cellphone and aircards) to use the same amplifier wirelessly, but these require multiple antennas and a more complicated set-up. Also, there will probably be new equipment coming for 4G (ours is 3G only) as well as new, stronger and more versatile amps, . This page gives an excellent overview of all the currently available antenna/amp technology.
So, is it worth it? Since we’ve bought the set-up just pver a month ago we’ve managed to turn several sites with no visible bars into completely usable locations (including the gorgeous, fall location in the Smokies where we’re at right now). In fact, so far the gadgets have kept us on-line from “out there” locations in Kentucky to North Carolina. So, yes the solution doth the happy geeks become.SPONSORED LINK:
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