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Everything we love about our nomadic lifestyle depends on one thing … a speedy internet connection. Without it, we couldn’t keep our businesses running smoothly, which means we couldn’t pay our bills. So having reliable internet service in the RV is more than just important to us — it’s crucial.
Two years ago, we beefed up the internet equipment in our office-on-wheels, but technology is always changing, and our needs have evolved, too. Rod’s now coaching his clients and running firm-wide training programs using a video conferencing platform, and GoPetFriendly.com is growing and requiring more bandwidth. In other words, we’re both feeling the need for speed! But our internet configuration wasn’t keeping up. A conversation with our friend, Scott Ueland at Techie4Hire, confirmed our suspicions – we needed an upgrade.
Fortunately, our new RV internet setup will include some of the equipment we installed two years ago. The CradlePoint MBR1400 broadband router still meets our needs, and the Wilson 311119 RV / Trucker Roof Mount Cellular Antenna is working fine, though there’s a new model being sold by Wilson now.
The developments in cellular data services that had outpaced our old system are LTE-Advanced, which allows for carrier aggregation, and multi-antenna capabilities or MIMO (multiple in – multiple out). Scott recommended some new components for our system to take leverage these changes and we set a date to meet for the installation.
1. Dual Antennas
Internet connection speeds can vary depending on your location, how many other people are using the tower, and even the weather, but to gauge the impact of our upgrades we ran a speed test on our network just before we began installing the new equipment. According to Speedtest.net we were getting 7.01 Mbps download and 9.8 Mbps upload.
Our first improvement was to add a second trucker’s antenna to the RV. Wilson’s new trucker’s antenna offers some benefits over our older model, but one drawback for us is that it comes with a bracket for mounting on a mirror rather than through-the-roof. Since w already have one antenna on the roof, and I’m a fan of reusing things when we can, we chose to get another Wilson 311119 second-hand rather than ponying up for two new antennas. If you’re installing internet for the first time, going with two of Wilson’s newer 304415 model might make sense for you.
To optimize performance, the two antennas should be mounted at least four feet apart, and not in the way of any moving objects (like your satellite dish). Additionally, when it comes to antennas, shorter cables are aways better, so (keeping the four-foot separation in mind) place your antennas as close as possible to your modem’s location.
In our case, a hole was drilled in the roof four years ago where the antenna on the right is now. Two years ago, when we upgraded our antenna, we brought it through the same hole. This time, we didn’t want to drill another hole in the roof to move the antenna but, if we’d been starting from scratch, we’d probably have put the first antenna in the right front corner of the RV and the second about four feet back on the same side. However, measuring four feet from our antenna’s position put us over a slide room, and rather that deal with that complication, we placed the second antenna on the left side of the motorhome.
Fortunately, that location aligned with a speaker in the RV’s ceiling, which gave us easy access to the roof and made for a simple install.
Running the cable from the driver’s side of the RV across to the passenger side where our equipment cabinet is located also turned out to be easy. When we moved into this motorhome four years ago, we installed a curtain to separate the driving compartment of the coach from the living space to keep Buster from barking at oncoming traffic. He outgrew that habit (thank goodness!), but we’ve kept the curtain to pull across when we’re using the furnace or air conditioner – it reduces the area we’re heating or cooling.
For this project, the copper pipe we used as a curtain rod made an efficient conduit to get our antenna cable across the RV to the equipment cabinet!
The final step in preparing your antenna is to shorten the cable, leaving an allowance for some maneuvering, and replacing the SMA male connector on the end with a FME female connector.
2. The Modem
Our old modem was severely behind the times when it came to LTE-Advanced and MIMO capabilities, so we upgraded to the Sierra MC7455.
This circuit board was installed in an Oley Mini PCI-E to USB Adapter with SIM Card Slot protection box so it could be connected to the rest of our components.
With the Sierra MC7455 installed in the protection box, we tossed the two small antennas that came with the unit, and used two RP-SMA male to SMA female adapters, which allowed us to connect the trucker’s antenna cables to the modem. The Oley box has a full-sized SIM card slot, so you might also need a SIM card adapter set to allow you to slip the SIM card from your mobile wifi device into the modem.
3. Raspberry Pi Single Board Computer
A new component to our upgraded setup is the Raspberry Pi 3B, a single board computer.
This is also circuit board, which needs to be installed in the Flirc RPi case so it can be connect to the other components.
The Raspberry Pi acts as a gateway for the system, and the firmware required to operate it can be flashed to a 16GB Class 10 Micro SD card, which then gets installed into the Flirc case. The firmware we used is called ROOter and is open-source.
4. Power It Up
The next step is powering the system. We didn’t have 12-volt power inside our equipment cabinet, so we wired up a surface-mount outlet from a nearby cabinet. Combining that with a USB car charger adapter with two 2.4A USB ports, gave us exactly what we needed.
5. Making Connections
Once everything was in the cabinet, we just needed to make the connection to get it up and running. The antennas connected to the modem using the adapters described above. The modem connected to the Raspberry Pi/Flirc case using a short USB cable. The Raspberry Pi/Flirc case connected to the router (in our case, the CradlePoint MBR1400 broadband router) using a Cat6 Ethernet cable, and the Raspberry Pi/Flirc case plugged into the USB car adapter using a USB micro cable.
When everything was connected, we turned on the router and, using an ethernet connection, set up the router and modem. The modem needed to be put into MBIM mode, and the APN was set to correspond to our data service provider. The APN for Verizon is usually “vzwinternet,” for AT&T it’s typically “broadband,” and for Sprint, “n.ispsn” usually works.
The final step of the installation is running another speed test to see how much your internet connection has improved. You’ll remember that before the upgrades we were at 7.01 Mbps down and 9.80 Mbps up. After the upgrades we got 24.55 Mbps down and 16.02 Mbps up! That’s a significant improvement – one that we’ll definitely notice!
Combined parts and labor for this upgrade, which included me asking a million questions and slowing Scott down, came to $750. For the time and frustration the faster connection will save, we feel it was well worth the investment. And, as you can see, Ty and Buster were beside themselves with delight.