Internet on the Road
- 4G Technology
- Cellular Data Modems and Routers
- MiFi Router
- WiFiRanger Intelligent Router
- "Dream" Cellular Internet System
- Powering Your Devices
- My Setup
The purpose of this section is to provide the information
necessary to make rational decisions on products, with the goal being to
connect to the Internet from your RV. The idea is to make sure that all of
your local devices - computers, tablets, wireless printers, TV, DVR, etc.
only "know" about one network - the local one (LAN). The difference between
your RV and a "home" setup is that in the RV there is the potential for
multiple ways to connect the RV LAN to the Internet, based on where you are.
In a home environment (meaning a "fixed" environment) only one method is
typically used to connect to the Internet - often that is DSL or Cable.
Just as in a home system, the RV LAN is managed by a
router. This is typically a "cellular router", meaning that the router can
have a cellular aircard plugged into it and use that as a method to connect to the
Internet. Most modern cellular routers can also pick up WiFi signals
(hotspots) and use
them to connect to the Internet as well. A perfect example of this is an RV
Park that has a WiFi network - the router in your RV would pick up this WiFi
signal, and use it to connect to the Internet. Or, if the WiFi signal in the
park fails, the router could switch automatically to the cellular
aircard inserted into it.
Ideally, only the router "knows" about the multiple methods of connecting to
the Internet. It manages all of those methods and presents a single network
to your devices. That way the devices do not have to be configured multiple
times as you move locations.
So, what are the methods that the router connects to the Internet with? Park
wifi, cellular modem, or perhaps via conventional wired methods such as DSL
Complicating this is how to best acquire the signal in each case. For wifi,
it is a remote antenna or a CPE (wireless repeater). For an aircard, it is a
wired amp and remote antenna. It is really that simple....
In this section I'll discuss how these work, and some
available solutions. That is where it gets more complicated - as they say,
"the devil is in the details".
Millenicom (www.millenicom.com) is a
reseller of mobile (cellular) broadband. They sell plans on the Sprint and
Verizon 3G and 4G networks. The
Advanced Plan is Verizon. This gives you 20 gigabytes a month with no
contract. You have to buy their MiFi device - you can not use your card, if you have
one. The Unlimited Plan and the BYOD Plan are both Sprint, and
have an effective limit of 50 gigabytes a month. On all the plans you can keep
the cellular modem they supply when you terminate service. There are setup charges, but
no termination charges. There are also no taxes added on each month.
The current plan is offering a 3G/4G
Verizon hotspot capability with a "mifi"-like device that is a
combination wireless router/aircard. You get 10 gigabytes of
4G data and an additional 10 gigabytes of 3G data for
$70/month, with no contracts. The current device is the Verizon 4G Jetpack
4620L (Novatel), but this can vary over time. And, best of all, currently you
can use all 20 gigabytes of data on the 4G network without penalty. That too,
may change over time.
Millenicom can not tell you who provides the network for the various plans -
it is part of their resellers agreement. But the information above is accurate.
On both the Verizon and Sprint service you get full access to the network, just
like a "native" customer. There are no restrictions or throttling of data.
4G is the term coined by
the cellular carriers to refer to the new/next generation of transmission
standards for cellular voice and data. While what is currently available is not
truly 4G by definition of the standards bodies, it is still marketed as 4G to
represent the fact that it requires new equipment, and is significantly faster
than the current 3G technology. Effective actual speeds of Verizon LTE have been
seen in use up to 42 mbps. This is actual use - not theoretical. As the systems
become loaded Verizon says the expected speeds will be in the 5-12 mbps area
(downloads), or perhaps a little faster. Still quite fast compared to today's 3G
speeds, which average in use up to 1.2 mbps or so. I have personally seen
Verizon 4G running at 32
mbps, and commonly see 12 - 15 mbps.
Verizon and Sprint (along with its partner
Clearwire) have the largest 4G networks at the moment. Verizon's service is
called LTE and they started the rollout in December, 2010. It operates initially
on the new 700 MHz bandwidth in many locations - but it can be on any of the
Verizon bands (700, 800 and 1900 mhz). Because it may operate on a different frequency than
the existing network it requires new modems (aircards), perhaps new external antennas,
and new amplifiers. Sprint's service is called Mobile WiMAX and operates on the
2.5 GHz band. It also requires new equipment. While the newer services do
require equipment upgrades, it is worth the trouble and expense for the greater
speed and better integration of voice and data on a pure IP network. From an
end-user perspective through 2012 the issue is the degree of availability of the
networks. Neither network is widespread enough that most RVers will be able to
take advantage of it - yet. By late 2012 this should change. But if you
do frequent areas where 4G is available you will want to take advantage of the
speed. AT&T has an HSPA+ network that has higher speeds than their previous
networks. They are moving to LTE starting in mid 2011, but this will take some
time. While the HSPA+ network is not bad, it is not as widely deployed as the
Verizon network. If you are choosing only one provider for data, my advice is to
choose Verizon. If you can afford multiple plans, then my advice is to get a 4G
aircard on Verizon, and a shared data plan with smartphone on ATT. This will
permit you to use the smartphone with a free hotspot - giving you the best
selection of data networks no matter where you are.
All of the vendors currently provide aircards
that can handle 3G and 4G. The older 3G aircards are no longer sold by the
network providers, but they still work on the networks - you can buy them on
Ebay and from private parties.
So what do you do? (as of July, 2013)
If you are a current
Verizon user of the 3G system Verizon has made moving to 4G attractive by
pricing a 5GB/month 4G data service at $50 ($10 cheaper than your current 3G
service). This can save you money if you are on a 5GB contract and not
grandfathered into the unlimited plan. If you move to the 4G plan, even with an
overage of 1GB for a month (total use 6GB) you would only pay your regular $60,
since data overages on the 4G plan are $10/1 GB. Not a bad deal. And you can get
10 GB for $80. The 4G aircards work on the 3G system with your current
antennas and amps, but if you want those same capabilities on the 4G system you
need additional equipment - the Wilson Sleek is the only 4G amplifier I would
recommend at the current time (review link at the top of page).
Keep that in mind.
Sprint users can get unlimited 4G for $60 a
month and fall back to 5GB of 3G on that plan. So if you frequent a 4G Sprint
area that is a great bargain. Most people will consume more data on 4G because
of the available speeds. But if you are most often in a 3G Sprint area you get
no real benefit from the 4G pricing plan, and Verizon would be a better deal.
And history has shown that Verizon will roll out the network faster and more
broadly than Sprint - another factor to keep in mind.
If you are new Verizon aircard user, you have no
choice but to go to the 4G plan, since they no longer market the 3G data plan
for aircards. Anyone starting service at this time will be on a 4G plan, and 4G
on the Verizon network is very widespread as of the summer of 2013.
The cellular companies constantly change pricing
plans. Verizon's "tiered"-structure data plan is shown below. 3G modems are not shown in the chart, but are still priced at
$50/5GB for current users. New users have to go to 4G and the shared data plan. I included this only to
give you an idea of the data plan structure - you need to go look at the Verizon
plans directly on their website when researching your best option. If you are on
this plan you can remain on it. But new customers must go to the newer "Shared
Data" plan, described below.
Shared Data Plans
confusion to the issue are the "shared" data plans by Verizon and AT&T
(Verizon plan shown on the left). These allow you to buy a "pool" of data
and share it among 10 "devices" - so your aircard no longer comes with 5GB of data a month.
Instead, you are charged a basic monthly fee for the aircard (in the case of
Verizon, $20/month). The data that the aircard uses comes from the "pool" of
data that you purchase separately. In the chart to the left, 6 GB of data cost
you $80/month. Your smartphone also has a monthly device
charge - $40/month on Verizon, and can also share from the same data pool. You
can do this with a tablet also (assuming it is a cellular-enabled tablet) - it
has a device charge of $10/month. If you have a lot of devices that want to use
cellular data the shared data plans can actually be cheaper. It also allows you
to add smartphones that may not be using that much data for a cheaper monthly
cost. How is that, since it is $40/month? Well all minutes and all texting is
now "free" on the shared data plan. So although that second phone is costing you
more per month ($40 vs $30 on the old plan) there is no additional charge for
minutes or texting. It may end up cheaper when you look at the total package
cost. You have to figure it based on your usage.
Moving to the shared data plan is currently optional for
existing customers. You can stay with the tiered "device/data" plan, where you pay for
the device and it includes a certain amount of data, or you can move to the
shared data plan, where the device charge is cheaper, and you buy a pool of data
that all share. New customers MUST go on the shared data plan. If you are an
existing customer and choose to move to the shared data plan, your USB aircard
charge will drop to $20/month. So if you are entitled to a free upgrade get the
4G aircard (or a Jetpack). You have nothing to lose and you will have 4G speeds
Also, don't forget that you still have to fulfill your
contract terms. For example, if you purchase a tablet with cellular capability
from Verizon, you are on a two year contract for $10/month. That is $240 added
to the price of the tablet. That may work well for some, depending on how you
use the tablet. For others, purchasing a WiFi-only tablet on the open market,
and turning on the hotspot on your phone is likely a better deal. Phone
hotspots, minutes and texting are all FREE on the shared data plan.
Modems and Routers
If you want to send data over
their systems the wireless providers
require you to purchase some sort of data plan for use with
a smartphone or to purchase an aircard that acts as a
dedicated cellular modem. For most fulltime RV users, the air card
is the preferred option since it is more flexible than a smartphone.
So what exactly IS an aircard? In simple
terms, the aircard is a dedicated device (actually a modem) that allows you to send data
over the cellular network instead of voice (as with a cell phone). The
cellular provider then takes this data from the cell tower and connects
it to the internet, just like a home-based ISP does. At home, many
people use DSL provided by their local phone companies. There is a
device that the computer plugs into called a DSL modem (often combined
with a wireless router). The aircard takes the place of this DSL modem.
In some regards, the aircard seems very much like a wifi adaptor - it is
a wireless device that allows connection to the internet. But the
technology used is totally different, although the result is the same.
The aircard is inserted into a PC or a
"cellular router" and translates the data into the form that the
cell system that you are subscribed to can understand. All of this
occurs on the same cell towers that voice calls go through, although it
is handled separately. Your air card has it's own "phone number" to identify
it - although normally you do not have to know anything about this
(except for on your bill).
There is currently only one form factor
(physical configuration) of aircards used - a USB plug. The older
Express Card format is no longer used, since all new computers
only have USB slots in them.
As a "companion" to the aircard you can purchase a cellular
router from a third-party supplier to use with your aircard - Verizon,
Sprint do not sell or support conventional cellular routers, with the
exception of the MiFi (or MiFi-like) devices that I cover later. The router performs the same
function as a "normal" home router does, but it is a special device that
"knows about" cellular modems, instead of DSL modems or cable modems.
You can not use your current house router with an aircard - it would
not know how to "talk" to it, any more than a DSL router would know how
to talk to a cable TV network. Using a cellular router allows you to set up a wireless
network just like with a "normal" wireless router. Instead of using DSL
or a cable provider for the backhaul (the attachment to the Internet),
these special cellular routers allow you to plug your aircard into them for the
backhaul. To talk to your computer, the router uses a wifi
connection. You then use your computers wifi connection to access the
Internet, just like with a conventional wifi network. (So, from your
computer to the cellular router you use wifi; from the cellular router
to the internet you use the cellular data system via the aircard.)
The advantage of
using the router is multifold:
Multiple computers can share your aircard connection.
Your aircard is protected from damage,
since it is not being moved around a lot.
It is more convenient to connect the aircard to an external antenna and/or amplifier.
You can hardwire a desktop into the LAN
port on the router via Ethernet, if required. Or hardwire other
devices like a printer or NAS (Network Attached Storage).
Your laptop battery will last longer
than having the aircard directly connected.
If you have a trailer, the internet
connection can be used while driving without moving the aircard to
the truck. Everything stays in its place, only your computer is
moved to the truck.
You do NOT have to load Verizon
software (VZ Access Manager) on your computer.
If you are thinking of an aircard instead
of a satellite system, or as an alternative to just using WiFi, there are a number of things
Most important is the supplier. The
cellular companies do not support use of cellular routers other than
the mifi-like devices. It is
best to use a third party supplier that can provide proper technical
support. Personally, I like the
have proven over the years to give superb customer service/support,
and their prices are good.
Which network provider: ATT and
Verizon have the fastest data networks and the most towers. Verizon may
arguably have the better system, since they are rolling out the
4G broadband faster than ATT, but both are good. Under the current
roll-out schedule Verizon is saying the ALL towers will be 4G by
mid-2013. While the 4G network is best on Verizon the combination of
3G and 4G on ATT does provide excellent coverage. Millenicom,
discussed in the 4G section, has excellent 3G and 4G plans through both
Verizon and Sprint. Consider this if you MUST have the best available coverage at
all times: a Jetpack on Verizon via WiFiRanger WFRConnect
(Millenicom 20 gigabyte service) in COMBINATION with an ATT
smartphone with a free hotspot and whatever data plan meets your
needs. This way you have access to both networks.
Which technology: 3G networks are
available everywhere at the moment - all carriers support 3G. 4G is
the newer "emerging" technology that allows greater speeds.
The time has come to buy for 4G, so do not buy anything that is ONLY
3G capable. Including amplifiers and antennas.
External antenna: ideally, the chosen air card
or mifi should have an external antenna port. You WILL need the external
antenna in many areas. Make sure that the adaptor cable you need to
connect to the antenna cable from the aircard is
available. If purchasing a 4G aircard, it should have separate
antenna ports for 3G and 4G, since they use different antennas
(although there are some antennas that cover all the frequencies).
Does the card have an inbuilt antenna
that can be moved around (and raised) for better reception. This can
be critical for best speed but is not as important if always
connected to a router and external antenna.
Does the card work with the router you
want. Even if you don't feel you need a router right now, you ought
to at least tentatively pick one out and factor that into your
decision process. Not all aircards will work with all routers.
Cost is always an issue. Don't
pay for features you do not need.
Important: This is my opinion only, take it for what it is worth. Do not
shop price on a router and aircard. Shop service. Especially if you are
not a networking expert. If and when something goes wrong you need
someone to call.
Because we fulltime in our RV, and space is
at a premium I initially chose a very compact router.
I bought the CradlePoint CRT350 (now replaced by the CTR35) and a USB aircard to go with it.
For the aircard I chose the Verizon USB727 (made by Novatel) because of
the compact form factor, the ability to use a microSD card with it, and
the fact that it has a very good loop antenna should I choose to use it
without the external antenna. Choosing an aircard today, look for a 4G
aircard. I own the Pantech UML 290, which has the reputation as one of
the better 4G aircards at the time of this writing.
CRT350 is very small, as you can see from the pictures (click to enlarge). Some
of the cons of this router are: no external wifi antenna so you can not improve
the wifi coverage area with an antenna, it requires a USB aircard and it only supports one LAN connection (for connecting via
Ethernet to a desktop, for example). I bought this technology in (around)
2008. Today you have far better choices. But you still need to consider the same
In January 2011 I bought a WiFiRanger (with my own money -
this was not a test device). That is
currently my first choice in a cellular router for RV use, and what I personally
use. There is more info on
this router below.
Along with the proper adaptor cable to hook the
external antenna connector on the USB727 to my amplifier, I also purchased the
optional car adaptor for the router. This allows me to hook the router to a
12-volt power source and permanently install it in my RV. In my case I
originally installed it under the refrigerator where my cellular amplifier lives. The advantage
of this is that I always had an internet connection available - even if boondocking or driving down the road. The signal from the internal wifi antenna
on the CRT350 was good enough to get through the solid metal cab of my truck
without a problem. The picture to the left (from the 3GStore) shows how the four
pieces combine to make a complete system. Those are not the exact components I
used - but you get the idea. The router hooked to the amp and external antenna maximizes
my cellular data signal and allows me to keep connected longer and with faster
speeds than just the internal air card antenna. This allowed Danielle to use the
laptop to check fuel prices, campgrounds, etc. while we are driving. Plus, it is kind
of neat to see an email pop up while driving down the road ....With the WiFiRanger I set it up in a similar fashion. It is always connected in the same
location (my communications cabinet) in the RV. We never move it.
It used to be that if you exceeded the 5GB of data that
Verizon includes with its non-shared data plan you could be cut off. Now, you simply get charged
$10 for each additional GB of data.
Or, if you are on a shared data plan, you get charged $15/gigabyte of data for
overages. But what does 5GB mean to the "normal" user? Five gigabytes a month is 166 MB a
day - every day. You would be unlikely to exceed this limit unless you were
downloading/uploading very large files routinely, downloading movies, or
streaming a lot of video or audio. Software updates can be large so you might
consider turning off the automatic download feature and manage software
downloads when you are on a wifi system, or when you know the size. The
(part of the 3GStore) has
a good table of what different types of online activity cost in data sizes. It
should give you a good feeling about the 5 GB limit. If you are just surfing the
web, doing email, updating websites and blogs, and occasionally viewing YouTube
videos, then you should never exceed the 5 GB limit. If, however, you run a
business online that requires large file uploads, lots of photos, or constant
video streaming, then you need to investigate a little closer. I suggest that if
you have not had an aircard in the past, and decide to get one, that you monitor
your usage on the Verizon website on a daily basis. This will give you a very
good idea of what you are using, and you can adjust your data plan as needed.
You can adjust your plan online as often as you like - with no service charges -
to ensure you do not exceed your plan limits.
MiFi and Jetpack Wireless Router/Modem
Sprint, AT&T and Millenicom all offer the MiFi for Internet access. The MiFi is a small device that combines a wireless router and cellular modem
(aircard) into one device. It is battery-driven, or can be plugged into AC or DC
for static location use. The battery lasts about 3-4 hours, or more, depending
on use. The device is small enough to slip into a shirt pocket for “walk-around”
hotspot capability – or just throw it on the dash of your car. It allows any WiFi-capable device (like an iPod Touch, iPad,
Android tablet, or Droid phone for example) to connect to the Internet without
any cables or other modifications. All in your
pocket. On Verizon the data plan pricing is slightly cheaper than an aircard on
the individual service, and on the shared data plan it is the same price as an aircard. However, the equipment
cost is less than an aircard and separate router. All the providers now have a
3G/4G device available. On Verizon/Millenicom it is the Jetpack 4620L, shown to the
For the travelling RVer this device at first blush seems
like a great alternative to an aircard/cellular router combination. But for
most RVers I do not think it is the right choice. But if my issues with it are
not applicable to you it may work very well. Only YOU can balance the
pros/cons and determine what works the best in your circumstances.
- There is no antenna port on the
older MiFi. So a wired
antenna/amplifier is not able to be used. If you currently have an antenna
and amp, it is useless. Alternative: you can get an amplifier with an
inductance patch antenna - these use a small patch that attaches onto the
MiFi with Velcro to pick up the signal. You attach it over the antenna
location on the MiFi. Look at the Wilson SignalBoost Model 811211 for an
example of these. The new Verizon 4510L 4G MiFi has an external antenna
adaptor that handles a combined 3G/4G antenna. So with the newer technology
the lack of an antenna is no longer a barrier to use of the MiFi. You can
also insert the MiFi into a Wilson Sleek 4G, that I reviewed above. If I was to
use the Jetpack I would put it into the Sleek 4G cradle for best
- The MiFi does not allow a physical Ethernet connection
– there are no Ethernet ports on it. Only wireless connections are
supported. This is not an issue unless you have wired devices you would like
to attach, or unless you would like to tether it via Ethernet. It will only
tether via USB. And when tethered it only supports that one computer – WiFi
is not enabled when tethered. You CAN tether it to a Pepwave or WiFiRanger
cellular router, though.
- WiFi range is limited. About 30’ in
most cases. If this
is enough then fine, however, the many of the cellular routers have enough range for
you to use them while driving down the road in your RV, or outside around
your site. While the MiFi can be moved around to accommodate those needs, it
is easier to set something up and leave it in place.
- Only ten simultaneous connections are available. That
may be an issue for some people, what with iPod Touches, iPhones, iPads,
wireless printers, wifi enabled cameras, storage (NAS backup), and other
devices wanting to share the local network.
- You are locked into one piece of hardware that
performs two primary functions. There is no way to upgrade just the router
or just the modem. As more advanced functions are available in either area,
you will not be able to selectively upgrade. For some, that is not a
consideration, but you should be aware of it.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, there are lots of hardware and
software issues with all of the mifi devices.
Most people purchasing a MiFi on today's market are going
to be using 4G at least part of the time. Boosting a 4G signal is problematic at
the moment. The only practical way to do it with the Jetpack is to use a Wilson
Sleek 4G, which will provide some measure of boost to 3G and 4G bands.
I wrote a review on the Wilson Sleek that you can find at
the top of this page in the Resource section.
If you ARE interested in a Jetpack or comparable device,
my suggestion is to closely look at the WFRConnect package from WiFiRanger. This
is described below; it combines a Jetpack with a WFR router of your
choice, and a cellular data plan from Millenicom with 20 gigabytes of data a
month. All with no contract. A viable alternative to this bundle is a Pepwave
SOHO bundled with the Millenicom service - available from the 3GStore. Look at
the attributes of the two routers carefully to see what works best for your
One note on the
Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Booster.
If you use this cradle with a phone you
either have to use the speakerphone or a headset/bluetooth adaptor for the car
Moving the SIM Card
The Jetpack is available from Verizon and
from Millenicom. If sticking with Verizon for your service I don't
recommend getting the Jetpack, for reasons stated above - simply get
the Pantech UML290 aircard instead. If purchasing from Millenicom
you have no choice, at the moment - the Verizon service comes only
with the Jetpack. Because the Jetpack is so problematic it is not
really a viable modem, in my opinion. To use the Millenicom package,
I would simply remove the micro sim from the Jetpack and move it to
a "purchased" UML290. You can find these on ebay or Amazon for
around $50 - just make sure they have a "clean ESN". Then get a SIM
so you can put the micro sim into the larger sim slot of the UML290.
Shown above, left to right:
WiFiRanger Home, WiFiRanger Mobile with "clamp mount",
Let me be
perfectly clear: for most people one of the WiFiRanger (WFR) routers is the one you should
have....read more on why I think so, below. I may seem to be pushing the
WiFiRanger - but that is based on its merits, not because I have anything to do
with the company (other than acting as a beta tester). There is no other product
available that performs all the functions of the WFR with a simple user
of November 1, 2012 BlueMesh Networks (makers of WiFiRanger products) has agreed
to give readers of this website a 5% discount on any WiFiRanger product. To get
your discount enter WFRMAYER in the coupon/discount area on their website. I get
nothing from this - but if enough people order using that code, perhaps a larger
discount will be given in the future :)
is a family of products that enhance connection to wireless (WiFi) networks. It
consists of routers and associated radio products that pick up wifi signals,
enhance them, and then repeat them for your use on a LAN. Like home routers
they provide for a local
network for your use, with both wired and wireless capabilities. What distinguishes
the WFR products from
conventional home routers is their
ability to keep you connected to the Internet in a mobile environment, as well
as a fixed environment like a house. They do this by picking up wifi hotspot
signals that are too weak for other equipment to capture, and they also permit
you to attach a cellular modem for connection to the Internet when wifi hotspots are not available.
What differentiates the WiFiRanger family of products from other devices that
perform similar functions is 1) the very simple user interface, 2) the ability
to capture wifi signals from hotspots that other devices can not even see, and
3) the "Fusion" capability that permits groups of WiFiRanger routers to
communicate as if on a single local LAN, even if they are continents apart.
At the present time there are three versions of the WiFiRanger routers available: the
WiFiRanger Home, the WiFiRanger X and WiFiRanger Go. The Home is the former
WiFiRanger Pro, and is based on Ubiquity hardware. The newer Go is a more
powerful router based on MicroTik hardware. The Go has better receive
sensitivity and transmit power than the Home. Thus it can capture wifi better,
and provide a longer-range LAN. Personally, I think there are enough advantages to the Go that it is
the one I recommend in all cases. Be aware that for towable RVs, the Home
wireless network will be marginal in the tow vehicle. The Go will be easily
accessed in the tow vehicle, so you can access the Internet while underway without
changes to your network.
The newest router is the WiFIRanger X. It is
a variant of the Home router that targets the small office and
mobile environments (SOMO). It has some features that enhance it's
use in these environments:
MeshView provides multisite cloud-based
5dbi removable antenna is standard, you
can upgrade this if required (RP-SMA connector). This provides
better range than a Go router alone (without a Mobile).
420 mw power
Additional features for a mobile office
such as tagging, ranging, auto login and Fusion VPN)
For most users in the RV environment the external antenna will be the most useful feature. I
have an X, but have not tested it against the Go, yet.
The first picture above is the WiFiRanger Home. It comes with a power
supply and a short extension cable for a customer-supplied USB cellular modem. Make sure you use
the extension cable, or you could damage the aircard. You can get a 12-volt
power supply as well as the 120-volt one if you prefer to hook directly to
The second picture shows a WiFiRanger Mobile mounted to my
batwing antenna. The Mobile and Marine are auxiliary radio/antenna devices whose
purpose is to pick up more distant access points or hotspots, and repeat them to
the WiFiRanger Home or Go routers for redistribution across your network. These
are not just antennas, but powerful radios in and of themselves. They
communicate to your Home/Go via Ethernet cable, or wirelessly.
The WiFiRanger is pretty simple to set up. Basically
plug it all in, insert your aircard and turn it on. It could not be simpler. If
you have an open wifi hotspot visible it will even automatically connect,
straight out of the box. Once you are running you will likely want to make some
configuration changes. The user interface is very simple - the entire thing is
designed for networking novices. So the acronyms and "network talk" are kept to
a minimum. If you are uncomfortable reading all the technical stuff here, then
the one of the WiFiRanger products is your best bet. It is as simple as it can get.
The WiFiRanger routers can connect to the Internet via:
- 3G cellular modem
- 4G cellular modem (like Verizon LTE)
- Tethered phone (certain models), and tethered
- WiFi (called WiFi for WAN)
- Cable modem
what is it? Tethering is a physical connection between a device and a
router, typically via a USB cord. It allows the device to pass data via that
wire to the router, instead of wirelessly. This speeds up the connection, since
a wireless signal does not have to be processed.
So what else can they do?
- The local WLAN (wireless LAN) is an "N" network. The
routers supports B, G and N wireless standards on the LAN. They use MIMO antenna
technology and a radio with 19dBm/79mW of power (Home and "X"), or 27 dBm/500 mW
(Go), for better range. In difficult
reception conditions the router can often connect to wifi networks that your
laptop alone could not.
- One USB port for your 3G or 4G cellular modem
- On the Home/X there are four LAN ports for your hardwired devices
and one WAN port, where you plug in your satellite, DSL, or cable modem. Or,
you can also use this WAN port to extend your wifi capture via the Mobile or
Marine boost device.
- On the Go there is one port for WAN, and three ports
for LAN, plus one powered port for a secondary radio device like the Mobile,
Marine or SKY to connect to. This powered port eliminates a second power
supply for the rooftop device.
- The Go has the ability to connect an external antenna
to boost it's range without connecting another radio set like the
Mobile/Marine. The Home has no such capability.
- You can have cellular, WiFi and a broadband modem
(DSL, Cable or Satellite) all connected at the same time. You can specify
the active connection path to the Internet, and the preferred order of use
of the others, if your primary connection fails. This capability is called
- You can have a local wireless network that is a
private LAN and another wireless network that is a public LAN.
You can share the public LAN and keep it separate from your private LAN. So
users on the public network can not access your computers, printers, network
storage or other devices.
- The router saves your login credentials for secured
wifi hotspots, or for unsecured hotspots requiring login (like the Tengo service
found in many RV parks). It can automatically log you into these when they
are in range. You can specify the order of use.
- The router automatically scans for wireless networks.
It allows you to set up automatic connections based on various criteria like
- It can connect directly to 12-volt power.
- You can easily connect multiple WFR routers together
across the Internet to make up an
extended private network. They communicate with each other to provide a seamless
single network to the end user. This would allow you to access file storage
at home if you were travelling in your RV, for example. This capability is called "Fusion".
When would I use a WiFiRanger (WFR) product?
- A WFR router can replace any cellular router that handles
a single cellular modem. It can not replace a multi-modem cellular router if
you need that feature. Most people do not need to run multiple aircards at
the same time, so the WFR effectively replaces most cellular routers.
- If you want to extend your ability to connect to wifi
networks this is the best device available. Why? Because it has an
integrated ability to use wifi as your Internet connection, easy
configuration, auto-failover to your cellular modem, and MOST IMPORTANT,
it has the Mobile/Marine boosting capability. No other product has such an integrated capability to
boost your wifi signal.
- If you want a single LAN that all your devices
connect to this is likely the best router family for you. Mainly because it has a
good wireless radio, an excellent MIMO antenna, and very good range.
Allowing all your devices to connect to just your local LAN and never having
to reconfigure them as you move locations is a very convenient
feature. The Home does not have an external wireless antenna for your local LAN,
so if you need extreme range locally you need to evaluate this router
carefully. For your local network the Home should provide connections within
any RV, or just outside it. If you want to
extend the range of your LAN you should choose the Go, which has more
- You could use either WFR router (depending on range) to simplify sharing a
common Internet connection with a close neighbor via the "mesh" feature. Only one location would
need an Internet connection. The second location would use the WFR to pick
up the wireless signal and repeat it locally. While you can do the same
thing with other technology, the WFR makes setup and management far simpler.
What competes with the WiFiRanger?
- The Cradlepoint CTR35, MBR95, MBR1400 and other
Cradlepoint routers in the new NetBSD OS family have WiFi as WAN (ability to
repeat a wifi signal, as well as the ability to handle cellular modems. But
they do not have the Mobile/Marine capability to "boost" your wifi signal. The Pepwave Surf OTG
and SOHO also have WiFi as WAN and a cellular modem capability and are probably the closest in function to the WFR
products. But the OTG has limited router function, and less ability to capture
signal. You can
read a test report I did on the Pepwave Surf OTG
here. The SOHO has the closest capabilities to the WFR Go, and is a very
nice router. There is a test report on the SOHO
When would I NOT buy the WiFiRanger?
- Frankly, there is little reason not to buy it. For
most people that need a mobile router it will be a good choice. However
there are some things to consider.
- Size: it is bigger than the CTR35 or the MiFi/Jetpack. The
MiFi/Jetpack can not act as a wifi hotspot repeater, but for the ultimate in cellular mobility you
can't beat the size of the MiFi.
- It can not perform load balancing across multiple
cellular devices like the Cradlepoint CTR500, MBR1000 or MBR1200 can. Most people do not
need this feature. For more on load balancing see the excellent article on
EVDOInfo.com (if the link is broken look at the MBR1200 router
- Make sure the WFR router handles your aircard. It only works
with USB cards.
- It may not handle your physically tethered phone. If you need to
tether, make sure this will meet your needs. You can always connect a phone
hotspot to the WFR routers - but that does result in some speed loss.
below, WiFiRanger Go (in white) on top of WiFiRanger Home
Shown to the left is my "communications closet". You can
see the two WiFiRanger routers in the center - the Home is on the bottom, and
the Go is the white box on top of it. Unless I'm testing, I only use the Go - it
is a superior router in my opinion. You can not see it, but my USB 4G LTE Pantech
(Verizon) modem is plugged into the Go with a 4' USB cord and is velcro'ed on the
upper part of the cabinet door. All my equipment is connected straight to 12
volt power - you can see the fuse center upper/right. The other router you see
is an older Cradlepoint 1000. That is my basis of comparison - the 1000 is a very
reliable and capable router, so I test against it. Not shown are some other
routers I test against - Cradlepoint 1200, 95, 900, 35, 350. I also have most of
the Pepwave products (AP, Mini, OTG, SOHO).
If you look carefully, you will see two cat5 cables coming
out a hole in the lower left of the picture. These go into a 1.5" conduit
to a junction box on the roof and connect to various devices. At the moment, only the
Mobile is being used (in the picture nothing is plugged into the router). The blue cat5
connects to a 4 terabyte NAS drive (2x2 mirrored) on the shelf above.
The Go router has more than enough range for me to connect
to it while driving - and that is through a metal back wall on the truck. Thus,
I never have to change the network devices to have Internet while in motion.
You may hear of "issues" using the WiFiRanger routers.
They have an innovative and easy to use interface to a complex set of "back-end"
capabilities. This interface shields the user from having to understand complex
networking issues. But it can also introduce issues. I have to say, that the
latest firmware (6.6.3) is pretty good and it keeps improving. The only real problem I
have seen is that you have to occasionally reboot (power cycle) the router. How
often varies, but I tend to do it every several days, prior to the 6.6.3
firmware. No big deal. I think it is
associated with a memory leak in the firmware code, because if you leave the
user interface to the router configuration running then you have to power cycle
more often. But that is just a guess. Nevertheless, it is a an easy issue to
"work around", and the benefits of using the router are so great that it is
worth rebooting once in awhile. Note that since 6.6.3 the reboot requirement is
greatly diminished. I have rarely had to reboot the 6.6.3 firmware.
all the products I own I run the WiFiRanger Go.
WiFiRanger Mobile - deck mount, above;
ladder mount, right
The purpose of the WFR Mobile or WFR Marine is simple - it captures a wifi signal from a
hotspot, sends it to the WiFiRanger router, and then it is repeated for your
personal network. The first generation of the WiFiRanger product family had a
WFRBoost Mobile and WFRBoost Fixed for capturing distant wifi hotspots. The boost Mobile is now
called the WiFiRanger Mobile and there is a version with a higher-performing
antenna called the Marine. They perform the same functions - the Marine has a
better antenna on it for the more challenging marine environment. Both the
Mobile and Marine are based on Ubiquity Bullet hardware with proprietary WiFiRanger firmware running the show.
The WFRBoost Fixed is no longer available. If you have an older WFRBoost you can
use it with the newer routers - it is still compatible.
The Mobile has a 28dBm/600mW radio with a 3dBi omni
antenna. The Marine has a 28dBm/600mW radio and an 8dBi omni antenna. The only
difference is the antenna.
WiFiRanger routers have the ability to interact seamlessly with the Mobile or
Marine. The Mobile and Marine are a separate
carrier-grade radio with its own antenna that is able to act as a wifi repeater.
It picks up the wifi signal with its powerful antenna and then sends it via an
Ethernet cable up to 250' to the WiFiRanger. Or if configured properly it can
send the signal wirelessly. There the original wifi signal is repeated on the local WLAN for your use. This provides the ability to capture wifi from much greater
distances than just using the WiFiRanger Home or Go router by itself. If you read the section on
CPEs (Customer Premises Equipment), below, you will understand that the WFRBoost is a
carrier-grade device configured as a CPE (in the case shown here a Ubiquity
Until now it has been very difficult for people not
experienced with networking to configure and manage CPEs . The WiFiRanger software integrates the configuration and management of the
Mobile/Marine into a single Control Panel with a simple web interface. It greatly
simplifies dealing with a set of complex network devices and allows the average
user to gain the benefit that formerly was only available to those willing to
learn enough about networking to deal with setting up these devices.
The set of pictures just above shows the roof mount version of
the Mobile on the left. The more common mounting method is also shown - it is a ladder-mount clamp.
The ladder mount is used to mount to the batwing antenna shown in the picture at the start of the
If you plan on capturing WiFi signals with the WiFiRanger
then I strongly suggest that you consider the merits of a Mobile/Marine to do so.
While the Go router has a very good radio/antenna set in it, it is still not as
capable as a when it is combined with a Mobile. However, if you are just looking
to "improve" capture in an RV park or other environment where your laptop alone
can connect to the AP (access point, or hotspot) then the Go alone may be
sufficient. You could start with it an then add a Mobile if required.
The WiFiRanger Mobile or Marine overcome ALL of the issues with wifi signal
capture in RVs.
- It is located on the roof, so it has better
line-of-sight to the wifi hotspot
- It has a very good antenna, so it performs better
- It uses Ethernet Cat5 cable to connect to the
WiFiRanger router, so there is no signal attenuation like found with a remotely
mounted router antenna (such as Jefa routers with an antenna extension).
- It has a powerful radio; the Mobile/Marine has a 600mW radio
with automatic power negotiation. Contrast
this to the typical laptop antenna with a 10-15mW radio. This allows for
longer-distance transmissions to the WiFi Access Point (hotspot).
- The Mobile/Marine has a very good radio receiver
in it. It is far more sensitive than most consumer wifi radios, so it
can operate at longer distances from the hotspot.
is a packaging of various WiFiRanger products with Millenicom cellular data
service. The device used for cellular connection is the Novatel Jetpack 4620L 3G/4G mobile
hotspot on the Verizon network. This comes pre-packaged with a 20GB data limit
(10GB on 3G and 10GB on 4G). There is no contract and the price of the Jetpack
hardware is included in the package price. You do pay a $69.99 monthly charge to
Millenicom, but that is a total price - no taxes as you would have with Verizon.
You can buy this package with the Jetpack and one of the
following: 1) the Go router, 2) the Mobile (no router, the Jetpack or Mobile is
configured for that function), 3) the Go and the Mobile.
This is an outstanding all-in-one solution. Since there is
no contract required, if the Jetpack is replaced with a superior modem in the
future it is a simple matter to change to it. The only "negative" associated
with using a Jetpack is that the extra wireless "hop" does affect performance.
Since the 6.3.3 firmware you can directly tether the Jetpack to the WiFiRanger,
eliminating the wireless "hop".
Just an example of the capabilities:
- Without the Mobile, in one park my WiFiRanger Home picked
up 8 SSIDs (access points). With the Mobile activated I could see 54 SSIDs. That is quite a difference.
(There were 15 park APs. The rest were private routers in homes or other
- In another case, using the Mobile I logged into an RV Park
wifi network 1.1 miles from my RV. I was slightly higher than the park and
had clear line-of-sight to the park APs. My signal rssi was -86 dBi.
- Using the same equipment as the Mobile but with a
different antenna, I have
established connections between two points 5 miles apart. You won't be able
to pick up APs that far away - I just used this as an example of the power
of the units. But using a Mobile or Marine will greatly enhance your ability
to pick up wifi. And if the Access Point you want to pick up is transmitting
with enough power, and the landscape allows, connecting at over two miles
should not be a problem.
No other mobile router on
the market has a device like this integrated with it. This is a unique
capability and it alone is reason enough to buy a WiFiRanger Home or Go, in my
click to expand
are more pictures of the Mobile in my
Picasa Album, along with an example of mounting a home-built version of the
Mobile on a batwing.
the more technically inclined, the Mobile is a Ubiquity Bullet. The Mobile
version (Bullet) is married to a short Laird omni antenna and mounted on a nice
aluminum mount that can mount to your ladder or to your batwing.
Shown in the picture series above on the far left is a
Bullet, and a Bullet with an 8dbi omni antenna mounted to it, much like the
Marine. The second picture
is my "homebuilt" Mobile that was used for testing the WiFiRanger firmware before the WiFiRanger hardware was available, temporarily mounted to the ladder of my RV. The
third picture shows a Bullet mounted to a painters pole. This is a temporary
mount - strap it to the ladder once it is raised. The fourth picture shows a
Bullet held in a commercial bracket intended for mounting Access Points. This mount can hold things in any position.
You can use the Nanostation in place of the Mobile if you want a directional capability.
In fact, you can use any AirOS device that can be placed in Station mode (don't
worry if you don't understand this - it's for the "techies"). You can also use a Bullet with
your antenna of choice (directional or omni).
If you would like to build your own equivalent hardware
package to the Mobile/Marine take a look at
Building a WiFi Capture Device. I recommend that you buy the commercial version, though.
If I could start over again and money was no object
then this is what I would buy. Make sure you check these items out for yourself
- things change rapidly in electronics and this may not be current info, or it
may not be applicable to your needs. Be especially careful to understand
the router and its features/limitations as they apply to you.
Provider: Verizon. I've recently given up my
grandfathered "unlimited" aircard plan as moved to the shared data plan.
For many people Millenicom/Verizon will be the best package.
Aircard: These days 4G service is a requirement. I would use whatever the latest 4G USB aircard was, ensuring that it had
an antenna port. At the moment that is the Pantech UML290. If you use
Millenicom for your service and get a Jetpack you can buy a UML290
outright on Ebay for around $50 and move the sim card from the Jetpack to
the Pantech and have a far more reliable system than the Jetpack
Cellular Router: WiFiRanger Go. This handles
3G and 4G networks. If I did not want the Go, then the Pepwave Surf SOHO from
Amplifiers: Because wireless 4G amplifiers are
about to be launched, I would wait for them to be available. If I needed an amp right now then the
Wilson Sleek 4G is about the only rational choice.
Antennas: It depends on the mounting location,
see discussion in the antenna section. For permanent mount on RV roof, the Wilson RV. For side mount or temporary mount, the
Maximum Signal Super Trucker. For use on a car the Maximum Signal magnetic
mount. For 4G (Verizon 750 mhz) many of the available antennas cover this
frequency, but you have to check the specifications carefully.
A Viable Alternative
- Smartphone Hotspots
Since many (if not most) people have smartphones today -
either Android or iPhones - there is a viable alternative for Internet access
using your phones hotspot. All cellular phones/providers make available what is
known as a "hotspot" capability for the phone. This uses the cellular data
system to connect to the Internet, and it uses the phones wifi capability to
broadcast a local network that 5-10 devices can connect to. With this capability
you do not need a cellular router or aircard. That saves you considerable money,
and with the hotspots now "free" with the shared data plans it is a solution
that may work for some users. What is the downside? First, if the phone goes, so
does the hotspot. If each person has a phone that can run a hotspot, that can be
overcome. But the network name will change, very likely. Also, there is no
provision to hardwire devices like with a router.
Combining this hotspot capability on the phone with the
WiFiRanger Go router offers a very nice solution. The Go can "failover"
automatically between Internet connections. So if you are normally on Park WiFi
and that becomes unavailable, your phone could be the secondary connection. And
if that phone is unavailable, the second phone can be used. Automatically. This
way the network name stays the same, and if one phone leaves the area the other
is automatically used. The only downside to this is that both phones must have
the hotspot running - this uses quite a bit of battery, so you would want the
phones to be plugged into a charger.
This covers connectivity - but what about amplification of
the cellular signal? To provide this you would use a wireless cellular
amplifier. The 4G versions of these are expected to be available in September
Using this solution can save you the cost of an aircard, but
it does add some complexity. And an aircard is only $20/month on the shared data
plan....so it may not be worth it.
First, it is helpful to understand a little about
how wifi works, some of the jargon, and the technical limitations of the
technology. Wifi is a two-way radio system that operates on the 2.4 GHz
and 5 GHz bands. For our purposes, we will assume that we are dealing
with 2.4 GHz radios, since that is what is commonly used by a consumer
device - although that is "starting" to change. As the ac standard
starts deploying you will see many more devices that handle 5GHz.
Like any radio system, it takes “two to tango” – the wifi radio
in your laptop, smartphone, tablet or other device has to “talk to” the
Access Point (AP) set up by the provider of the wifi system. (Note:
Access Points are also referred to as "hotspots". The terms are
often used interchangeably.) This AP
(Access Point) is the radio that eventually connects you back to the
Internet. If this provider is an outside company selling/providing the
service they are generically referred to as the WISP (Wireless Internet
Service Provider). Examples of a WISP might be Tengo (a popular RV park
wireless provider), a city-wide wifi system, or a provider of wifi to a
hotel complex. When WISP’s set up wireless networks in geographically
distributed areas there are often “dead spots” in radio coverage. These
areas may have signal available, but to most wifi devices the signal is
not strong enough to effectively use. In many cases a CPE device
(Customer Premises Equipment) is used by the WISP to pull the signal in
rather than put in more APs. This is cheaper for the operator and more
effective for the end user in most cases. More about these CPEs later.
Before you can connect to any wifi network you have to
discover the network. One of the best tools for seeing what wifi networks are
available around you is
inSSIDer, which is free wifi scanning software. It will tell you lots of
things about the network that many of the tools that are included with your
computer will not.
OK, enough of the acronyms. Now that we have a little
background info, let’s look at what affects your wifi experience. Since we are
dealing with radios, the obvious things are power, and blocking the
line-of-sight to the AP. Radio waves at the 2.4 GHz frequency are pretty easily
blocked by dense objects like cement walls, anything with water in them, and
metal (the 5 GHz frequency is even worse). The typical RV park is a pretty hostile environment: you have an RV
with (perhaps) metal sides next to you that blocks your line-of-sight (LOS) to
the AP, and you are in trees. The trees have water in the
leaves/needles/branches, which is very bad for signal propagation. In
addition, you are using a laptop or other device with a weak radio in it, and
you are often pretty far (in relative terms) from the AP. Providing wifi
in a typical RV park is a very challenging technical problem from both from the
providers view, and the consumers view – which is why so many people experience issues
In summary, the issues with wifi are typically (in order):
Weak radio in laptop
Poor antenna in laptop
Line of sight to the AP is compromised (this covers
issues with trees, hills, buildings, RVs blocking the signal and height of
A Better WiFi Adaptor
The typical laptop or consumer wifi-enabled device has a
radio in it with 10-15mW (milliwatts) of power (or less). And the antenna is
built into the device, which is not the optimal situation. The simplest and
cheapest way to improve wifi performance is to replace this radio and antenna
set with an improved wifi adaptor with an external antenna - these connect to
the computer through a USB cable. This new adaptor
should have more power output, and a higher performing antenna on it – it might
even have a directional antenna (like a panel) that you have to point at the
signal source (the AP). Simply turn off the in-built wifi adaptor, and follow
the instructions for installing and using the new one. It is pretty simple –
everyone should be able to do this. Look for an adaptor with at least 200mW of
power, a removable antenna and the ability to plug in a longer USB cable.
Plugging in a longer cable (up to a 16’ passive cable) allows you to position
the new adaptor in the best location for reception – like maybe high in a window
of your RV. Note that you are now “tethered” to the device – you have a cord
coming from the laptop to the device, so it somewhat limits mobility. And you
have only improved that one laptops connection.
The picture shows an
Alpha adaptor (Alfa
AWUS036NH), but there are other good adaptors on
the market. Often these come with a more powerful antenna - as pictured there is
a 9dbi magnetic mount antenna included with the adaptor, as well as the inbuilt one
(which is removable). This particular Alpha has a 2000mW radio. Although
testing shows it does not perform at that level, it is still a very powerful
radio. The online price is usually around $40. There is a similar 1000mW version
of the Alpha that is usually cheaper, and adequate for this application. Popular manufacturers of these high-power external adaptors
are Alpha, Orinoco, RealTek, and Hawking.
has high-powered adaptors for reasonable prices. I have several Alpha USB
adaptors and they do make a big difference in areas where you can see the signal
on your laptop, but can not connect reliably.
Typically, these better adaptors are used with a longer USB
cable to position them on the side of the RV where the AP is. Often they are
mounted to a window - either with included suction cup mounts, or with Velcro.
You can get a "passive" USB cable up to 16'. If you need a USB cable over 16’ look
at some of the “active” cables like
this one that allows for 10 meters between your laptop and the adaptor. Just
make sure anything you buy in an extension cable has the correct ends on it. Why
would you need such a long cable? Remember that line-of-sight to the Access
Point is critical for best reception, and having the long cable allows you the
option of better positioning the adapter. These adapters are not waterproof, but
they can be put into glad storage containers (or Rubbermaid containers) and
positioned on the roof of the RV if required. They can even be elevated on
painters poles like shown for the Wilson cellular antenna in the
Antenna section earlier
on this page. You just need to make sure you weatherproof them.
A simple USB adaptor is typically an under $50
solution, but it is for a single device. What if you want to be able to support
multiple devices at the same time? Well, you could deploy multiple USB adaptors
if you are just dealing with laptops – but these don’t work for many other
wifi-enabled devices. Usually, with multiple devices you want a local area
network (LAN) that all your devices connect to, and then that connects to the
Internet through an aircard or wifi. This allows all your devices to just know about your
network and you don’t have to keep changing things around on individual
devices when you find another wifi network to access the Internet. But now you
“get to” manage a network of your own. This can keep you up at night when things
Improved Radio with Local LAN
While an external USB adaptor can greatly improve your wifi
experience, it only works for the single computer that it is attached to. It
will not help you with your other devices. For that you need to supply your own
local network that all of your devices can connect to. The wifi network you
connect through will supply the Internet service for your local LAN, and you
will then redistribute this on your local wireless/wired network for your other
devices. This is the same as using a cable modem or DSL modem to supply your
Internet "backhaul" and then redistributing it. The difference is that you are
using the RV Park or other providers wifi signal for the connection to the
Internet, instead of a "hard wired" backhaul like DSL or cable. Some
manufacturers of devices are calling this ability to use wifi as the backhaul
WiFi as WAN. This expression comes from using the wifi connection as the
Wide Area Network (WAN) - in this context WAN simply means the source of the
Internet connection. For a cellular router you could as easily say "cellular as
easiest way for a novice to have a local wireless network and connect to wifi as
the backhaul to the Internet is probably with the PepWave Surf Mini, which has a
200mW transmitter in it (there is also a 400mW version). The PepWave combines the ability to hook into RV Park
wifi, and simultaneously support a personal wireless LAN just for your use.
It is relatively easy to configure and manage, but you do have to understand a
little about networking. It is available through many sources, but because a
networking novice may run into issues I recommend that you purchase it through
3GStore; if you run into issues you will have help a phone call away.
If you buy it off of EBay who are you going to call when you have a
The PepWave can also be connected to the WAN port of a router - either a
cellular router or a conventional router like a Linksys. Properly configured,
this allows the PepWave to essentially operate as the WiFi as WAN for any
router. Another reason to buy from the 3GStore is that they provide
configuration details on how this is done, and if you mess it up you can call
The newer Pepwave Surf OTG (On The Go)
integrates a cellular modem capability into the existing Pepwave Surf functions.
You can read a test report on the Surf OTG
There is also a version called the Pepwave Surf SOHO that incorporates full
router functions into the device. A test report is
The PepWave family is nice, but it has limitations. First, it is
an indoor device – it is not weatherproof so you cannot put it on the roof of
the RV (although some have done so in a weatherproof enclosure). Second,
although it has an external antenna with an RP-SMA male connector it can be
complicated to extend this antenna to the roof, where it would get best
reception. Third, if you need more than one Ethernet port you will have to add a
switch to it, or buy the SOHO. Normally, I recommend that the PepWave be high up on a window on
the side of the RV that faces the AP. It comes with suction cups to mount
it this way. If you can get any sign of the wifi signal on your laptop
without the PepWave, then the PepWave will be a good solution for you – use
inSSIDer for discovering the signal strength of the networks in the area.
Home and Go routers are devices that operate much like the PepWave Surf SOHO. What
differentiates the WFR (WiFiRanger) from the PepWave SOHO is it's ability to
interface to an integrated remote CPE
(customer Premises Equipment) on the roof of your RV or residence. This solves
one of the issues with wifi-capture that the other devices do not; that of
having clear line of sight to the AP.
The WFR provides the most flexibility and greatest feature
set of the products available on the market today. It can support 3G and 4G
cellular modems, satellite, DSL, Cable and WiFi as WAN sources. It can then
repeat those signals wirelessly on its N wireless network (it also
supports G devices). It has LAN ports for your wired network devices like
printers, TV, or Network Attached Storage (NAS). It will automatically
"failover" between WAN sources - in other words if you are connected via wifi
and that network goes down, it will automatically connect you to the cellular
network (or any other network you have available). For improved wifi capture it
can use Ubiquity products in its "boost" mode. This is fully integrated
with the Control Panel, so you do not have to manually mange multiple devices.
All of these capabilities have been present in the past - just not in a single
device with a simple user interface. The WiFiRanger is discussed in detail in
its own section.
Another product that does a similar thing is the
Cradlepoint CTR35 wireless N router. The CTR35 supports “wifi
as WAN” just like the WFR, as well as data sources from cellular, cable, and DSL
modems – just like the WFR. It retails for slightly under the price of the WFR. Also available from Cradlepoint are the MBR95,
MBR1400 and the CBR400 - these also handle WiFi as WAN. None of
the Cradlepoint routers support an integrated
connection with a remote CPE (WiFiBoost), like the WFR will.
There are other solutions that combine portions of what we
have discussed to solve wifi connection issues. To round out a sampling of them
take a look at the following:
RadioLabs. If you look carefully at the solutions you see advertised you
will notice that the products solve one or more of the following issues, in
order of sophistication and cost:
- Power – most have advanced higher-powered transmitters
- Antenna – either a better antenna, or an antenna that
can be remotely mounted for better line of sight (LOS) to the AP
- Multiple users – a local WLAN (wireless LAN) so that you can
connect multiple devices to the same Internet connection
- Multiple Internet (backhaul) sources – the ability to handle wifi,
cellular modems, DSL, cable modems, etc. Sometimes all in one device.
So what device or combination of devices “does it all”?
That would be a router that handled multiple Internet sources and had good local
connectivity (your LAN) in combination with a remote (rooftop) CPE for the
best wifi capture. Today, the only device that does that is the WiFiRanger
family of products.
Customer Premises Equipment (CPE)
CPE is a general term used to refer to devices that contain
a radio set and antenna and are used to pick up the wifi signal (or other type
of signal) and then provide it to your LAN or computer. They may be
specialty devices, intended to only be used to bridge between the broadcast
network and your private LAN, or they may be a generalized carrier-grade radio
that can function in multiple fashions – as a bridge, a router, an AP, etc. A
CPE has a higher powered radio than that available in your laptop, a better
antenna, and it is typically mounted outside with clear line of sight (LOS) to the AP
(Access Point). Thus it solves the biggest issues with wifi reception (LOS,
power, antenna quality). The CPE is directly wired to your router or your
computer with Ethernet cable – which is a digital signal that can be sent around
300’ without degradation. This overcomes the typical issue with extending an
antenna from your wifi adaptor; an antenna connection is analog and the signal
degrades rapidly when sent over a long antenna cable.
to the left is a Deliberant radio deployed as a CPE. This particular model has a
14dbi panel antenna built into it, and 500mW of power. It is capable of
connections in excess of five miles when connecting to another radio of the same
type in point-to-point or AP mode, and capable of connecting to wifi networks at
a mile or more when used as a client bridge (CPE). Of course, that is under
nearly ideal conditions. While use of this
carrier-class equipment provides for a very good signal capture, it also
adds a great deal of complexity to the solution. This is why most people do not
deploy it. It requires the end user to understand the device, how to configure
it, how to design the network, how to install and (perhaps) build Ethernet
lines, and how to successfully interface the CPE to the LAN. Because these
CPEs have typically been sold to professional installers, there are few
instructions with them – they are simply not aimed at the consumer market. The
WiFiRanger Mobile and Marine are examples of a CPE - it is the first CPE packaged with a consumer
product, and with configuration integrated with the wireless router. Because the
Mobile and Marine have integrated configuration and management with the WiFiRanger
software, it is the first easy to use CPE in the consumer marketplace.
can also mount a CPE on the roof of a truck or other vehicle. On the left you
can see a small outside omni antenna (black) just behind the roof rack,
with a Ubiquity Bullet connected to it thru the roof. Of course, you need the
inside space to mount the radio if you do it this way. In this case you can
connect the CPE to a wireless router like the WiFiRanger and repeat the signal,
or you could just hardwire it to the Ethernet port of a laptop or a miniature
desktop computer dedicated to servicing the vehicle. It would allow easy capture
of signals at hotels, shopping malls, fast food restaurants, libraries, etc. If
you are looking for a mini desktop for vehicle use take a look at the
Asus Eee Box
There are many commercial radios on the market that are
used to deploy wifi networks. Almost all of them can be used as CPEs with proper
configuration. My preferred CPEs are from Ubiquity. Ubiquity makes highly configurable devices that are priced right and are very
reliable. Over the years I’ve used many of their products to deploy both wifi
networks, and as CPEs.
favorite CPEs at the moment are the Ubiquity Bullet or Nanostation. The Bullet
is easily combined with an omni antenna (shown on the left, temporarily mounted
to the ladder), and the Nanostation has an in-built directional antenna, so you
have two choices of signal capture. When using a directional antenna you have to
carefully consider the mounting method, and your willingness to aim the device
before use. Directional antennas provide for better signal capture over longer
distances, and in more difficult circumstances – but the downside is determining
where the wifi signal originates, and then aiming the CPE. Typically,
directional antennas are best used in fixed locations and are permanently
mounted, while omni antennas provide for a good method of signal capture on mobile vehicles
like an RV. Some people do mount directional antennas on RVs, but typically this
is not necessary for RV Park, or close-in signal capture. An 8dbi omni antenna,
combined with a Ubiquity Bullet, will pull in wifi signal from 800-3000’ pretty
readily. Of course it does somewhat depend on the quality of the signal from the
You can set up a CPE to capture and feed wifi signal to any
router. You do not need special routers like the WiFiRanger. However, if you go
that route, you will be responsible for configuring and managing the CPE as well
as the router for your LAN. It requires an understanding of IP addressing
and some of the details of network setup. In the WiFiRanger these details are
handled by the firmware in the Ranger - you never have to directly configure the
CPE device itself.
You can download my
Building A WiFi Capture Device by clicking the link. It will get you started.
If you would like to "play around with" a CPE and interface
it to your existing Cradlepoint (or other) router, and feel you have the time
and skills to do so, then I would recommend you use a Ubiquity Bullet as your
CPE. This is relatively low cost (around $50 with the Ethernet injector), has a
nice small form factor to work with, and allows for a choice of antennas. I
would recommend a short 8dbi omni antenna which you can find for around $30 if
you look carefully online. You can mount it to your ladder, like I show in the
picture, or you can look at the Antenna section here, and utilize a mount
attached to the batwing TV lift. The Bullet is 100mW and generally priced at
$39, Bullet2 is 400mW, the Bullet M (newest model, part of the AirMax family) is
600 mW and the Bullet2HP is 1000mW (around $80). These require the POE15
HD27012 Power Over Ethernet injector (15 volt) and can take up to a 24-volt POE
for longer distances. For use with an RV I'd recommend the Bullet (100 mW) or
the Bullet2HP; the M models are not needed in this application. The Bullets can
run off of 9-24 volt power, depending on the distance of the cat5 cable. For RV
use with runs around 60' you can usually eliminate the 120-volt transformer and
directly connect the injector to 12-volt battery power. However, you have to
maintain polarity. If you don't know what you are doing, don't do this.
Here is how to configure it, for those interested - this
should work for any AirOS device:
To set up an AirOS device as a CPE (client bridge) you can
from the Ubiquity website. If that link no longer works, you can download it
To set up a bridge between two locations (like to share an
Internet connection between two houses)
wiki on the Ubiquity website.
When configuring or
setting up these devices you will be using a "Power over Ethernet" power
injector. This supplies power to the device over the Ethernet line. Four of the
eight lines inside the Cat5 cable are used for power, and four are used for data
between the CPE and your router or computer (when directly connecting to it for
configuration). MAKE SURE that you plug your computer or router into the LAN
side of the injector - sometimes labeled "Data". If you mistakenly plug it into
the "Power" or "POE" connector directly it very likely will burn up your
Ethernet port on your computer. The POE line goes to the CPE, NOT to your
computer or router.
Amplifiers and routers require an outside power source. Both can run on either
12-volt or 120-volt. When installing your system you really should set it up for
12-volt use, if possible. This will allow you to use everything when boondocking or when
driving down the road. In particular, the router needs to be on when driving if
you want Internet access. It is useful to get emails, and to search for points
of interest or look at live weather radar while travelling. You will have the
technology - why not use it. If you set up everything for 12 volts then there
will be no shuffling of cables on travel day, or when boondocking.
You may have to order a 12-volt adaptor for the router. Most of the amplifiers
come with the 12-volt hookup. You may also have to locate the devices near an
existing 12-volt plug, or wire in a new 12-volt service to supply them in your
chosen location. This is generally possible to do without too much trouble. Just
make sure you use heavy enough wire if you have to add a new 12-volt outlet.
There are voltage drop tables in the Solar sections of this website.
You don't have to worry about the antenna - they are passive devices. They need
I currently use the following: updated
My local network (WLAN) is driven by a WiFiRanger Go. On that
are a wireless multifunction printer, two full-size laptops (15" and
17"), a Eee Netbook, a Nexus 7 Android tablet and a Galaxy S III
smartphone. For storage there is a four terabyte NAS (Network Attached Storage
with 2x2 mirrored drives). The DTV satellite receiver and TV
are also on the LAN and are hardwired through a switch in the entertainment
center. I also have my Morningstar MPPT 60 solar controller hardwired to the
router. This permits me direct data capture on the performance of the solar
array. There is a
device on the network that takes a wifi signal from my
tablet or phone, and converts it to IR (infrared) to control AV
equipment from the tablet.
In addition to the WiFiRanger Go and Home I also have a Cradlepoint 1000 permanently
mounted in my communications center next to the WFR. That is my "standby"
router, and is what I used prior to the WiFiRanger(s). If something happens to
the WFR then it is a simple matter to move a few lines to the Cradlepoint:
one USB line for the aircard, and three Ethernet lines (one for the CPE, one
for the NAS, and one for a switch that feeds the TV and DTV receiver at the
Samsung Galaxy SIII smartphone. This can connect through my LAN
as well as the cellular network. Everything I do is Google based to the
extent possible, so it is totally integrated between the smartphone and the
computers. At the moment my next phone will likely be a Samsung Note 3 (when
it comes out).
I have a WifiRanger Mobile on the roof which is what I
typically am using. This is the
commercial version of what I hand built. Prior to my using the WiFiRanger I used
various CPE's I built directly connected
to the Cradlepoint 1000. Since I have a multitude of radios available to me my CPE
varies with what I have on hand, but has been a Bullet for many years. For a
directional CPE I use a Nanostation (NS2) when I need it.
I currently use a Pantech UML290 4G LTE aircard on the Verizon network. This is
plugged into the WiFiRanger's USB port via a 4' USB cable. The aircard is connected
(nested) to a Wilson Sleek 4G amplifier and the antenna is a Wilson RV.