Demystifying Cellular Connectivity for Mobile RV Workers – PT1
Let’s clear something up, in the name of transparency and full-disclosure. I’m not an expert at this. Yes, I work in a world of connectivity –with- connectivity. But the details discussed in this series go far, far above my head. Fortunately, I have one of the world’s foremost experts in many of these topics helping me!
My brother…The Evil Genius (aka KA7OEI, aka Clint Turner) – who has helped make ALL of this possible. So, thank you Clint! I love you and am ever grateful for your help…even when I want to kill you.
The “All Powerful” Omnidirectional Antenna
When you purchase a Cellular Signal Booster (we’ll cover THAT topic at the end of this series), you will usually be supplied with two antennas.
- An Indoor Antenna – who’s job is to take the boosted signal from the booster and send it to your phone, hotspot, mom…whatever. This antenna also receives the cellular signal from your phone and sends it to the booster.
- An Outdoor Antenna – who’s lowly task is to find a signal…ANY signal and send it to the booster. It also sends the boosted signal from your devices (via the indoor antenna, to the booster) to whichever network and “tower” it can reach.
- Just for the sake of clarity, your booster is the Gateway. It contains the logic to process and boost the signals. It also deciphers which network(s) it’s working with and attempts to make the proper data go where it belongs.
Note: Not all boosters are capable of working with multiple networks and multiple devices! It is your job to do the research and purchase accordingly! Being “cheap” is not going to help you here…these are expensive devices, and we’ll discuss “why” later!
Now, I hear the groanings of many a Techie here. I don’t care. One of my many Real jobs is taking a very technical topic and breaking it down so anyone can understand the basics.
When you set up your Mobile Working Connectivity Solution (we like to Capitalize Things…), you will usually just work with what you have, right?
We can’t do much with the indoor antenna because there just aren’t many options, and it’s often just not a good idea (mucking about there can create more problems than it can solve).
But we CAN do a LOT with the outdoor antenna! We can have one. Or we can many, situational, antennas. But, by far, the most common is the Omnidirectional antenna. It simply sucks in the signal from anywhere available and tries to use it. That, my friends, is why we’re talking about it first.
There are hundreds…probably thousands of options out there…and unless you are a Guru of Signals, it’s tough to make a choice. And guess what? I’m not really going to help you with that…there are others who know more and can offer much better help. I am simply breaking down the mystery.
Requirements for a Good Mobile RV Worker’s Omnidirectional Antenna
Here’s what I looked for and required:
- Use Case: What, exactly, do I want this damn thing to do? Just Cellular? Cell and Wi-Fi? Cell, Wi-Fi and “Radio”? 4G only? What about LTE? And what about those “pesky” future things we keep hearing rumors about??? This “5G” thing??? Do I need this to be “Future Proof”?
- Simple answer on this last point…no. 5G is not a standard (yet) and while you will hear a lot about it, you’ll need to replace a LOT of things when it comes into play…trust me on this one!
- Name and Reputation: Yep, I played the name game! I went with a name that was known and trusted.
- TOUGH: This poor thing is going to be exposed to everything from rain to tree branches; a cheaply constructed piece of crap just wouldn’t cut it!
- Simplicity: No need to be fancy here…and you do not need to spend a ton of money! There are good options for good prices!
- Current Technology: It’s a good thing to be sure this thing is capable of actually working with what I have!
- Frequency Range!!!: Part of that first point. The Use Case will help determine the frequency range. Do some research here on your Carrier and get what you need.
But, CL, what did YOU choose?
I went with a Laird Technologies 4G/3G Multiband Phantom Antenna. The specific model has an N connector (they’re tough, big and supposedly weather resistant). All of the major components for this series can be seen below.
Setting up the Omnidirectional Antenna
This post is already getting longer than I planned, so we’ll move quickly here and clean up in a later post, don’t worry!
- The Omni is mounted on an L-bracket to our mast with Tek (self-tapping metal) screws. The antenna is, in total, about one inch lower than the overall highest point on the 5th wheel.
- The Mast – a custom made, overengineered beast! All aluminum and weighing under 5 lbs. It’s screwed to the side of the 5th Wheel using very good grabber screws and sealed (it’s going NOWHERE without taking part of the side with it!)
- The “Box” – This is the entry point for the cables to enter the 5th Wheel. This box is a pretty standard outdoor outlet cover! It allows me to seal it, they open it when needed to push or pull cables. Since the Omni is permanent, the cable is just static, it’s not going anywhere. The flexibility will come when we mount the YAGI (Directional) antenna.
The cable (which we’ll talk about later, because it’s VERY important and very often overlooked) is attached to the Omni’s N-mount and “sealed” with electrical tape. We then just zip-tied the cable to the Mast so they don’t fly around when we’re driving.
Part 1 Conclusion
So far, so good! We’ve been using this all day with a significant improvement in signal over the POS antenna (my opinion only) that came with our weBoost Drive 4G-X RV. It’s definitely going to hold and will be tested as we prepare to drive into Hell next week!
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series!
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