The Next problem to solve is internet access. this is crucial to me if I’m to work while away in the van.
Actually, internet access from a van wasn’t as difficult a problem to solve as I thought it would be. There are three main ways to get online from a motorhome, all of which are readily available. The first is to access a WiFi signal. The second is to use a mobile phone signal. The third is via a satellite dish. A satellite set-up is expensive to buy and expensive to use so I’ll be concentrating on the first two methods.
I did a little research and it wasn’t long before I came across WiFi booster antennas. This is an external antenna (they can work from inside but work better outside) that simply finds a weak WiFi signal and boosts it. There are two main types, Directional and Omni-Directional.
At first I was looking at the Omni-Directional type. Omni-Directional means it can pick up a signal from all directions. My plan was to attach one of these to the roof of my van permanently. The trouble is they are not as effective as Directional antennas. They are simpler to set up as they don’t need adjusting but I need as reliable a connection as I can get.
An Omni-Directional antenna
So I started looking at Directional antenna’s. A Directional antenna picks up only the signals coming from the direction it’s pointed. To put in layman’s terms if an Omni-Directional antenna and a Directional antenna both have the same gain, the Omni-Directional would have to spread this gain throughout 360 degrees. The Directional area will focus on a smaller area of say 30 degrees. This is what makes a Directional antenna much more powerful. The downside of using a Directional antenna is, it needs pointing in the right direction so has to be set-up for each use.
As much as I would prefer the simple operation of an Omni-Directional Antenna, a Directional is stronger and gives a better chance of getting a good signal. Directional it is.
A Directional antenna
So I bought a Directional antenna and I am honestly surprised just how well it works. It’s an amazing bit of kit.
I first tried it in the back office in my house. This room has 2ft thick granite walls and I’ve never gotten a WiFi signal in their, even from my home router. As soon as I plugged the new antenna into a PC about 20 WiFi networks appeared on screen, including 4 different hot-spots that I could connect to.
It’s worth knowing if you’re a BT broadband customer you can connect to the BT FON network at no extra cost per month. This is the largest WiFi network in the UK so very useful. Non BT customers can pay a subscription.
Now Mobile Phone Internet Access
Whereas I’m very confident in my WiFi antenna I wanted a back-up as well. This is going to be using the 3g part of a mobile phone signal. Again, for this to work well, I need an external antenna and after doing a lot of research I went with the model pictured below.
I bought this from Ebay and it works very well. In fact, even in areas where I cant get a signal on my mobile phone I seem to get a good signal using this antenna. This is connected to a HUAWEI E3131 USB Mobile Broadband Dongle with a PAYG sim card installed.
Connecting to other devices in the van?
Both of the above antennas are connected directly to the PC in my van and both work great.
But what if I want to access the internet from my mobile phone? What if the missus wants to use her laptop?
What I decided to do was to make my PC into a mobile hotspot by adding a WiFi dongle. In my case I went with a TP Link Wireless USB Dongle. Windows 7 has a feature built in that allows you to create a network and share an internet connection. How my system now works is my PC gets a signal from either the WiFi antenna or the 3g antenna. The PC then distributes this signal via WiFi to other devices (with the password) within about 10 metres of my van.
A simpler way for anyone who doesn’t have a PC in their van would be to have the antenna’s connected to a WiFi router like in a home. If your interested in a system that is built for this purpose check out the iBoost system from MotorhomeWiFi.
The system I’ve installed in my van works brilliantly. I have had a good reliable internet connection everywhere I’ve used it. I can now work from the beach exactly the same as from my office.
Guess which one I’ll work from more? 🙂
I should point out that I didn’t buy the antennas shown in the top few pictures, although my directional antenna is very similar. The pictures above are from a website called MotorhomeWiFi.com. Now I didn’t buy from MotorhomeWiFi and have no affiliation with them, but I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have and all of them have great things to say. From what I gather they are Motorhomers themselves who sell these products because that’s what they use themselves. They are also reported to be very helpful. If I had known about them when I was looking to buy my kit I would have bought from them. They sell a great range of mobile internet products and if your looking for a mobile internet solution this is who I recommend talking to.