While we travel the country in our RV, our livelihood depends on having good internet service. Here’s is the details of how it is all connected together, and a few tups for how to add the technology in our mobile internet setup to your own motorhome.
We have two ways to connect with the internet in our RV. First, we both have iPhone 7’s through T-Mobile. We pay for unlimited internet, so it comes out to $100 a month. The connection is decent most of the time. The only major problem with using T-Mobile for anything other than on the phone is the fact that it severely limits tethering. That means that while we use our phones directly, we get a decent speed. When we use it as a hotspot, whether through wifi, bluetooth, or a direct USB connection, the speed is slowed down dramatically. It works fine for browsing and email, but trying to download anything or stream a video is almost impossible.
For that reason, we have the hotspot. We were able to get a ZTE Mobley while AT&T was still having its $20 a month unlimited plan. With taxes and everything included, it comes to about $23 a month. While it is called “unlimited”, that’s a bit of a stretch. They will never cut us off completely or charge us more, but they do state that they can slow the connection down in high traffic areas or times. “Network Management” is the proper term. That being said, we have never seen a slowdown and we have gone well over the 22GB allowed every month. In one month alone, we broke 300GB and never saw a slowdown.
To make that connection better, we have installed a SureCall Fusion2Go 2.0 RV Cell Phone Signal Booster. This boosts the signal from almost nonexistent to useable. For a dBm strength, our highest at one point was -92 dBm, whereas without it, we had only -111 dBm. Also, see our review of the Fusion2Go.
That’s all well and good for getting us partway to the internet, but it still leaves our devices in the RV with no connection. For that reason, we have an internal Wifi network. We bought a TP-Link AC1200 Dual Band WiFi Range Extender, which allows us to connect through the Mobley or iPhones, depending on which gets better signal at the time. The TP-Link extender grabs nearby wifi signals, usually from the Mobley, and makes its own new network that we connect to. With this setup, if we need to hook up with a different wifi network that is in range, we can also do that. This way, if we are close to free wifi, we can connect the TP-Link to the free wifi, and all of our devices still connect to the internal network. See our review of the TP-Link AC1200.
We don’t have a wired network yet, but will be adding one soon. To do this, we need an ethernet switch. There is an outgoing ethernet port on the TP-Link, so we can just plug in the switch to that and connect whatever else we need to plug in with a physical, dedicated connection.
At the moment, we don’t have anything hard wired. As the Smart Home on Wheels project proceeds though, we will be adding a dedicated media hub and that will have to be hard wired in. We may be adding Apple TVs and getting rid of the Roku, and will hard wire those. Other things like solar control monitors, external cameras, and any smart device may be connected as well.
Devices on Our Network
Right now, we have two computers that we use almost all the time, one MacBook Pro 15″ and one MacBook Air 13″. We also have one Fire HD 8 Tablet, and two iPhone 7‘s. Then we have are current media hub, a small Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300, which has a 4TB hard drive connected to it. To watch videos from the stick PC, we have two Roku Streaming Sticks, one for each TV. Finally, we have a Raspberry Pi 3 that I installed RetroPie on and have a ton of older games saved on. All of these devices currently connect to the wifi network, as none of them have dedicated ethernet ports. In the future, I would like to build or purchase a small form factor computer that runs Ubuntu to make it our media hub, and it will be connected over ethernet.
Our internet setup will be changing in the near future. We have a PepWave Surf SOHO that has been delivered to our home address, but we aren’t there at the moment so we’ll be installing it as soon as we get back to Florida. We will be also adding somethings like a Raspberry Pi in between the Mobley and the SOHO, and making it a VPN to reduce our online presence. This will also allow us to send the signal from the Mobley to the SOHO over ethernet, albeit through the Pi which could slow things down a little bit.
Our other option is to upgrade our modem from the Mobley to something that works better, but that would likely violate our user agreement with our ISP.
So our new network will go cell signal to cell booster to Mobley to Raspberry Pi over USB to SOHO over ethernet to the devices.
Because I want to add some more Pi’s for special functions, we also need more ethernet ports. We will have to run an ethernet cable from the back where the cell booster and modem are all the way up to the front of side door of the RV where the SOHO will be stashed along with the Raspberry Pi’s. There will also be several hard drives attached to these devices as each will have a unique functions, such as a OneDrive backup computer and a file server for local sharing. We already have one dedicated to being a RetroPie machine so we can play older video games, but we haven’t done that yet since we are still trying to download the files we need from the cloud where they are backed up.