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 3.0 RV Cell Phone Signal Booster. This boosts the signal from almost nonexistent to useable. For a dBm strength, our highest at one point was -71 dBm, whereas without it, we had only -111 dBm. Also, see our review of the Fusion2Go 3.0 RV.
To connect all our devices to each other and to the outside internet, we go through a Pepwave Surf SOHO Mk3. Read our review of the Surf SOHO here. The SOHO has its own wifi network as well as four ethernet ports. For now we are just using the wifi though, but will be adding ethernet soon. The SOHO then connects to either the Mobley over USB or the Winegard ConnecT 2.0 (Review and installation guide here!). The Mobley goes through the cell booster and out to the internet. If that connection goes down, we have campground wifi as our backup, which the ConnecT hooks up with. In this way, all of our devices are connected to one wifi network (the SOHO), and the SOHO then chooses the best outside connection.
Right now, we have a very small wired network. I had to run an ethernet cable from the back where the router is all the way up front to where the electronics are in the cabinet. I was able to get a small 8-port Cisco router that my brother had lying around from an old job, so I plugged that in and have been using it. Out of the 8 ports, two of them don’t work at all. One of the remaining is needed to connect to the router, so we are down to four usable ports. I’ve got two Pi’s plugged into that now and that is going to be it until next month. I plan to get a third Pi to work as a file and web server for our OneDrive accounts and our Smart Pantry system, so that will be the project when I get everything together to set it up with a power source, hard drive, and get all the software running on it that I need.
Other devices that will be hopefully added to the wired network are another Pi running openHAB for smart home controls, a Nintendo Wii if I can figure out if it can use a USB hub to have an ethernet port in addition to a hard drive, and a Xbox 360 that I should be getting eventually. That should be it really.
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 a Fire HD 10″ tablet, and two iPhone 7‘s. Then we have our current OneDrive backup computer, a small Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300, which has a 1TB hard drive connected to it. For our media, we have a Raspberry Pi 3 running Raspbian and Plex Media Server 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 another Raspberry Pi 3 running RetroPie with old games on it so we can play some video games from decades past and live in the nostalgia of our youth.
All of these devices currently connect to the wifi network, as none of them have a way to run a cable to the 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. We also have an Xbox 360 sitting at my sister’s house that I’m hoping to get soon so I can play some new games. While I’d love to have an Xbox One or PS4, we simply can’t afford that at the moment and with the almost required online all the time factor, they wouldn’t be used much anyway.
Because I want to add some more Pi’s for special functions, we also need more fast ethernet ports. I’m going to have to get a new Gigabit ethernet switch to replace the old Cisco in there, but those can be had pretty cheap. I’ll also be adding other devices eventually and connecting it all together as I include things like the smart lights, rain and weather center, and eventually a way to control the heater and AC units remotely.