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 coming soon!). 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.
We don’t have a wired network yet, but will be adding one soon. To do this, we need an ethernet switch. There are four ethernet LAN ports on the SOHO, so we can just plug in the switch to that and connect whatever else we need to plug in with a physical, dedicated connection. We will be running an ethernet cable from the SOHO, which is located in the back of the RV, up to the electronics cabinet, which is closer to the front. We’ll then have to put in a switch to connect several devices to the network over ethernet. So far we only have two Raspberry Pi’s that will be connected over ethernet, but as we add devices, that list will grow.
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 are 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 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 Raspberry Pi’s are stashed, as well as a backup computer and soon an Xbox 360. I want to start adding Smart Home features and expanding the functionality of the RV, but currently we need to work on engine and comfort requirements before we work on adding too much new technology. And RV that doesn’t drive isn’t much use, even if it is tech’d out.