Last couple days we have been working without too much happening. We are having lots of fun in the sun and planning our next adventures in the area. This is a perfect opportunity to talk about some technical issue that is extremely important to most of us – Being Always connected to the Internet.
The Internet Challenge
Before I will jump into the proposed solution, I would like to describe the scenario and the need. This might not be the solution for anyone, but if your needs are high demanding – I think this is a pretty nice setup.
When travelling with the RV, Internet connectivity could come from different sources: Campground WiFi, Campground DSL, Cellular modem or satellite.
The challenge is to take any of those sources and distribute them into the local RV network in a consistent and secured way.
Since we are still “young”, we are working full-time, and use computers and Internet to perform our job. Our customers rely on us to be able to connect and support them at all times, and we need the connection to perform our job on our customer’s computers, all from the comfort of our RV.
Not only do we need WAN functionality, but LAN is as important. Having 2 workstations, 2 servers, 2 printers and some storage devices – we have to have a reliable and secured Local Area Network inside the RV.
How we got to this solution
Our current setup is a work in progress. We started out with a wireless router and a bridge. The router gave us internal network functionality, and the bridge allowed us to connect the router to the campground WiFi.
If you are not familiar with those technical terms, then in simple words, Router takes one source of network – usually WAN (Wide Area Network), in our case – the Internet, and routes the traffic into the different devices on the local network (LAN). The WAN has one single address, but all the devices and computers that are attached to the router – have their own local address. It is the router that knows how to utilize one address and route the information correctly.
Usually – the router accept a network cable as the WAN input. In most cases – it is the wire that comes out of the DSL or the Cable Modem. But in our case – the “Internet” is in the air – it is the WiFi that the campground provides. So here comes the Bridge.
Bridge can connect two different type of communication – for example WiFi and wired network. So the bridge is connected on one hand to the external WiFi – the one provided by the campground, and on the other hand – it connects to the Router using a network cable. Then the router redistributes the traffic through internal WiFi inside the RV. Make Sense?
This setup worked for a while but it was cumbersome and provided only partial solution. First – it did not support Cellular modem. So if we did not have WiFi we had to use the Cellular modems on our individual laptops.
Second – there was no way to access the bridge from a computer through the router (because it is considered to be outside the firewall), so every time we got to a new campground I had to disconnect the bridge from the WAN port of the router, connect it on the LAN side (Inside the firewall), configure it so that it connects to the available WiFi and then reconnect it again to the WAN Port. Fights every time!
Our next step was to try and add support to the cellular modem, and improve our WiFi connectivity, as the signal provided by most RV Parks is too low, unless you are parked by the office.
So we upgraded our Router to Cradlepoint MBR-1200. This device not only supports both WAN and Cellular modems, but also provides excellent secured LAN functionality with VPN support. As of the WAN Side – we got a new bridge that has external antenna connection, and connected it to a directional antenna that could be attached to a window (By Hawking Technology). We were not se impressed by the functionality of the bridge and could barely notice any improvement in signal reception.
We still had to do the direct setup to the bridge every time we switched location, but if we did not have WiFi, the Cellular modem was directly attached to the router and provided Internet to the whole LAN without a problem.
Third Generation Solution
Actually it is more like fifth or sixth generation, but here is the setup:
Instead of using the bridge to receive the WiFi we are now using a repeater – Hawking Technology HW2R1. This is a device that received WiFi from one side, amplifies it and “Repeats” it on the other side. This repeater is connected to an omnidirectional external antenna .
There are many benefits of using repeater (as opposed to the bridge) to capture the external WiFi signal. First – it amplifies the signal. That is extremely important when the signal is not the best quality.
Next – it is much easier to set up. You simply connect to the local WiFi from the laptop, set up the connection, and you are done. No wires to disconnect or device to move.
Last – it provides an additional layer of security and allows you to share your network without exposing your computers. Great if you need to connect smart Phones, TV Games, or allow the neighbor to use your network.
The MBR-1200 with the bridge are still in place, but now the bridge is connected to the same WiFi all the time – the one provided by the repeater. so there is nothing to change there. Also – the MBR-1200 is now relocated to a more convenient location, where it is easier to wire-connect it to the server and the printers, since it does not need to connect to the external antenna anymore.
In addition, we added an active amplifier for the cellular signal. This kit includes an external antenna, an amplifier and an internal antenna. It is functioning much like a repeater for WiFi, and improves the cellular signal for both voice and Data. The kit is provided by Wilson Electronics.
If you need to have a secured internal network and stay connected to the Internet, the above solution provides the best of signal reception, stability and security. WE are using this solution for over 6 months and we are very happy from the performance.
If you have any question or need advice – feel free to email me (address on the left side bar) or leave a comment. I will be happy to help.