Although I had recently hand-built a wireless repeater for the RV, it had no capability to add a high-gain antenna. So I was stuck with a pair of “rubber duck” antennas, and while they worked OK in campgrounds with good signal strength they were woefully inadequate as a wireless repeater if we weren’t parked close enough to a wireless source.
I’ve been asked “Why a repeater? Why not just connect to the source signal?” For a couple of reasons it’s good to have a repeater. A wireless repeater picks up the source signal, “cleans” and amplifies it to remove signal noise and to boost the power, then re-broadcasts it on a private network inside our rig. And if the campground source is “open”, requiring no password, I can install security for our internal network. That helps by discouraging any nearby campers from piggybacking on our signal and slowing us down. Let them buy their own repeater! It also lets us create a wireless Windows 7 Homegroup network so we can easily share our wireless printer, files on our 2 laptops, and our large photo library disk drive. As a side benefit, it keeps the “rig net” static; that means that all of computing gear and printers can permanently “remember” a network name and seamlessly connect when we power up. All that’s needed once we’re camped is to re-set the source network that’s supplying our repeater.
I acquired our kit from JefaTech (www.jefatech.com), who assembles and customizes off-shelf equipment to create a complete set ready to install. Ours came with a customized Linksys Wireless G router (it also has 4 hard wire ports), custom firmware to make it super easy to use and configure, an 8 dB high-gain antenna (they offer an even larger one if you want), 20 feet of high quality coax cable (you can order in any length you need), and a mounting kit to put the high-gain antenna onto the outside of the rig for best signal reception. I took a tip from the JefaTech user forum and decided to mount the antenna onto our existing crank-up TV batwing antenna. By doing this I can raise the antenna up so that it reaches 18 feet above ground for great long distance signal reception. I’m actually able to “see” wireless access point signals more than ¼ mile away, so if we’re parked near a Starbucks, we get free internet!
By using the batwing for our mount, I was also able to route the coax cable into the rig using the existing waterproof boot for the TV antenna cable. Not having to “breach the hull” was a relief as this almost ALWAYS creates a leak point. And with the winter we had, and the spring we are having, a leak is the last thing I want. A little routing of the cable inside the rig took it to a convenient shelf near our equipment. Note: JefaTech recommends having the router, which still has a single rubber duck antenna, relatively close to the external mast so they two antennas can “see” each other’s signals. Our two antennas are almost line-of-sight through our forward vent hatch.
I did need to contact JefaTech support for one small detail. We recently camped in San Diego where the campground contracted with Tengo Internet for wireless service. The router wouldn’t connect, and it turns out JefaTech has published a firmware upgrade to fix this. It also makes the unit a whole lot easier to use, a big plus. Service was fast, friendly, and smart. As a result, I heartily recommend JefaTech for your RV wireless independence. Just don’t forget to crank the antenna down before you hit the road!