RV Wireless LAN and Signal Boost

Discussion in 'Networking Issues' started by grmack, Nov 28, 2005.

  1. grmack

    grmack Network Guru Member

    OK, This has probably been asked and answered but I can't find it so...

    My folks live in their RV. My dad uses his laptop (17" PowerPook w/built-in Airport Extreme) to connect to various hot spots as they travel around the US. What I'd like to do is help him set up a better antenna configuration so he can get a better signal when he is not real close to an access point. I'm not talking about using his cell phone for access, but being able to bring in weak WiFi signals. We've talked about several options and I'd be interested in your feedback on what makes the most sense or if I’ve missed an option.

    Here is what we’ve looked at.

    Option 1) Do nothing. Use what he has right now. Advantage, Cheap. Disadvantage, so-so signal strength unless right at hot spot.

    Option 2) Buy a slot based Ethernet card with an external antenna connector and then a) connect a high gain omni directional antenna mounted to the RV roof, or b) connect a directional antenna (Cantenna or other high gain). Or with a slight variation buy a Linksys WET54G with an external antenna connector and do the same.

    Advantages are numerous. Both antennas allow the PowerBook software to auto-manage a connection to the access point. The PowerBook software also allows easy connection to secured sites (assuming he has the proper ID/passwords). The omni antenna makes thing really simple as you don’t have to fiddle with pointing the antenna. The directional antenna improves reception as you can focus the signal.

    Disadvantages are also numerous. He essentially loses the ability to roam wirelessly as he would have an antenna umbilical attached when using the antenna. Also, others in the RV (wife) can’t share the connection, only the person connected to the antenna. And, the PowerBook Airport drivers apparently can’t deal with two wireless cards installed at the same time so he’d have to remove the slot based card or swap the internal card in and out when he used the external antenna (not a very elegant solution). I’m checking to see if there are USB based WiFi “cards†with external antenna connectors that can co-exist with the internal Airport card. I also think the WET54G would work but it still has the umbilical problem.

    Option 3) Mount a wireless router (like the Linksys WRT54GS or D-Link DI-524 ) inside the RVand create a local wireless LAN that both of them can share. Then, mount a WiFi bridge (like the Linksys WET54G or D-Link DWL-G810) in the RV and use an external antenna (either omni or directional). Set the router to a particular channel to be used by the laptops in the RV, say 1, and then set the bridge to another, say 6. Then, when they are at a WiFi hotspot and need to boost their connection they can configure the bridge to connect to the hotspot using the hotspot’s channel and configure the router to work with the bridge.

    Advantages (or at least my perceived advantages as I don’t know if this will work)? They have a permanent wireless LAN with them for file sharing, print sharing, etc. They can roam around at will (inside and outside). They can share their connection with anyone that stops by for a visit. They can focus the external antenna to boost weak hotspot signals.

    Disadvantages are numerous (again, assuming this even works) but in essence the biggest disadvantage is that my dad would need to know what he is doing at each hot spot in order to configure everything properly. If it is not relatively easy, they will never get it to work.
    In a perfect world, we’d do option 3 and find a magic auto connect bridge that would provide the same auto connection features that are directly supported by OS X on the PowerBook. Even a relatively straight forward bridge set up that he could learn to do would work well.

    Anyway, does anyone know if the third option will even work? Or, is there another option that I am not considering that I should be looking at? I want to keep the cost to a couple of hundred bucks so a high end big ticket solution is not feasible. Any feedback will be appreciated (for either technical or humorous content!).

  2. sidjervis

    sidjervis Network Guru Member

    Like to help, but I am in the same position.

    Well sadly I can't help you, but I will be watching this thread with interest. I am glad you wrote it first! I have the same problem. I use an RV to visit my local offices in the UK, the 10 offices use 2 x Belkin units and 8 x WAG54G's, one at each location. I also access wifi hotspots.
    Inside the RV I have 15" powerbook, Mac mini and a G5 (all have airport cards already).

    I also have an internal (to the RV) wireless network, with the option of taking the powerbook into a wifi cafe. I currently use an Airport extereme unit, but I know I can sell that if it means getting a better solution.

    As far as I see it, an external omni antenna is mandatory, directionals are inconvenient, also an RV does move when parked. How much that would cause a problem, I couldn't comment. I guess the main point is that people get a bit worried when you line up your directional antenna on their premises.

    The WTR54GS looked interesting until I saw "no external antenna".
    So now I see the WRT54GC may be an option.

    I think the item that we both need is a wifi repeater with two antenna, one inside and one outside the RV, true repeaters, as I understand it will reduce your available bandwidth (on your wireless net).
    One point to be aware of, is that, whatever security you think you have, it all goes south when you are connected to a open wifi point. So , no internet banking. I have a lot of digging to do on this, if I find more info' I will get back to you.

  3. sidjervis

    sidjervis Network Guru Member

    One other point, just to make things more difficult, I would like to be able to use Apple remote desktop to "support" the remote offices (all Macs). None of the offices have static IP addresses, errr, maybe getting the remote sites to open a reverse secure ssh tunnel to my location would be an option. Anyone got a good answer, no it does not have to be a no cost solution.

  4. grmack

    grmack Network Guru Member

    Scare the Unaware...

    You have a good point about the directional antenna. I hadn't really thought about that but I guess it would be a little worring to see someone rotate a "high tech" antenna at your home. LOL

    Anyway, looks like we have the same issue. For me, the biggest concern is that the solution be more-or-less plug and play, much like the way Mac OS X lets you pick your WiFi connection from a list. I do think if you know what to do the option I mentioned (WRT54GS Router and WET54G Bridge) would work. And I think the WET54G has a removeable antenna so you could mount an outdoor high-gain omni directional outside the RV.
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