So you want to work remotely? Cell "boosting" and more

Vic Harder

Doctor Electric
Site Team
Joined
Nov 14, 2015
Messages
5,106
Location
Calgary, Alberta
This seems to be a hot topic since the pandemic. Most of us who wander are not that keen on staying super connected, so I understand this may not be super relevant to everyone. I and others are still trying to work while wandering, and may find this topic informative!

This is a first draft....

First thing I did was join MIRC (Mobile Internet Resource Center) and Mobile Must Have, two great sites with deep knowledge of cell boosting and remote work.

And I built on my experience with a WeBoost unit, and my own changing work needs.

The WeBoost was a good introduction to what is possible, basically receiving a week signal at amazing distances (60 miles down the HITR Road, for one) and making text and cell calls possible. The downside of that unit is built into the technology, which literally boosts what it receives. If it receives crap, it boosts crap. And your receiving device is still just a cell phone which must be very close to the re-broadcasting antenna (I strapped mine to the antenna with rubber bands in use) which makes making calls awkward. I also used my cell as a wifi hotspot, enabling zoom calls from my laptop, but had me stuck inside the camper within a few feet of the cell phone.

I wanted even better signal boosting, and to be untethered from the cell phone. To get that, I needed to move to a more advanced device, a "router".

A router (you may be aware that you likley already have one in your house, which receives internet signals over the wire via your phone or cable providor... and sends out wifi in your home) takes signals in one form and routes/sends them out in another (yes, that is a vast oversimplification!) In this case, an RV router is taking cell (and other signals) and re-broadcasts that in a way you can easily consume (in my case, just WiFi).

Advanced routers can receive cell (multiple cell providors at the same time too), satilite, wifi, cable etc and re-broacast as wifi or on wired connections.

Of course, to make all this work, you need an antenna. The WeBoost I had used their "Trucker" antenna which is a large high-gain cell antenna. I had it mounted to one of the rear jack brackets so I could raise it above the camper roof when we were camped. That antenna was made with an 80-20 type of material.

The new router needed a much different antenna, one that could receive the latest cell signals (but not 5G - that's a "short range" system for urban deployment, and not really relevant when "wandering the west")... basically MIMO signals that enable 4G to work well.

I note the antenna in the pictures above, with two high gain antennas at 90* angle to eachother, are likely being used in MIMO mode, and needs to be aimed to work.

MIMO is used in newer phones, and not in 3G setups... (3G has also been recently retired by most cell providors!)

The antenna I'm using - the Husky Parsec - is an omnidirectional MIMO antenna that does not need to be aimed. It also contains wifi and gps antennas, so the connected router can receive and broadcast those as well).

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All this said, I can now sit comfortably in the shade with a cold one and conduct work or browse the net. Range seems to be about 80'-100' from the camper, which is plenty for me.

More to come....
 
Yep, me either, no pictures.
Also wondering, you mentioned using a router... what router are you using in this case?
 
ljheptig said:
Yep, me either, no pictures.
Also wondering, you mentioned using a router... what router are you using in this case?
[SIZE=10.5pt]PepWave MAX-BR1-PRO.[/SIZE]
 
Another option that I had the opportunity to try is Starlink.

We went on a research expedition to Antarctica earlier this year and the ship had 2 Starlink antennas. I was able to have email and video conference as far South as 72 Degrees (although that was somewhat iffy at that point).

Depending on your need and budget this could be the ultimate solution to staying in touch when you’re truly off the grid.
 
smlobx said:
Another option that I had the opportunity to try is Starlink.

We went on a research expedition to Antarctica earlier this year and the ship had 2 Starlink antennas. I was able to have email and video conference as far South as 72 Degrees (although that was somewhat iffy at that point).

Depending on your need and budget this could be the ultimate solution to staying in touch when you’re truly off the grid.
I’ve been looking at them too. Seems they (Musk?) change the pricing/strategy around their offerings every month, so that’s something to be cautious about.
 
So I got my Starlink working with the existing Pepwave router, and am heading out on a 9 week "testing period" for this setup. There are MANY youtube videos out there describing how to do this, and I discovered that several "idiot proof" ways of doing this were not, at least not for this One D, Ten T. :rolleyes: I ended up frying some components and trying a bunch of different options before I created something Vic proof.

Just getting a starlink and plugging it in IS very simple. Getting them to work well in a FWC/ATC is a bit more challenging. Why? Well, space, limited power and aluminum walls all create issues.
SPACE - as we know, storage space is at a premium in these small campers. The Starlink router is a fairly large box, and has two fairly bulky cords that need to be stuffed somewhere. Burying the router somewhere in the cabinets is not something I wanted to do. Just too big.

POWER - That router also needs to be plugged into AC and uses a goodly amount of power (50W-150W) whiich is 1 to 3x what our fridge tends (Compressor style TruckFridge Brand) to use. That's a lot, plus because it uses AC I have to fire up my 3000W inverter which also uses power. Strike two.

Aluminum - plays a role here, as the Starlink router's wifi broadcasting power is quite limited, and range on the outside of the camper is not good. I want to be able to sit in a chair or at an outside table when I am working, so wifi range matters. Strike three against the Starlink router.

Cabling is another issue, in that you have to deal with the AC power cord and the 75' to 150' long (proprietary) outdoor ethernet cable. Unless you leave the router outside (it is not weatherproof), there will be at least one cord having to go through a door or window or turnbuckle hatch.

When first trying this out this summer, I did not want to leave anything open (it was buggy in northern BC) so I made a 3/4" hole in the back wall and fed the cable through, and removed it every driving day and taped it up with Duct tape. Not elegant, but it worked. Also plain dumb luck that I missed a vertical support member and some wiring by maybe 1/8". Whew.

Now, I've improved that somewhat. First, I added a simple gromett to protect the wiring:
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Next, I tried several ip67 rated boxes before settling on this one: LeMotech ABS Junction Box Hinged Cover Stainless Steel Latch IP67 Waterproof Plastic Universal Enclosure with Mounting Plate and Wall Bracket for Electrical Project 5.9x5.9x3.5 inch (150x150x90mm) : Amazon.ca: Tools & Home Improvement

I drilled two holes in the box, and put the Yaosheng cable adapter in this box:
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Hard to see in the above picture, but the cable that runs straight down and through the large grommet is the Starlink data cable. It has a huge plug on this end, hence the almost 2" wide grommet, that I had to put notches into in order for the cable to pass through more easily. And at -35*C, that grommet is rock hard, so in cold temps, this is not the best solution. The other wire comes with the adapter and is an about 10" long shielded ethernet cable with the pinouts needed to get it to work with Starlink's non-ethernet standard wiring. You can see there is a grommet there too, as well as black butyl rubber around the top and part of the sides to waterproof the entry hole.

This is the box test mounted on the back of the camper
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Grommet and butyl rubber:

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Large grommet:

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I'll also mention that many of the hacks shown on youtube involve permanent mods to the Starlink gear, which obviously voids your warranty. My setup does not involve modifying the Starlink gear at all.


The key to all this is a Chinese company called Yaosheng. They have made a PoE (Power over Ethernet) injector for some time now, and just added a Starlink to Ethernet adapter that works really well. No more cable cutting and terminating required.

I really need to get some better pictures, but it is -35*C outside. Pictures will come once we are using it on this trip.
 
Inside the camper there are two other components, the Yaosheng PoE injector and a 150W buck power transformer to convert 12VDC to 48VDC. These are both very small parts compared to the Starlink router. In fact, they take up less room than the AC power cord for the router! Plus I am not using my inverter, so some power savings there.

The last bit of magic was taking the ethernet output of this setup and feeding it into my existing networking gear in the camper, which means that the existing router's WIFI antennas (inside and outside the camper) are now being used, and the range is great!

All told, less space, less power, more range. 3 wins!
 
Vic, what does your energy budget look like, especially with your induction stove?

We are on day five in Saline Valley and are at about 130 Ah down on our 280 Ah battery. 400 W solar, with winter sun and some overcast, does not replenish at the rate we are using power. Generating about 40 Ah to 60 Ah / day.

Starlink is about 7 Ah for about 2 hours a day (15 Ah) We run the heater at 70 F. This also means the fridge runs more than it would if the inside temperature was the same as the outside, with nights around 36 F and days at 55 F. The night time numbers on the heater, 2.0 A, and fridge, 3.0 A, are about 20 Ah.Two laptops and two cell phones chew up about 15 Ah a day. Probably 60 Ah to 75 Ah / day

We plan to drive up the Steel pass road today, at least to check out the third spring. With the DC-DC plus some solar, we charge at about 35 Ah. More typically, we travel between two and six hours each day, so driving usually recharges the battery. Saline is one of a few places we sit for a while.

Jac
 
Wintertime does make solar charging a challenge. We use about 40-60AH a day without the induction stove. That's:
- Fridge - 20AH
- Furnace - 15AH
- CELL booster and StarLink - 20AH
- LED lights, laptops, cameras, usb fan - 5-10AH

We have 200AH of lithium.

If we are driving, then charging is not an issue. 330W of solar plus 30A of DCDC means we see up to 60A going into the batteries.
 
Joining MIRC and Mobile Must Have helped me enhance my remote work setup. Initially, my WeBoost unit boosted weak signals, but it had limitations. Upgrading to a router and using a Husky Parsec omnidirectional MIMO antenna improved connectivity. But even now I rely on cell phone interent more if I am outside somewhere. Mostly on vodafone and the signal booster from uctel ( here is more info https://www.uctel.co.uk/blog/vodafone-signal-coverage-review-is-the-network-good-enough-for-commercial-needs/ ). So it is up to you what to choose.
 
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Your Parsec should be boosting a LOT more than your phone can. Did you contact MMH about setup and tweeks?
 
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