When your mobile income depends on internet connectivity, cell signal strength matters! Wi-fi isn’t always readily available along our travels, especially when we’re boondocking in more remote locations, which happens to be our favorite. So we began our search for a cell signal booster!
We recently upgraded our ability to work remotely from our bus conversion tiny home with WeBoost’s Drive 4G-xRV cellular signal booster.
The system was pretty simple to install, set up and use. WeBoost has booster kits for RVs as well as home/office. We took it on a test run after install in one of our favorite boondocking spots in the Arizona desert west of Phoenix and wanted to share the experience!
Intro: Full-time Living and Working from our Bus
We’re over a year into full-time living and travel in our 1989 bus conversion tiny home. We have just about everything we need to make it feel like home. However, there’s one thing we can’t always take with us… a strong internet signal.
We are able to go just about anywhere as long as there’s a semi-decent road to travel on. We can store enough food and water to sustain us for up to 3 weeks, a tiny wood stove for heat, a shower, a toilet, solar power, and an 8000W generator; pretty much all the comforts of home on a smaller scale with the ability to change our backyard whenever we want.
What do you need reliable internet for anyway?
Don’t get me wrong, we love to unplug and simply enjoy the outdoors. It’s a great way to reset, recharge, and appreciate nature. It’s important to find balance. The reality is, and this is true for many full-time RV’ers and digital nomads, we rely on staying connected, it’s our livelihood. Even right now, I’m writing this blog from a remote spot in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.
Meag designs websites and marketing materials for small businesses and we both research, write and publish online for our blog, affiliate marketing and social media channels. Here's more info. on our mobile income experience thus far.
Finding Internet can be hit or miss
For a long time we limped by fairly well with an unlimited data plan (Verizon) and using our phones as mobile hotspots. This was hit or miss depending on our location. When that frustrated the heck out of us, we sought out coffee shops with free, stable Wi-Fi (Starbucks has been our reliable go-to).
Depending on where you are in the country, you may not have an option nearby. It’s not exactly cost effective to drive an hour to find free Wi-Fi with a blue beast of a bus that gets 10mpg on a good day. It can be frustrating when you have project deadlines.
Mobile Hotspot + Unlimited Data Plan —
Before we left Maine in the bus full-time (January 2018) we upgraded our Verizon cell phone plan to include unlimited data. Let’s pause to justify that expense ($119/month which includes a monthly device payment for our iPhone X):
You have to think, we’re not paying for our apartment Wi-Fi anymore, electricity, PLUS — the unlimited data service pays for itself when we’re able to complete projects and bill clients, update our blog and earn ad revenue, etc. We use it for photos and video as well. It’s a business expense.
We REALLY like justifying and analyzing expenses, can you tell?
What are These Cell Signal Boosters all about? —
We searched around for our options (a separate mobile hotspot from Verizon, boosters, etc.) compared reviews and found WeBoost.
We recently got our hands on their Drive 4G-xRV cellular signal booster. We tested it out in one of our favorite BLM camping spots about an hour west of Phoenix. We’re VERY used to the roughly 2ish bars of Verizon LTE we’re able to get there. This is relatively GOOD service when compared to other remote spots we’ve boondocked. Still, we experienced frustrating lags in load time and weren’t able to be super productive work-wise there.
With the WeBoost Drive 4G-xRV installed, we were able to boost our cell phone mobile hotspot signal to full bars in that same boondocking spot in the desert. We were able to get work done, stream Netflix and listen to music with fewer interruptions. We’re still a little ways away from doing major website edits and downloading large files in the middle of the desert, but hey, it was great to see any improvement!
We’re still using one of our phones (the iPhone X, it’s way newer) as a mobile hotspot as we have an unlimited data plan. It’s tethered to our laptops and acts like a regular Wi-Fi signal you would get at home or in a coffee shop. WeBoost’s signal booster enhances the signal so we’re using a hotspot with full bars instead of 1 - 3 bars.
IMPORTANT NOTE: depending on how remote your camping location is and how many people are trying to feed off the same signal, well, that’ll affect your speeds for sure. There’s no “perfect” solution but balancing a workable signal and the beauty of a remote boondocking spot — I’ll take it! 🙂
Unboxing the Wi-Fi Booster —
Even the way the packaging was designed made installation easy. Inside the main box were four smaller boxes labeled in the order by which they should be setup. It came with easy to read yet thorough instructions with graphics. Pretty much anyone can set this kit up without having any experience what so ever.
What Comes with the Kit? —
The signal booster kit comes with everything you need to complete the installation. There’s an exterior omni-directional antenna designed to be clamped to a ladder or pole outside your skoolie, RV, or van. I chose to mount it on an extendable pole but we’ll get into that later.
There’s the actual signal booster unit complete with either a 12v hardwire option or 120ac plug in option. And then there’s the interior antenna that broadcasts the signal throughout your space.
What I really like about this setup is that they include all the coaxial cables, wiring, mounting brackets, and zip ties necessary for installation. They even give you a hole saw and weather proof cap to run the wires from the outside antenna to the booster! I mean, getting a free hex wrench is one thing but a hole saw!
That just makes us smile. 🙂
WeBoost Installation & Ben’s Special Customization Notes -
The installation was a breeze, even with my additional parts/features. The instructions say to first mount the outside antenna on a ladder using the mounting brackets provided. I didn’t really want to brush by the antenna every time I climbed up the ladder (especially with my Tim Allen in Home Improvement style clumsiness), so I decided to upgrade to building a separate mount.
I used a galvanized structural steel pipe mounted to the back of the bus using the corresponding rail supports and stainless steel through bolts with locknuts. This served as the base for my telescoping antenna, which is a “super high tech” paint roller extender. My setup is designed to be taken apart when in transit. This, of course, isn’t necessary. The WeBoost antenna is made to stay set up and withstand the elements.
I wanted the WeBoost antenna to be removable from the telescoping extension pole so it could be safely stored away when we are driving. Well, what screws into the end of a paint roller extender? Yup, you guessed it, a paint roller handle! I cut one off an extra roller I had laying around and sipped it inside a plastic pipe using some fancy duct tape to compensate for the elliptical shape of the handle. This was the perfect size for the mounting brackets provided by WeBoost to clamp to, then the extension pole slips inside the steel pipe base.
Normally the coaxial cable would be permanently secured to the outside antenna and snaked through an existing hole or one made by the hole saw provided. Because our antenna is removable the coaxial cable also had to be removable. I used a plastic weatherproof junction box to run the wire through. When in use, you pull the cable out of the junction box and screw it into the antenna. When not in use, you just snake it back through and the junction box is capped off to keep weather and any curious critters out.
Then came the hard part. Nope, just kidding, it’s still really easy. The booster is mounted to the wall and the outside coaxial cable screws into it. It can either be wired directly to your 12v system or be plugged into an ac outlet. For battery efficiency we chose to hardwire it. Then I simply screwed in the interior antenna cable into the booster and zip zap zoop we had a stronger signal!
How it Helps Boost our Signal -
Cellular signals are measured in decibels (dBm). You read them in the form of a negative number, -130 being no signal strength at all and -90 being full bars. If you put your phone in field test mode by dialing *3001#12345# (save this in your contacts, it’s very useful) you can see the dBm your dealing with. For Androids you can see it in your network settings.
Before turning on the WeBoost we were pulling in an average of -111ish dBm, pretty poor. After turning on the signal booster we were able to achieve -90 or better, full bars! Last night we enjoyed an episode of The Great British Baking Show (so good) as if we were connected to a home Wi-Fi router. Again, we’re in the middle of the desert here, jackrabbits, and cacti, and buttes abound.I
Helpful Tips -
1. The proximity to the interior antenna is key. Setting it up in a place where you typically work will greatly improve the signal. It’s recommended to be within 4-10ft of the device you’re using. My personal experience shows 4ft is miles better than 10ft. When we use our phone as a mobile hotspot we set it up directly next to the antenna.
2. Connecting to a mobile hotspot can be done in 3 different ways. You can connect via Wi-Fi, bluetooth, or USB. It seems to remain true that having a direct wire connection provides the best performance. However, we usually tether with Wi-Fi so we don’t have to be physically tied to the hotspot, and honestly we don’t notice a big difference.
3. Keep the mobile hotspot plugged in when in use, if you can. Using a mobile hotspot drains the battery quickly. The last thing you want is to be in the middle of something crucial (like The Great British Baking Show) and have the internet kick out on you because the hotspot died.
Final Thoughts & Links —
We hope this blog helps in your search for a better cell signal and internet connectivity on the road! All in all we are thrilled to have improved internet capability wherever we go. No more chasing signals like ghost hunters, no more driving an hour out of our way to find a coffee shop that may or may not have Wi-Fi.
The Drive 4G-xRV is a MUST HAVE item for anyone considering a mobile lifestyle, an absolute game changer. So without further delay, on your marks, get set, BAKE! We REALLY like The British Baking Show… 🙂
- You can browse more WeBoost cellular signal solutions for RVs here.
- Check our their options for home and office here.
- Questions about our experience? Contact us here.
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