At a recent show (Malvern) I was asked more times than I can count how I manage regarding internet access. As I run an internet company this is an important subject for me. I have a range of access methods so that I have many fallback positions. Here I will just describe the best solutions I use.
Firstly I will describe my setup. I have a 19″ rackmount main computer that is fitted into a cupboard. This is my main computer and has many hard drives for media storage. I then have 2 laptops a big desktop replacement one and a small netbook. The reason for this is I need a great deal of disk storage and a powerful machine for work. This is the main system. However this is only any use when I am on hookup. The large laptop is for working when I am not on hookup. This pulls 5 Amps so I can’t really run it all day every day if I am off hookup for extended periods. I then have the small netbook which I can take out of the van with me and only draws 1Amp and will go for a whole day on 1 charge.
I then have a blackberry phone and an android phone. The android phone is mainly for data and also runs a Skype client for my “Landline”
So that is 5 devices that require internet access. The cheapest way and most practical way is for these to all use a local wifi hotspot which is then routed out to the internet using a variety of methods.
If I am on a site or near a location with WiFi access then I use wifi router from http://www.motorhomewifi.com/product/iboost-d8-directional-system/ . This is an excellent bit of kit.
I have this setup so that my main computer is permanently connected to the router via an ethernet cable and my phones and laptops via WiFi. The external antenna on this device is pretty impressive.
In locations where I used to struggle to get a signal or had very limited connectivity I now have a full speed connection. In some locations such as when I am parked on the street I even mount the antenna to a cupboard inside the van and it punches through this, over a distance then through a brick wall into a house.. I cannot tell you how impressed I am with this device. It isn’t cheap but boy is it worth the money.
When I am in a location that doesn’t have WiFi I have to fall back on 3G. Now through extensive testing I have settled on two networks and always carry PAYG sims for both networks. These are Orange and Three. No other networks come close to the coverage and speed of these two.
If I have just pulled over for a coffee and need to log on, I will plug the little laptop into a normal USB dongle and get online that way. However if I am on a campsite or staying for any length of time I will rig up a wifi router.
The one I use these days is the HuaWei E5332. I moved onto this from the MiFi as the MiFi didn’t really punch through the steel walls of the van unless I was in a decent location. If I left it plugged in for any length of time it also froze up on me.
The Huawei E5332 is a great bit of kit in that it works at the new fast speed which although not LTE (4G) comes pretty close. Lets call it 3.5G. It also has that fantastic little essential called an external antenna port. I can plug my external roof mounted antenna into this whilst keeping the router inside the van and plugged in. One of the things I will be buying before next years show season is a directional antenna for it.
Anyway, on top of these two main devices which cover me for the vast majority of my needs I also carry a couple of USB wifi dongles and a couple of USB 3G dongles. These have come in handy when I am at a pub for instance and the wifi or 3G doesn’t work from where I am sat. I plug the USB dongle into a 2 meter extension cable and locate it where it will get a signal. Usually in a window for 3G and on the floor round a corner for wifi. One of my USB 3G dongles also has an external antenna port as well.