As an active blogger broadband connectivity is always an issue when going on vacation. Ellen and I are RVers and we take most of our vacation trips in our Airstream trailer, pulled with a GMC diesel powered truck. Some times, we leave our rig home and use B&Bs, both in the US and abroad, or stay with friends along our route. Regardless of how we travel, broadband connectivity is always an issue and requires some advanced planning. Where is my broadband, is the first question I ask we arrive at a new location?
We were thrilled when the RV parks started installing WiFi networks. Initially they are rather crude and signals were often weak, but once connected the service was not super fast but serviceable for blog posting. In some parks you had to walk around to find the best signal and then use the nearest picnic table, not always outside our trailer. I have had some strange encounters when the RV owner come out of their trailer or motor home in the dark to find me sitting at their picnic table in the dark.
My weak signals solution was to build a directional antenna for a WiFi access point. The plans were published in Trailer Life in 2005. Today the RV Park network are more robust, but the service is so slow it all but unusable for blog posting. More and more RV users are demanding WiFI access, and as a result you and 100 other RVers are trying to use one DSL or Satellite connection. Speed are often worse than they were during the dial up days at 14.4 Kbits.
When more cellphone companies started to offering broadband access, I build a WiFi hotspot into the GMC truck, which used a WiFi router and a Verizon Broadband Card with a high gain antenna on the truck roof. This mobile broadband hotspot served us very well on our cross country trip, but it was too bulky to take with us in the car or when flying.
When Verizon came out with the MiFI device, which was a mobile broadband card, with a build in WiFi router, I was one of the first in line to buy one. It worked well in strong signal areas, but lacked an antenna port to increase the performance and reliability in weak signal areas.The other downside was the need to have two cellphone accounts with data packages, one for the broadband card and one for my cellphone. The upside was that both Ellen and I could log in with our laptops over the WiFi network.
When it came time to upgrade my Palm Treo cellphone I bought the Motorola Droid, which is an excellent phone for monitoring my blog while traveling. I have a Typepad App that lets me manage posts and comments, but with my big fingers the small keyboard is not adequate for creating long posts. I was looking for a better way, by tethering the Droid to my laptop.
With some help from the “tech” at the Verizon store, I discovered an app call PDA Net which allows me to connect my Mac Lap top to the Droid. We tried it our on our latest trip and I was very impressed with the performance. PDA Net was created and is supported by June Fabrics. Details here. There are version for the iPhone, Blackberry, PalOS, Windows Mobile and Android.
I was able to tether my Droid to my Mac laptop and the turn on the WiFi Internet sharing so Ellen could log in with her laptop, down load e-mail and do some surfing while I was working on my laptop. While the speed was not up to our Comcast connection at home, it was way faster than the WiFi in the RV Parks.
The only place we could not get 3G broadband on this trip was in the McArthur-Burney State Park. We had access at Sugar Pine Point at Lake Tahoe, Hereford Ranch in Burney, McCloud RV Park in California and Diamond Lakes RV Park in Oregon. If you are going to try tethering your broadband cellphone to your laptop I highly recommend the Droid and Verizon which has build out a robust mobile broadband network.
I could get 3G access even when there were no bars on my voice coverage. One of Ellen’s big frustration on this last trip was the poor AT&T coverage for her iPhone, once we got off the main highways she did not have any service. Another reason for a Droid phone is the removable battery. I bought and extra battery and charger, and I am never with out power to the phone. Ellen’s iPhone seem to need charging after 30 minutes of use.
The biggest benefit to may new configuration is economic. Now I only need one cellphone account and one data package, saving me about $60.00 a month in cellphone bills.
Stay Tuned. I am working on a more powerful configuration for the trailer, to pull in even weaker signals when off the highway and into the woods.