In my fantasies, we are able to stay off-grid for extended periods in our LMTV / Bliss Mobil adventure RV. In reality, we remain mostly tethered to the Internets. Lily and I both have remote part-time work to help pay the bills. Our young teen uses Internet for school and to keep in touch with friends. We depend on a decent cell signal most of the time.
The Evolution of our Setup
We started our travels with a couple of portable hot-spots, one from ATT and the other Verizon. Armed with these two devices, we’d find remote places that are barely on the edge of the cellular cloud and try to make do. But we’d continually find that a weak cell signal might be fine for voice and text but not for what we’re doing, so we really needed a boost of some sort.
We purchased a WeBoost external antenna to boost the signal and it improved the hot spot reception a bit. A that point, I figured I was done and we’d have to live with it. Then I bumped in to a like-minded digital nomad at Overland Expo West 2018. He had also been through hot spots and WeBoost but had moved to a beefier Cradlepoint modem and convinced me of doing the same. The equipment is more expensive but since our livelihood depends on good WiFi so we took the plunge.
Here’s what we have installed. Most of this can be sourced from Amazon.
- Cradlepoint IBR1700 MA1-1700600M-NNA – Router/modem with 1-yr NetCloud Essentials support.
- Cradlepoint MC400LP6 – LTE Advanced (Cat 6) modem expansion – expands the IBR1700 from two SIMs to four.
- Cradlepoint CP-1019-1-PAN – Low profile dome for the cab top; 9-in-1 antenna: 4x MiMo 2G/3G/4G LTE, 4x MiMo 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi, GPS/GNSS.
- Cradlepoint 170668-000 – Omni directional antenna, indoor/outdoor
- Cradlepoint CP-2001-1-PAN – 10m/33′ Low Loss Cable for use with Cradlepoint Wall Mount Antennas
- Cradlepoint 170635-000 – Vehicle power adapter
- Extendable antenna pole – From home depot. 🤓
Installation was easy and took a few hours. I drilled a hole in the diamond plate LMTV roof rack and used the existing antenna hole on the passenger side of the LMTV to route the cables to the inside of the cab. I loosely mounted the IBR1700 router under the passenger side seat for now but plan to permanently mount it to the back wall of the truck (someday…).
The modem can hold four total SIMs. I have two SIMs configured: ATT and Verizon. In the U.S. and Baja, Mexico, these have provided the best coverage. In Baja I’ll probably add a Telcel SIM. Back in the U.S. I’ll add T-Mobile which will also work outside of the U.S.
The Cradlepoint gear is installed in the LMTV cab and slowly sucks down the truck batteries. If we’re parked for only a few days, it’s no problem. Longer than that and I trickle charge the truck batteries either from the Bliss Mobil solar/batteries or from shore power when available.
Does it work?
The modem can’t work magic – if there’s no cell signal to boost, it can’t produce something out of nothing. In areas with a strong signal (e.g. middle of a city or next to a tower), the Cradlepoint and my phone LTE are pretty evenly matched.
It’s on the edge of the cell cloud that things get more interesting. We’ve had cases in which our phones show 3G or no signal and the Cradlepoint with the omnidirectional antenna will get full LTE.
Overall this was a good investment and I’d definitely do it again. One tweak to try soon is a directional antenna to see how that compares to the omnidirectional. I suspect it will be even better. I’ll post on the results if I decide to do this.
Let me know if you have any questions!
** Inspiration for Maslow hierarchy image from Stephanie Lee, a digital nomad OG.