Improved Our Internet/Wi-Fi Reception In Caravan Parks And
and how you can too!
A solution for every
budget - from $7.00 up to several hundred dollars.
We always enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi when available in Caravan
Parks, but invariably, the signal can fluctuate between poor and
lousy. Free Camping in the Outback
presents even greater challenges, where a signal can't be
established for love nor money.
I had read on Forums, where
caravanners had employed an outside antenna as a means of
boosting any available signal, but my knowledge and
understanding of such things was rather limited.
So in 2014 I set about trying to educate
myself a little and see if a solution could be found. I knew it
could be done... it was just a matter of finding a
suitable, affordable solution for us.
where all good searches start... Google. As it always happens, one
search led to another, then to Articles and to YouTube videos and
after numerous late nights, I decided on a course of
was pretty much a given, that I needed an outdoor antenna of
some description. Some suggested a Omni-directional antenna,
like the one on the right,
while others recommended a directional antenna.
One video in particular really
caught my attention. I kept coming back to it. It was produced
by a guy who does all this Wi-Fi stuff (and more) for a living, through his U.S. Based Technology Integration
company, Axiom Technology Group.
In the video, he outlines what they have
done, to achieve a strong Wi-Fi signal wherever they travel... in
their case, overcoming weak Wi-Fi in van parks.
This is the Directional Antenna he
uses and has it mounted on top of his Motorhome. I took his
lead and ordered the same unit from a supplier in
Melbourne. The Antenna arrived quickly, along with 6m of Low
Loss Antenna Cable, also from TP-Link.
While I won't be following his
set-up to the letter, this Project will involve
fitting the Antenna to a suitable telescopic pole, to be
deployed on the caravan drawbar (near the satellite dish)
when required. The wiring will be routed into the van, to an
easy access point near where I sit at the computer.
Putting It All Together
The first task, was to source a suitable antenna
mounting pole. It needed to be extendable and be long enough to get the Antenna
higher than the caravan I settled on a
telescopic aluminium painter's pole from good old Bunnings. It
was around $37, but it's strong and sturdy and extends from 1.8m to 3.8m,
To make attaching the Antenna to the
pole an easy task each time, I fabricated this mount, using a
piece of 32mm PVC pipe and a $3.00 paint roller handle. The
metal roller attachment end was cut off and the screw-in section wedged into the pipe. I
used a heat gun to soften the PVC pipe end to accommodate the square end
of the handle. A stainless steel machine screw and nut was
attached through the handle, to keep it from moving. I glued a
little container cap on top, to keep out the weather.
With the stainless steel clamps
tightened, it becomes a permanent fixture, ready to quickly
screw to the painter's pole on arrival at camp. The Antenna
packs away in the nifty little bag that Bev made for it and the
pole takes up very little room in the tunnel boot.
The painter's pole attaches to the
drawbar by a simple
'L' bracket and clamp arrangement. The "L" bracket is
to the drawbar.
If connecting to just one device in
your caravan, say, a laptop, then nothing more is required,
except an inexpensive USB Wireless Adapter and a N to SMA
pigtail. The lead-in from the antenna, which has a N connector,
attaches to the N connector end of the pigtail and the SMA end
screws to the USB Adapter, after unscrewing the dipole antenna.
The USB Adapter then plugs straight into your laptop.
But wait... there's more!
We wanted to be able to
connect more than just my laptop. We also wanted to connect Bev's laptop, our phone and
Wi-Fi Printer as well.
For this to happen,
we had to add a Booster and a Extender/Repeater to the mix.
There are a number of choices on the market to achieve this, but
the combo I chose, was the Alfa Wi-Fi Booster
(Model AWUS036NH) coupled
to the Alfa Networks R36 Extender/Repeater.
With this setup, the feed from the TP-Link
Directional Antenna (or any antenna) is fed into the 036NH Booster, which in turn
connects to the R36 Extender. The R36 is a nifty little unit and can be
programmed as your own secure, password protected Hot Spot.
One point of mention though,
if you're considering a set-up like this, be aware that it's
not Plug and Play. You will need to be a little computer
savvy, as the R36 needs to be "programmed" with your info,
but there are clear instructions available, as well as
step-by-step videos showing what needs to be done.
The Next Step...
By this time I was
starting to get the hang
of things and as I like to have more than one arrow in the
quiver, I added another antenna to the mix in the form of an
Outdoor Omni-directional antenna. The one I chose for this, is
also a Alfa product, the Tube-U (N).
This component comes with a 8m USB
cable that runs to the USB port on the R36. It by-passes the
Desktop Booster, as the base of this antenna is a 1-watt
(1000mW) high power amplifier (Booster), a receiving radio that
picks up the distant Wi-Fi signal.
It is fully weatherproof and can
handle outdoor temperatures down to freezing.
If desired the Tube-U(N) can also be plugged into the USB port
of a compatible Windows computer to extend the range just to that
PC, but using it with the R36 will allow you to share reception
with multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices at once.
The Omni antenna is sold separately
and screws into the top of the "Tube".
One thing I wasn't aware of when I
was shopping for solutions was, the Tube-U and the R36
Booster/Extender now comes as a kit, called the Alfa Wi-Fi Camp
At time of writing,
RFShop in Adelaide sell the Kit complete, for $149.
This kit combines the R36 portable
Wi-Fi router, with the Tube-U outdoor USB wireless adapter, and
a high performance outdoor antenna AOA-2409.
Camp-Pro offers convenient, extended wireless access whenever
you're in a camping site or on a boat. Remote wireless can
easily be connected via the Tube USB wireless adapter and the
R36 broadcasts the received signals to your local devices.
JANUARY 2019: Alfa have now released their new
Wi-Fi Camp Pro2 Repeater Kit. It's $215 with free shipping
anywhere in Australia. Click image for full description.
More WiFi Options
By now, I had really caught the Wi-Fi Bug and as
my knowledge and understanding grew, I wanted to see what else I
could add to the arsenal.
Without boring you with the details, here are the
extras I added to our 'Wi-Fi Kit'.
► A Yagi Antenna - a high
powered Directional Antenna, that can pull
in a signal up to 20klms
► Several Cantennas -
directional antennas I made from cans. (Big
surprise, my best performer, I
made from a Beetroot can! $7.00)
► Another OmniDirectional
Antenna similar to the Tube Antenna,
without the Booster.
► The Ubiquiti (LocoM2) 2.4gHz
NanoStation with the AirGateway...
The first three require the
Desktop Booster mentioned previously.
Now that I have all the parts to
the puzzle assembled, what do I think is the best solution?
All of these solutions will work
and naturally, it all depends where you are parked. But for best
overall performance in most situations, I'd have to vote for the
Alfa Tube-U and Antenna combo. It's a great, all-round, powerful
Omni Directional setup. Being Omni-directional, it doesn't require
pointing and is great in fringe areas. For around $150 the Wi-Fi
Camp Pro Kit is a great solution.
A close second, would be the TP-Link
Panel Antenna. Get it high and pointed at the source (it's
Directional, remember) and you'll have fantastic reception. The
Panel costs around $99, the low-loss cable around $40 (essential)
the Desktop Booster $30 and the R36 to connect other devices $62.00,
for a total of around $230.
If you mainly stay in caravan
parks, the Ubiquiti NanoStation is a powerful ally to have.
said much about it here, mainly because the set-up stumps most
people. Ubiquiti products are very commercial, so the internal interface is not
intuitive. Good for Installers, but not the average layman. You'll need to be computer savvy.
that, I had no problem following the detailed, step-by-step
instructions in the video below.
So, if you're
considering buying a NanoStation, watch this great
Instructional Video. You'll soon know whether or not you're
up to the task. Even though the video is 4 years old now,
all the info is still current and applicable.
The NanoStation cost
me $82.00 and the companion AirGateway $45.00
As part of
their NanoStation system, Ubiquiti have stopped producing
their AirGateway product and have replaced it with a device
they call AirCube ISP. This is the device you connect all
your devices to wirelessly.
The new video
that walks you through the setup step-by-step, is shown
The "Under $100"
mentioned in this latest video, refers to the United States in US$.
It will cost more than that in Australia.
No matter which Wi-Fi
boosting solution you choose, all of the components will work.
It all depends on a number of factors:
How far from the broadcast point
you are parked.
If you're stuck down the back or bottom of the park, you're going to
need a strong unit.
good your line-of-sight is to the point is.
Wi-Fi is line-of-sight, so the less trees and buildings in your
path, the better. That's why you need a tall pole to get as high as
possible in some situations.
strength of the signal broadcast by the Park.
Not all Caravan Parks have or can afford the best Wi-Fi Broadcast
equipment. You may have the best equipment available, but if the
signal is too weak, there's nothing more you can do, except ask to
be moved to a site closer to the point.