All your packet are belong to us…

By , November 30, 2009 11:21 am

Repeater

One of the issues we’ve had since leaving our brick and mortar house is how to stay connected to the Internet.  We make do in a number of different ways, some of which are temporary depending on what is available at a campground, others are more permanent (and creative) in nature.

On our trip down to Florida, we stayed at several campgrounds.  Some were commercial, others were parks.  The commercial ones were easy… they all had some kind of Wi-Fi available.  We just had to make sure we were close enough to the access points to use them (we actually moved sites in Hilton Head because we couldn’t get a strong enough signal).  The parks were another matter… no service was provided of any kind.  We made do with public hotspots (Panera Bread was a favorite) and with my cell phone data plan.  The cell phone option isn’t a good one due to bandwidth limits, but it works in a pinch.

Now that we’re at our “winter home” in Florida, we have a different issue.  We’re miles from any kind of hotspot, we have almost no cell phone service and the RV is too far from the house for us to snag my mom’s Wi-Fi signal.  The access point she uses is on the opposite end of the house from where we are, and there’s a lot of back yard and an aluminum framed screen room between us.  We’re about 200 feet from the wireless router and our various laptops can only see that it’s broadcasting… they aren’t getting enough signal to connect to it.

After much experimenting with other solutions, we eventually ended up with a solution that works for us.  We added a Linksys Wireless-G Range Extender to the front of the RV.  It gets just enough signal for it to work for us.  It basically connects to the Wi-Fi in the house (it’s obviously got a pretty good antenna) and then rebroadcasts whatever it receives.  It’s basically a wireless repeater.  All it does it grab packets off the radio signal, stamps them with it’s MAC address and shoots them back out.  It’s not elegant, it adds a bit of latency, but it does work.  Wireless_Networking_in_RVHere’s a quick and dirty diagram I made to illustrate (click for full sized version). 

There’s a lot more involved than what’s on the diagram, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.  Since this worked for our setup here, we’ll probably keep it for when we’re on the road.  It was a lot easier than messing with DD-WRT and the other odd stuff I tried.

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5 Responses to “All your packet are belong to us…”

  1. Rob says:

    No microwave transmitter? … Lame!

    =P

  2. Karl P says:

    I can understand your hesitation to mess with DD-WRT on a Linksys router, but there are other aftermarket firmware options that are a lot simpler. I’m running a bunch of Linksys WRT54G routers flashed with Tomato firmware (http://www.polarcloud.com/tomato) so that they work exactly like the repeater you have there, and setup was a snap. Even better, Tomato lets me turn the power up to 251mW. I use external antennas on a couple of them, and one of them has a 2 Watt amplifier and 14dBi external omnidirectional antenna. One of the other antennas I use is a highly directional yagi beam. All of this lets me cover a large property, the surrounding neighborhood, and the park down the road with reliable WiFi.

    If I were you, I would mount an external directional WiFi antenna on top of the RV connected to your Linksys Wireless-G Range Extender, and maybe even use an RF amplifier. It would make a huge difference in the range from an access point or hotspot you could be and still get a reliable signal. Just rotate the antenna in the right direction, and you could be many, many times farther away. If you also add a 1 Watt amp that has a receive preamp in conjunction with a directional external antenna, and you could be miles away from many hotspots (depending on terrain) and still get a good connection. I’m talking about perhaps $150 for an amp and a directional antenna, but it would make a real difference. Let me know if you want any suggestions on specific amp/antenna suggestions.

  3. Love the title of this article 😀 It seems like we need a truck full of different gear for every place we setup at! Wireless extenders, extendable antennas – I guess we could just save up for satellite but that’s sooo expensive!

  4. Jonathan says:

    Karl, I’d tried DD-WRT on a “micro” Linksys and it appeared to work as advertised (it helps that I’ve used it before to make a repeater). Unfortunately, the main issue seems to be with the Cisco N router that my family uses in the house. It’s incredibly unstable and has a lot of bugs. Unfortunately, it’s N speed and they use it, so I can’t rip it out and replace it. :S So the Linksys works for right now.
    I’ll probably go with some of your recommendations once we’re moving around a lot. A good antenna and a small linux netbook should be able to route just about about anything we’d both need when we’re camped. I’ve already started on the antenna research, but options for USB that take an external antenna are limited. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

  5. Brent says:

    Working through your archives so maybe you’ve adjusted your solution by now but we decided to go with a M2 Bullet HP from Ubiquiti combined with a 12dBi omni antenna and our own router. Haven’t gotten it set up yet but feeling like it will be a nice high power solution.

    http://www.ubnt.com/bulletm

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