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Aircards

 

EVDO Internet Service - Amplifiers - Antennas 

Advantages

  • Low start-up costs (free equipment with 2 year commitment)
  • High speeds in most areas that have coverage
  • Very easy to use
  • Works in-motion
  • Mobile use away from the RV

Disadvantages

  • Huge areas of the country with no high speed coverage, or no coverage at all
  • Monthly download limit (see article for who this will effect)

Even with all these aircard advantages the Datastorm is still an important backup for us because it covers the whole nation (in fact, most of North America) and as widespread as EVDO coverage is there are still gaping holes in coverage hundreds of miles wide.  Something to consider if you're planning to rely on an aircard alone. 

 

Choosing an aircard and service plan

 

All the major mobile phone carriers also offer internet service by aircard (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.)  So how do you pick which one?  I'll give you some starting points:

  • Coverage area -- Visit the service provider's website and look at where high speed (EVDO) coverage is available.  Be aware that coverage maps will include areas that receive basic service.  This is the old 1xRTT service which is advertised at 2x dialup speed but is often slower.  In my opinion this is next to worthless for the modern web.

  • Cost -- Most providers will give you the aircard free, or nearly so, if you sign a contract for a 2 year commitment.  Monthly rates are $60 and up.  One carrier that offers a low price and no contract is Cricket.  It's only $60 for the equipment and $45 a month for service.  The catch is, Cricket only has broadband coverage in a limited number of places.  If you want more choices, and service from Verizon or Sprint through a 3rd party, Millenicom is a popular alternative. www.millenicom.com/.

  • Features -- It's best to choose an aircard that's compatible with external antennas - not all aircards are.

  • Use a value added reseller vs. buying directly from a service provider.  I buy most everything from The 3G Store get great prices plus another technical support option.  They also give good advice pre-sale, and have more knowledge of the products than anyone I've found in a brick and mortar phone store!

Amplifiers and Antennas

 

To improve reception in fringe areas and while driving we installed an external antenna on the motorhome.  It's a Wilson Trucker brand and does a good job of boosting the signal.  They're around $60 and worth every penny.  With the correct adapter this can be used on many aircards, and also on some cell phones.  After the antenna, our next purchase was a Wilson 3 watt amplifier.  With the amp and antenna we can go from zero useable signal to a solid connection and high speed internet. 

 

A variety of amplifiers and external antennas are available.  For service and sales together try the 3G Store.

 

Antenna Installation

 

Below are some photos of how I installed our antennas and a unique way that I routed the wires through the roof.  It was a little scary cutting the hole through the roof but it's worked out good so far!  You can click each photo if you want a larger view.  It will open in this window, so you'll need to hit the "back" arrow to return here.  Or, you can right click the photo and tell it to open in a new tab or window.