I want my van to feel like home, which means that I need reliable Internet. I want to keep up with YouTube, write blog posts, and not worry about data caps or finding public WiFi. I’d imagine if I were working remotely it’d be a top priority for me as well!
I’m actually using the 7730L, but when it fails, this is what I’ll upgrade to. The 7730L is dated, but you can find them used on EBay for <$30.
This antenna is leaps and bounds ahead of the included mini magnet-mount antenna and even the larger 18″ Wilson magnetic antenna. See my post about mounting it here.
This is the booster that I’ve been using for a year. I believe it’s been replaced by the 4G-X, but the price is more attractive for the 4G-M.
I used this adapter to hard-wire the hotspot into my van’s electrical.
The OTR antenna’s cable is 14 feet in length, which may not be sufficient in your van. This extension is inexpensive and I noticed no negative impact on the effectiveness of the booster after adding it.
As you can see, it’s actually pretty straightforward. I’m not doing anything groundbreaking here, and while there are certainly higher-end boosters and hotspots, I think this setup presents a really good value. If you’re really into network tech, you may find the lack of configuration options on the 7730L to be a turn-off.. but in practice, I don’t find myself longing for anything.
Mounting & Wiring
The hotspot is mounted to a wall using 3M VHB tape. The USB-C cable plugged into it goes to the 12v to USB adapter I’ve included links for above. The WeBoost internal antenna for the booster is mounted directly to the right of the hotspot, also with VHB. In my electrical cabinet, you’ll find the booster, which is wired to a switch. I cut off the cigarette-lighter 12v adapter and wired it directly into my electrical system. The 4G-M seems to pull about 1.1 amps when powered on.
The 12v to 5v converter is mounted on the backside of my electrical wall, I simply extended the red and black leads from it to my fuse panel and ground bus bar. It just needs to be close enough to the hotspot for the USB-C cable to reach it.
The OTR antenna is mounted via a custom mount on my Aluminess spare tire carrier. You can see how I built that here. That said, it includes a standard trucker-style mount that can be used on many roof racks, brush guards, bumpers, etc. If you don’t think the included mount will work for you, have a look at the variety of CB antenna mounts on the market. If you’re looking for a non-permanent install, check out this magnetic antenna mount.
Configuration and Service Options
My hotspot is configured to broadcast my main network (5GHz), as well as a guest network (2.4GHz) for friends who are hanging out, or parked very close to me. In the van, I have a Chromecast, a WiFi thermostat, a phone, a laptop, and a few other miscellaneous devices.
Cellular service is a topic that has been done to death, but I spend $100 a month to lease a grandfathered, truly unlimited Verizon 4G sim card from someone I originally found on EBay. “Vanlife Hotspot Service” type Google searches will get you more information than I have to offer.. but a word of warning: many of the EBay sellers are selling prepaid SIM cards or similar, be sure that you’re getting what you expect before you pull the trigger.
You need to be realistic when you’re installing a cellular booster. If you’re standing outside with no service, you’ll probably get no service with the booster. If you’re losing service when you close your door, the booster will help. If you’re teetering on usable service, the booster will help. If you’re getting 30mbps speeds, the booster may help.
I only camp where I have Verizon or TMobile service, though I’ve recently switched to Google Voice and eliminated my TMobile bill. I routinely stay in areas where my cell service is borderline unusable, with the hotspot showing -105dbM or worse (one bar or less). With the factory antenna, this may have been improved to -90dbM. With the OTR antenna from this article, I’ll regularly see -105 turn into -68. This booster is the difference between intermittent internet and reliable internet. It’s not often the difference between no service and great service. That said, it’s a crucial component of my build, and as of now, I’m very content with this setup.