One of the bigger issues RVers face as they move from campground to campground is WiFi access. Many, if not most, campgrounds now have WiFi available to their guests. The issue is that it is often not adequate inside your RV - or even outside the RV at your site.
Use of the correct equipment can make even a weak signal usable from your RV. However, that may not mean that the Internet is accessible. It only means that you can access the WiFi signal in a usable fashion. The truth is, that many RV parks do not have a usable connection to the Internet. In that case, accessing their equipment will not help you. But where the parks Internet connection is good, using better equipment than just your PC, tablet or phone to access the signal usually helps.
The Problem – How to Acquire a Better Signal
WiFi signals in RV parks are often weak or non-existent at your RV site. Correspondingly, in a fixed environment you might wish to share an Internet connection with a neighbor, or capture a nearby signal from a free Internet source. In all these situations the issues with better signal acquisition are the same:
- Line of sight (LOS) to the hotspot (Access Point - AP) is compromised in some fashion. In an RV park this is typically because your laptop or other client device is blocked by the walls of your RV and (possibly) RV’s next to you. In a residential environment building walls are typically the culprit.
- Distance to the Access Point is often too great for the radio sets and antennas on the client devices - your computers, tablets and phones. Combined with poor line of sight this creates an insurmountable issue with signal acquisition.
- Poor radio equipment in the client devices and lack of power also create situations where your signal cannot get back to the Access Point even though your device can “see” the hotspot. That is because the Access Point has a better/more powerful radio in it than your device.
The CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) is a device that can help overcome these issues. Many people think of these devices as “external antennas” or “repeaters”. In reality a CPE is a combination of a radio set and an antenna whose purpose is to pick up and enhance the WiFi signal. It overcomes the issues listed above via better physical positioning and superior technology relative to your typical client devices.
- Line of Sight (LOS). The CPE is typically mounted outside the RV or building – preferably on the roof or on the bat wing antenna on an RV. This puts it above other RVs and at a better height to get clear line of sight to the hotspot. It is directly wired to the interior router via Ethernet cable so that intervening walls or roofs do not interfere with the signal.
- Distance. While the CPE does not reduce the distance to the AP, it does overcome the distance with better line of sight and a better radio set/antenna than client devices have.
- Radio equipment. The CPE has a far better quality radio in it than any client device. Space constraints for electronics and price points of components are not factors that greatly affect a CPE. Thus better radios can be used. These radios transmit with more power, and have a more sensitive receiver in them than do client devices. They are a better match to the power and characteristics of the AP they are connecting to – thus they can hold the connection where a client device could not. In addition to the better radio they also use larger and higher quality antennas – antennas of your choice, typically. Use of a higher gain antenna, or a directional antenna when required, greatly improve signal capture.
The product package provides for a complete solution. It includes the CPE, an 8.5 dbi omnidirectional antenna, and a very basic Netgear N150 router. It also includes Ethernet wire for connecting the router to the external CPE, the power injector (which provides power over the ethernet cable) for the CPE, both a 12 volt and a 120 volt power supply, and rail mounting brackets for mounting the CPE to a batwing antenna or another “rail-like” device. You really don’t need anything else to get this device into service.
The basic package retails at $350; the addition of the Netgear interior router adds $25. There is also a RoguePro version which features a "nearly indestructible" stainless steel housing for the CPE. It is an additional $100.
This product overview includes the following sections:
- The Technology (What's in the Box)
- Software User Interface
- Performance Testing (Comparisons to the WiFiRanger MobileTi and Pepwave SoHo)
- Recommendation Summary
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The only critique I have of the product contents is that the Ethernet line may be a little short for some RV installations. But to be fair - there is no way to get this “right” for every situation.
The documentation and Quick Start Guide are excellent. Even novices should have no issue setting this up and getting it going. It really was quite simple - which is probably it’s best feature when compared to it’s competition.
The Rogue Wave uses a Ubiquiti Bullet M2 as the underlying CPE hardware. This specific model is the 800mW version of the M2, and covers the “N” WiFi protocol. It will take advantage of all the speed that an Access Point can provide to it. Other versions of the Bullet (there are many) may not handle the 802.11n networks and will have reduced throughput.
The Bullet is coupled with an 8.5 dbi omni antenna. This antenna is my personal choice for all Bullets used as CPE’s. I’ve been using this combination since Ubiquiti brought the Bullet to market, and in my opinion it is the best combination if you have the means to properly mount it. You cannot leave it erected on the roof of an RV - it is too tall. But mounted to a batwing antenna it is easily cranked up for use and lowered for travel.
On the negative side, while it is far more effective at signal capture than a shorter antenna, it also can put stress on the Bullet if not properly supported.
The Ubiquiti family of products is probably the most popular choice on today's market for use as a CPE. The choice of the Bullet is an excellent one because it allows coupling of a higher performance antenna than the other Ubiquiti devices commonly used (such as the NanoStation and PicoStation). While a PicoStation does have a built in omni antenna, it is not as powerful as the antenna provided with the Rogue Wave. The NanoStation has a built in directional antenna, and would require pointing the CPE at the signal source (the Access Point). In the RV world (and the boating world) this is a major inconvenience.
The supplied interior router is a consumer grade Netgear. It is not a cellular router - thus you cannot attach a cellular modem to it and use that modem as a source of Internet. If you have a cellular hotspot, though, the Bullet will pick up the wireless signal as an available Internet source. You can then connect the Netgear through that. This permits your local network - and any printer and device mappings that you establish - to remain the same whether you are on a cellular connection to the Internet, or you are connected through an RV park Access Point via WiFi. Enabling the hotspot on your phone or tablet would work the same way.
The router comes preconfigured to work correctly with it’s paired Bullet. As a user you are not required to do anything to get the device in service. However, you will likely want to configure the LAN to broadcast your personal SSID and change the default login information.
If you are comfortable setting up your own router, you can use a different interior router if you desire.
How the end user is required to deal with the CPE is where the complications of most of these devices lies. Getting the user interface as simple as possible, for the novice user, is the key to success. This means automating a lot of background work. I have to say, the Rogue Wave firmware accomplished this superbly. It is by far the simplest device in this class that I have used. There is no “network jargon” and the screens are simple and obvious. Well - at least they were to me.
After plugging everything in and powering it on I found the Netgear in my list of available networks. Once connected to it using the default login information I simply brought up a browser (it works with any browser I tried) and typed in “wavewifi.com”. This brought me to the screen above, and I selected my desired network. The result shows me connected to “RV-Park”. There are information columns to indicate the status of the connection and if there is encryption involved.
For networks that require login a field is displayed for your credentials during the connection process.
Here I am connecting to my cellular hotspot - a Verizon Jetpack UML-291L - and a login is required. Once you log in the first time the information is remembered and you will not have to enter the login credentials again.
You can also store your favorite networks. Shown above, I have stored three networks; one is open and two require login credentials. If I’m not logged onto a network and any of these networks are seen, then an auto connection will take place in the order listed. This worked fine - but it has limited sophistication. You cannot use it for failover from one network to another - you have to manually disconnect from a network before another is tried. This is really intended for use as a convenience when returning to areas - it automates the connection to the WiFi service.
There are limited statistics. You can monitor the signal levels of a connection over time. But there is no sophisticated bandwidth monitoring available.
The device worked well, the user interface is simple but complete enough in its capabilities for most users. It does not provide some of the details of more sophisticated implementations, but if it did it would likely negate its greatest virtue: simplicity.
Performance is obviously relative. There are two areas of primary interest to most people: throughput, and capture ability.
Throughput can be tricky to measure. All devices slow down the data stream - the question is, is it an acceptable or unacceptable level. In this case, the bottom line is that it is very acceptable.
I compared throughput of the Rogue Wave to a WiFiRanger Go2/MobileTi capturing WiFi. This is a pretty good comparison, since they both use a Ubiquiti Bullet as the underlying hardware for capture. I was mildly surprised that the Rogue Wave outperformed the WiFiRanger in the throughput tests. I also compared it to a Pepwave SOHO capturing WiFi. It outperformed that device too. So the Rogue Wave combination performs well.
I used Speedtest (to the same server) for these tests and ran a sequence of 25 interlaced test runs. (One Rogue Wave, then one WiFiRanger, then one Pepwave - and repeat 25 times. Yes, it was kinda boring). While the differences were significant, they are not so great that you would choose one device over the other based solely on this. The point is, that the Rogue Wave is a decent implementation and does not artificially slow down the data stream.
Capture ability was a different story. I set up a test environment where the Access Point was under my control. The Access Point was a Bullet M2 running at full power with an 12dbi omni antenna positioned at 24’ above the ground. The backhaul was a cellular modem on the Verizon network.
At the mobile end of the connection I compared the same three devices. The Rogue Wave, a standard WiFiRanger Go2/MobileTi, and a Pepwave SOHO. The CPEs were positioned for clear line of sight to the AP.
The WFR MobileTi used the stock Laird stubby antenna which is only rated as 3 dbi gain, NOT an 8.5 dbi gain omni antenna like on the Rogue Wave (or via the WiFiRanger XT Antenna upgrade).
So the comparison was a little unfair from a purely technical perspective. But at the time of testing this is how the WiFiRanger product was marketed. Recently, the WiFiRanger product line has been updated and the MobileTi has been replaced with a WiFiRanger Elite which includes a 6dbi omni antenna instead of the 3 dbi Laird, and a higher-powered CPE. With this change I would expect the Elite and the Rogue Wave to test around the same.
As I expected, the Rogue Wave stomped the other two devices. This is purely a technology contest - the Rogue Wave has by far the best antenna and a comparable CPE device to the WiFiRanger (the Bullet), so the results are predictable. And while the Pepwave has decent antennas on it, the fact that it is an indoor device and gets blocked by other RVs means it simply cannot compete against the other two devices. For this testing, it sat on a dashboard.
In the “confines of an RV park” test all the devices worked fine at 500’ from the AP - this was hardly a challenging test. The Pepwave was slowed down, but still fairly effective. The Rogue Wave and WiFiRanger were not affected by the distance at all. This was all tested in clear line of sight.
At 800’ the Pepwave pretty much dropped out. The others were unaffected. Again, clear line of sight.
At 1200’ the Rogue Wave was pretty much unaffected, but the WiFiRanger speed average was cut almost in half. While it is difficult to put a lot of stock in the actual speeds achieved, the fact that the WiFiRanger was affected by the distance is significant. However, this is not unexpected with the antenna in use on that device.
No further distance testing was done with the WiFiRanger Go2/Mobile pair. The 1200’ is pretty much the design limit for that combination of hardware, in my experience. It is designed to capture within the confines of an RV park (or nearby) and does that well. While you might capture from further distances, it is simply not designed for long distance capture.
I took the Rogue Wave out to almost a mile from the Access Point. Usable speeds were still achieved. But I expected that. The better antenna makes all the difference.
In summary, the performance of the Rogue Wave was in line with my expectations. It performs very well with this combination of hardware.
The Rogue Wave competes mainly with the WiFiRanger, and to a lesser extent with the Pepwave series of products that include WiFi as WAN capabilities. Mainly the SOHO (small office home office product). While Cradlepoint has some products that include WiFi as WAN capabilities, they do not perform at the levels of the Pepwave, let alone the Rogue Wave or the WiFiRanger, so they are not included in this comparison.
The WiFiRanger product line was recently updated to include the "Elite", which is based on the MikroTik routerBOARD Metal hardware and not the Ubiquiti products. This is a higher-powered CPE combined with a 6dbi omni antenna. This combination should test around the same as the Rogue Wave - perhaps even a little better, but essentially the same. I have however not had the opportunity to test it yet in person.
The Rogue Wave is a simple device that only handles “WiFi as WAN” - meaning capturing a WiFi signal and repeating it. It does not have the feature set of the WiFiRanger family, or the ability to integrate a cellular modem like the Pepwave or WiFiRanger. In some respects this is an advantage, since it is easier to set up and use.
The Rogue Wave works as advertised. So how do you decide between the Rogue Wave and a WiFiRanger? Remember, both use essentially the same CPE hardware for signal capture.
To me it is pretty simple. If you want a great WiFi capture device that concentrates on just WiFi capture then the Rogue Wave is hard to beat. It is simple to set up. It is simple to use. It is simple to manage. Get the idea? It is simple.
If you are looking for a full integration of cellular back haul capabilities, as well as a wide variety of other more sophisticated networking capabilities then the WiFiRanger is probably your device of choice. But it does require more attention to configuration and management. Both offer a simple interface to a potentially complex set of issues. But the Rogue Wave is far simpler.
This post lovingly provided to the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center by Jack Mayer, February 1, 2015
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