Hi Ho WifiRanger, To the Rescue!
We may not travel as often as some fulltimers, but we have many of the same internet connectivity frustrations as our more mobile Airstreaming friends. A few of them have written about a new product that helps keep you online no matter if you’re on cellular or WiFi – it’s called the WifiRanger. I reached out to the folks at WifiRanger and explained our situation. They sent us over an evaluation unit and we’re impressed with how well it works!
I love it when a company is hyper-focuses on providing the best solution after listening and getting to know their customers’ pain points. From the first time you visit their website, to hooking up and using their products, it’s obvious that WifiRanger is for RVers who’ve had trouble connecting for years.
Let’s start with the hardware. WifiRanger shipped us two routers – the WifiRanger MobileTI and GO2. Why two you ask? The MobileTI installs outside your RV and connects via hard wire to the GO2 router inside. This setup serves two major purposes. First, to capture Wifi and Cellular signals from outside, avoiding what’s known as the “Faraday Cage” problem of living in an aluminum tube. An ethernet cable brings the captured signal inside to a second router which serves as an internal wired OR wireless hub for connecting other devices and computers (ahem, Xboxes) you may have scattered throughout your home. This setup alone serves to boost the available signal inside the Airstream, but the WifiRanger also has added WiFi signal boosting capabilities built-in as well!
Everything you need to install the units come in the box — from cables to mounting tape, they’ve thought of everything. They even include a mounting bracket for the folding “batwing” TV antenna common on many RVs and Airstreams! Unfortunately, they don’t send out a technician to install the outside antenna, which would have been nice if you ask me, but they’ve thought of just about everything else!
Understandably, WifiRanger didn’t include specific instructions for running cable from the rooftop into my 2010 27FB Airstream International. After doing it myself now it’s obvious that this is a case-by-case affair depending on how your rig is setup, where holes are pre-drilled, etc.
WifiRanger does a great job of preparing you with tools, but you’ll also need these things:
- Drill with #21 bit (I used a 1/8 drill)
- Rivet gun with 5/32 rivets Olympic rivets (I used pop rivets, appearantly a no-no, so i’ll be replacing these this summer)
- Razor or exacto knife
- Alcohol or mineral spirits
- Vulkem or other brand Polyurethane sealant
- A partner for running cable
- a plan
I decided that going through the vent for the refrigerator was the path less dangerous for me, so on the roof I went. Instead of finding a perfectly open hole, I found a cover and screen fastened to said vent with rivets. Despite my best efforts, I had no choice but to drill into the top of the Weasel’s head.
Turns out, it was easier than I thought to get the rivets out. I recommend a tool to start the drill bit so you’re not skating all over the place like I was, but you can do it without one if you’re careful. I only needed to pop out the rivets on one side of the vent to use enough hole space to drop in the cable. (I realized after the fact that i used the wrong rivets… so I’ll be replacing pop rivets with 5/32 Olympic rivets this summer).
Up next, fishing the cable down behind the fridge. This is definitely a two person job and proved the most challenging for us. We opted to NOT remove the fridge. We should have, but we didn’t. I took out the false wall behind the cubby above the fridge and collected all the cable from above. Then, with Tiff craning her neck up from the outside access door behind the fridge, I started poking the cable down. This took a long time – maybe an hour or more.
FINALLY we poked through and Tiff was able to grab the bottom of the cable. We pulled through and into a pre-existing hole set up for other cables. Then we just ran the cable under Lucy’s Bed our side couch under the TV where we keep the Mac Mini, Xbox, and now, the WifiRanger GO2.
Setting Up and Getting Connected
With everything connected we started the setup process. It’s important to remember that there are two routers – you set one up to act as a slave (the outside Mobile unit) and the other a Master (inside GO2). You’ll see two wifi sources appear on your PC if you leave the GO2 wifi on. WifiRanger gives you two options to log into your router – simply typing in ‘mywifiranger.com’ takes you to the master, or you can also type in an ip address to go directly to the settings page for each router. I really liked how they pre-set the router number to an ip address for easy memorization – another touch that reminds us they are thinking about pain points!
Our setup experience overall was very much a plug and play affair. We “had to” (ok , I wanted to!) tweak a few settings to get everything dialed in and avoid searching for cellular signal (for now), but that was easy thanks to preconfigured settings you can load from the user interface. Again, there are quick start and full docs online to help you dig deeper into the settings.
Overall the software interface is very nice once you understand there is one for the slave and one for the master. Any changes you make to one don’t necessarily carry to the other, nor should they. For example, you want to make sure the antenna strength outside is strong, but the one inside is lower so you don’t get interference. But this is an easy concept to grasp. Everything else is very well documented with help tips and of course full documentation is available online.
Closing Up Shop
Now that we’re sure everything is set up, it’s time to button up the installation. We fed enough cable down to keep a ring of slack on top of the refrigerator. We also made sure there was plenty of cable to allow the WifiRanger MobileTI to easily ride up and down as we raise and lower the batwing. I tightened the fastener screws on the batwing one last time and zip-tied the cable to the antenna. Then I re-attached the vent hood.
It was my first time riveting and applying Vulkem to anything. I can’t say I did a great job here – more like passable (except for using the wrong rivets). First I cleaned off any excess old sealant and wiped the area with alcohol. Then I applied a layer of black Vulkem in a small bead. This stuff is BRUTALLY sticky, so a little goes a long way. It’s pretty tough to work with overall. I pushed the vent back down, ensuring a solid seal, and tried to clean up as much excess Vulkem as I could. Then I re-riveted the cover down using the original rivet holes.
Here’s the final product – again, passable. Ok, so maybe I overdid it on the Vulkem! I’ll be checking on it over the next few months to make sure we’re not leaking anywhere.
Ifs, Ands, or Buts
We’ve really not found too many problems with the WifiRanger setup yet. Having two connected routers instead of one takes a tiny “getting familiar” period. Of course NOT requiring a drill to the top of the roof would have been a plus as well. I believe this is an option for the Sky model, but we wanted the extra range and lifetime warranty given by the MobileTI.
We’ve had a few major internet outages so far while using the WifiRanger, and I can’t blame the WifiRanger for any of them. I updated the firmware on the GO2 but forgot to do so on the Mobile once, resulting in an inconsistent signal. An error message would have been nice, but I know what to look for now! Other outages were the result of a bad router and inconsistent internet sources.
It’s also important to note that this is NOT a cellular antenna or amplifier. It catches and boosts WiFi signal only. You can attach an aircard to the GO2, or you can connect a Mifi wirelessly as your cellular internet source, but you get no other benefit to increase the cellular signal. WifiRanger sells a separate cellular booster if that is something you need.
One really nice feature is the ability to “failover” from one connection type to another. So if you’re cruising along on WiFi and something happens to the signal, the router can automatically jump to a backup cellular, ethernet, or other WiFi signal. This is particularly nice if you travel with lots of WiFi devices. You’ll only need to log the WifiRanger unit into the new signal. All your other devices happily stay connected to your internal WiFi.
Speaking of cellular signals, there are lots of options to track data and limit how strong or weak a signal is before you join. You can also “rate” your signals to help remember and more easily connect to favorites.
The MobileTI itself is really solid. It’s weatherproof, comes with a Lifetime Guarantee, and the bracket and unit feel sturdy and solid. And since it attaches to the external extending TV antenna, you can raise it above lots of interference causing obstacles.
My favorite feature is the ability to turn your WifiRanger into a WiFi Broadcaster! You can set it up to reflect the signal it gets back out so that others around you can get online. Obviously something to be careful with as long as cellular data prices climb, but is a nice option for friends who don’t have access.
Overall, we’re super impressed with the WifiRanger MobileTI and GO2 units as a long distance WiFi connection device. It’s rare that a product lives up to the hype the way the WifiRanger has for us. We look forward to putting the cellular capabilities to use once we go fully mobile. For now, we’re finding its range to be astonishing for distant WiFi signals – we’ve connected from 1000ft and get signals as far away as 2000ft. Connection is simple and setup is a breeze (once you break out the drill and fish the cable inside).
Have any of you used the WiFiRanger? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!