Telstra Data setup
UPDATE: We have now ditched all the below with the release of Starlink’s RV (mobile) version – see that blog post here
As we work 3 days a week online, we needed to have reliable communications and the best Internet connectivity we could afford.
After some looking around, it was decided we had to bite the bullet and go the Telstra route. So I paid out my Optus contract and swapped over. I also picked up a Telstra 4GX portable hotspot and shared that on my account. With the combined two devices we now had 210gb of data per month to use.
UPDATE: After 17 months on the road the battery swelled to 4 times its original size, popped the back off and bounced the modem to the floor! We have put in a new battery for now ($30 on ebay).
Next issue is when you pull up the foil blinds on the caravan you end with a Faraday cage – ie, very little signal in or out of the van! That aside, we also are looking at some out of town areas and wanted to gain the best coverage possible. More research, this time I bought and installed a CelFi Go portable mobile network repeater. With an antenna mounted outside the van and the repeater antenna inside the van, signal coverage area is increased significantly. The best price I found online delivered was from Red Fleet Safety. Prices are around the $800 mark give or take depending on antenna choice (prices start from $792 as of May 2022 – Telstra sell the same kit for around $1200).
Our van has a roof mounted cupboard beside the Battery Management System, which is also right below the TV antenna – best of both worlds! You can just see the external antenna cable for the Repeater poking into the side of the power/antenna block for the TV, then it goes into the ceiling and through the roof just near the antenna mount. I used a V shaped stainless steel cable exit cover (marine) with the opening for the cable facing to the rear. Stuffed it full of Silicone and riveted in place. I also pulled the winder mechanism for the TV antenna pole apart and service/lubricated while I was there. The internal repeater antenna you can just make out on the lower right of the Battery Management system, its about the size of a pencil. In this location it has the Battery Management system and the aluminium roof between the antennas, providing pretty good separation (the app tells you how well separated they are). Power cables were easy, simply remove the Cig Lighter plug and used a circuit that only has the Radio powered from it.
I mounted the outdoor antenna on top of the TV wind up antenna post, so it lays back flat on the roof for travelling. I was a bit concerned at the extra weight on the wind up mechanism, but operating gently it has not been an issue. The block of foam is to support the weight of the antenna against the roof when lying down, saves it bouncing against the roof.
Very happy with the result and not too hard an install for me with the equipment locations (I also used to install mobile car phones back in the day so the whole concept is not foreign to me at all.)
UPDATE – 17 months later:
After 17 months on the road we found that Telstra mobile Data through the top of SA, most of NT and the top half of WA was pathetic – no other polite way to describe it. Many of the areas showing 4G coverage are actually covered by repeaters, much like the CelFi. This meant that the limited data bandwidth of the main tower was now being shared over many, many areas. Net result was download speeds averaging far less than 1mbps.
When we were in close enough range to a real tower the Celfi did its job and increased the signals to a useable level. Overall we were happy with and impressed by the 4GX modem and the CelFi GO system. The only let down for us was Telstra itself.
However, as we require regular video conference meetings and work online, we needed better speeds and more coverage so have opted to ditch the Telstra solution and replace it with SpaceX’s Starlink system. A few weeks in now and its fantastic – working well over 100mbps and carries Voice over WiFi so we can now operate from absolutely anywhere. More details in this post.