When Jennifer and I decided to become full-time nomads our number one concern was staying connected online. Jennifer’s full-time job is entirely online. I run this website and do research and plan for our travels all online. So, keeping a reliable connection literally allows us to make money and keeps us traveling. With the proliferation of 4G speeds and now 5G, cellular data has surpassed all other forms of possible mobile internet connections in reliability and affordability. However, cell phone signals even need a little help now and again and that is where a WeBoost comes in handy. We think this device is so critical to a successful nomadic life that we decided to do this WeBoost review.
The WeBoost acquires the cellular signal already present and then amplifies that signal making it faster and more reliable. The WeBoost is very easy to use. You power it on and your phone, regardless of provider, works. There is no need to pair devices as the WeBoost transmits the same cell frequencies that your phone is already designed to automatically pick up.
The Two Antennas
All WeBoost models have two antennas. One that goes on the outside of the vehicle and one that goes on the inside of the vehicle. Because both are designed to work on the same bandwidths as the cellular networks the two can interfere with one another. Proper placement of the two antennas is essential for these devices to work optimally.
Drive X WeBoost Review
For our modest truck camper, the WeBoost Drive X was nearly perfect out of the box. The internal antenna is designed for smaller vehicles so it is not very powerful. This ensures that we get no interference with our external antenna. The catch is that the cellphone must be within 18” – 36” from the internal antenna. Some people might find this restrictive but as we mostly use it to boost our phones for hotspot connectivity (using the phones to connect our computers) this does not really affect us much. We leave the phone about 24″ from the internal antenna and we can roam with our computers over 30′ away from our phones and still stay connected. We do sometimes forget when we take phone calls and walk out of range of the WeBoost but this is a small inconvenience for an otherwise perfect system.
The Outside Antenna
The small omnidirectional outside antenna that comes with the WeBoost Drive X wasn’t going to cut it for us. These are designed to magnetically connect to the roof of a traveling vehicle and pick up signals from any direction. This omnidirectional antenna has limitations because of power restrictions placed on moving vehicles in the United States. Directional antennas are always going to work better because of their fundamental design.
WeBoost Drive Reach RV vs. Destination RV Models
WeBoost manufactures several larger models specifically designed for RVs. The internal antenna on each is larger allowing it to cover more of the internal space for larger RVs. Just keep in mind that the internal antenna must be mounted away from the external antenna to keep them from interfering. For smaller vans and campers I highly recommend the standard Drive X over the RV models. The major difference between the Reach and Destination models is the external antennas. The Reach has an omnidirectional antenna that is a good solution for RVers wanting to stay connected while driving. The Reach is designed to optimize connectivity when parked with a directional antenna but it can not be used while driving.
Adding a Directional Antenna
We chose to toss the magnetic omnidirectional antenna and get a Wilson 75 Ohm directional antenna that would pull down a much stronger signal. The downside to a directional antenna is that you have to know where to point it in order to pick up the cellular source. There are apps for this or one can simply slowly turn the antenna until it picks up a stronger signal. We use the Open Signal app which is one of our favorite full-timer apps. When we did our custom install of the WeBoost Drive system I made sure that our mounting solution gave us the ability to easily swivel the antenna in any direction.
Alternatives to Cellular Data
Wifi hot spots are extremely unreliable and rarely fast enough for our work requirements. At a minimum, we need data speeds of 1.5Mbps up and down. Campgrounds rarely have speeds that fast. Coffee shops are hit or miss. Libraries are usually the one exception where the wifi data speeds are often very fast. When we are in an area with rough cell network speeds we always look for the nearest public library.
Another option is satellite internet providers like HughesNet. This is a great option for people with larger RVs as the dish can be cumbersome. We didn’t have the space. You also need to know how to re-aim the dish every time you set up camp. If you go too far north (like the arctic circle) you will most likely have issues connecting to the satellites as they all circle the globe near the equator. Still, even with these concerns, it would be a good option at $140/month for 50GB, if it worked. They say you can expect 25Mbps down but only 3Mbps up. One of my family members has HughesNet. While the download speeds are usually descent the upload speeds make it unusable for what Jennifer and I need as working nomads.
Starlink is the next generation of satellite internet. It is a branch of SpaceX. As of mid-2021, it is in beta testing. So far the product looks very promising. The technology’s major difference is the satellites are placed in a much lower orbit allowing for much less latency and the dish aligns itself. The low orbit requires many more satellites to cover the globe. The increased number of satellites keeps the bandwidth high. Currently, the speeds are exceeding 100mbps with no data cap. While in the beta phase the coverage is limited but SpaceX intends to cover the entire northern hemisphere by the end of 2021. However, the real issue is going to be power consumption. Reports have the dish requiring 100 watts per hour. Might need to upgrade the battery bank.
WeBoost Review Conclusion
As we have traveled North America our cell service connectivity has always been at the forefront of our minds. We often find ourselves in far-flung remote locations with 1-bar of reception. All it takes is a flip of the switch to power on the WeBoost. Instantaneously our uncertain connection bumps up to a solid 2 bars and data speeds usually at least double. We have yet to come across a rural area with a questionable connection that the WeBoost didn’t make it possible to work. Let’s be clear though, this isn’t a magic box, if the signal isn’t there it won’t magically create one. One bar is all we need. As soon as we see the 1 bar LTE we know we will most likely be fine.
Typically, we have more trouble finding a reliable connection in larger cities because the towers are so overloaded that the data speeds are greatly reduced. We will take 1 bar and a WeBoost on a remote speck of land adjacent to a mountain stream over 4 bars and no bandwidth on a crowded urban street any day.
WeBoost Review – What You Need
Check out our WeBoost install post to see how we optimized our WeBoost for our nomadic rig. We built a custom antenna solution to make setup fast and easy. We also wired and tested the entire system before attaching anything to our rig to ensure that the antennas weren’t interfering with each other and that we had optimal placements for use.
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