One of the challenges of being on the road so much and doing a blog like this is being reliably connected to the Internet in a whole bunch of different places.
I've been a huge fan of the Verizon Mi-Fi card and the network's strong nationwide footprint of 4G connectivity. It very reliably gives me near broadband speed as I travel. Sending video gobbles up a lot of bandwidth and almost all the videos I do for this blog were sent via the Verizon network.
But lately, I've been going to some really remote locations.
Last month at Yellowstone National Park, way back in the Lamar Valley boondocks, I saw a couple of wolf researchers from the University of Washington using their Verizon cellphone. The secret, they showed me, was an inexpensive cell phone booster that gave them several bars of connectivity when, without it, they had none.
So with a trip to Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula in the works right after my return from out west, I ordered one, too.
There are lots of different cell signal boosters available but I picked up the same one the wolf researchers were using – the Wilson Sleek 4G, available online starting at around $75. It's also stocked by many Walmart and Best Buy stores. It comes with a cell phone holder, cigarette plug power connector and a small magnetic antenna to attach to the roof of your vehicle.
I hooked up mine on my Roadtrek eTrek, attaching the holder to the dash by an adhesive on the back. I attached the magnetic mount above the driver's side roof and ran its connecting wire in through the side of the door.
On my first trip to the wilderness at the Porcupine State Wilderness area in the far northern part of the UP, I put it to the test.
You can see in the accompanying ideo that I had no connection at all. Not even a single bar.
I was just too far from the nearest cell tower.
So came the moment of truth. When I put my iPhone in the cradle, which contains the power booster, I now had coverage…. Three bars. Not bad. From zero to three bars.
I could put the phone in the cradle or put the Mi-Fi card in and make my own hotspot.
Oer the past week, I have now traveled all over the UP and have been in some really desolate country. I have been surprised how many places had very good cell coverage without the booster. Verizon has really expanded its network. In the middle of the Ottawa National Forest, a vast expanse of one million acres, I actually had 4G coverage about 10 miles outside of the village of Watersmeet.
But in several places just too distant from a tower, when my Mi-Fi or iPhone showed no or marginal coverage, the booster helped every time.