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Adding a Cell Phone Booster for my on-the-road RVing

| Updated Jul 11, 2013

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.

3barsLast 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.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2013-07-11

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

15 Responses to “Adding a Cell Phone Booster for my on-the-road RVing”

April 18, 2014at7:24 pm, Marcia GB in MA said:

We bought a wilson cell phone booster while in FL this past winter. Many of the FL state parks don’t have good reception. We could generally get a boost of two bars on phone and MiFi but decided we’ll get a wilson trucker’s antenna for about $30 which will boost it even more.

April 18, 2014at2:16 pm, John Campbell said:

Mike, if you can, have someone with ATT try that booster. I have 4G, and the link you had was for the 3G booster. Not sure if it makes a difference if you use another carrier. Right now, I’m hosting at Cedar Lake in the Ouachita Natl. Forest, and the only way I can get any signal is to put the phone in my rear window. If I pick it up to make a call, I lose all service.

August 04, 2013at5:17 pm, mobile phone said:

Superb problems altogether, you simply gained a whole new audience. What would an individual advise in regards to your own send for you to made some days before? Any kind of beneficial?

August 03, 2013at7:11 pm, Brian B said:

I live in NZ but am touring Europe in a campervan (RV) next year for 4-5 months. Do you know if this would work there? I am thinking of tethering my tablet off my cellphone.

July 31, 2013at10:03 am, Mike Wendland said:

Just turn the Roadtrek’s battery switch on… that’s all you need to do to make that plug live.

July 31, 2013at11:25 am, Jim Langley said:

Excellent. Thanks, Mike! And thanks for the recommendation on Verizon’s MiFi device. We used that crossing the country and back last month and it provided fast Internet almost non-stop coast to coast and back again. It amazed us and I was able to work on the road and not use up all my time off. Looking forward to adding the booster for access when we’re off the highways and booddocking. Thanks! Jim

July 31, 2013at9:53 am, Jim Langley said:

Thanks for the tips, Mike. Can you please tell what has to be turned on for there to be electricity coming out of that lighter plug? Does the RV’s battery and inverter have to be on? Or does it have power only when the RV is plugged into shore power? And does it power the appliance when you’re driving down the road? I’m asking because I tried charging my iphone from that plug and it didn’t work so I’m not sure what it takes to get it to power and appliance like your booster. Thanks for sharing your expertise and tips!
Jim Langley

July 15, 2013at12:18 pm, Mike Wendland said:

unplug from lighter
unplug antenna
plug in antenna
plug in cigarette lighter
put phone in cradle.

works every time for me

July 15, 2013at12:12 pm, Gary Hennes said:

I found it online at Walmart for $80. However, in store it’s $90, and they won’t even honor their own internet price!
Tried it out over the week-end in a remote river bottom spot in northern WI. Didn’t think I’d get any service, but had a week 2 bars without it. With it, there seemed to be no difference. Antenna is well back near center of roof (no solar here) – should I take it back?

July 11, 2013at9:51 pm, Mike Wendland said:

No drill…just open the door and run it in… then shut the door… try to hide it along the door edges but no need to drill

July 11, 2013at11:24 am, RonBoyd said:

“ran its connecting wire in through the side of the door”

So you what? Simply drilled a hole through the door (large enough to accommodate the end-piece) and then threaded the wire through?

July 11, 2013at10:02 am, Cheryl Gregorie said:

Thanks for the real test! Heading to Wal-Mart today!

July 11, 2013at9:48 am, Karsten Askeland said:

Very cool … will definitely have to try that out myself.

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