Next Generation Internet Connectivity for Working from the Road
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
It’s been about a year and half since we installed our first generation solution for having Internet access while working from the road in our converted van. It’s been not only nice but in some ways freeing to be able to stay in touch, work, and keep tabs on our home while we travel the country and find new adventures. We’ve done some fine tuning and tried several carrier plans in order to optimize our connectivity and we’ve learned quite a bit along the way. Having the power of a dedicated router combined with a good omnidirectional antenna has enabled us to have Internet connectivity in places where our handsets are rendered useless beyond their reach to wireless networks. It has also enabled us to monitor the the performance of our systems and keep an eye on the van via WiFi cameras when we away from the van adventuring or staying in the occasional hotel. But along the way we could not help but feel what we had was good but not optimal. Speeds were workable most of the time but not great. Making handset plans work with the router was fiddly and time consuming and felt less than above board to the point it did not feel right sharing some of the nitty gritty details.
Last winter while researching solutions I came across a YouTube Video (I can’t find it right now) about this guy working on a solution specifically for mobile use with a more advanced modem and software specifically for the use in conversion vans and RVs. A few months later I saw some more posts about this router and finally got in touch with Micah Thomas at Epic Off-Grid. I had a bunch of questions regarding the differences between his new router and the MOFI 4500 that I was using at the time. He pointed out the “Cat 16 modem”, faster processor, more RAM and more storage as well as 5G capability down the road. We talked about the plans he offers on the Verizon network that are unlimited and unthrottled. We talked about the speeds that could be expected and I decided to place an order with him. I placed the order on a Friday, he shipped that day and I had it by Noon the next Monday.
Unboxing the Epic Pro Router
Summary of what is included in the box:
Epic Pro Router with optional pre-installed Verizon SIM Card
Package of SIM card adaptors
DC Power Cord (9 - 24 volts)
DC cord barrel adaptor (for use with common 12v bricks)
2 - 2.4Ghz WiFi antennas
2 - 5Ghz WiFi Antennas
Metal anti-tamper plate to cover the SIM and SD slots as well as the USB port
2 Epic Off-Grid stickers
Installation boiled down to a few basic steps. First you need to plan for a location for your router and your antenna. You want to choose a spot where the router can be very close to the antenna in order to keep the length of the antenna leads short. This will minimize signal loss in the cables. The other consideration is to plan for how you’re going to get 12v DC to the router. In out case we have a spot right next to our main switch panel located just inside the sliding door. This spot is also near the ceiling where we can mount the antenna.
Our router came completely set up with a Verizon SIM from Epic Off Grid so it was just a matter of mounting the router with 4 screws, hooking up the power, and then making sure we hooked up the right antenna leads to the right ports on the router. It powered up and immediately connected to the Verizon LTE network with no configuration required on our end. More on those plans below.
Parsec Collie LTE/Wifi Antenna
After speaking with Micah at Epic Off Grid we decided to upgrade our antenna to the Parsec Collie unit available on their site. It features not only omnidirectional LTE capabilities but also integrateds WiFi making your vehicle into a rolling WiFi hotspot. Having the WiFi antenna located outside the vehicle dramatically increases the range of our Internet connection around your camping area while still providing a strong connection inside the vehicle. The omni directional nature of the Collie means we have optimal connectivity while driving on our road trips which is essential for working remotely.
One other thing I really like over our previous omni antenna is the antenna leads are only 3ft. long and are much thicker. Both mean less loss of signal in the cable.
Data Plans from Epic Off Grid
Epic Off Grid offers two unlimited plans on the Verizon network. The first is $69.95 per month and is subject to prioritization during times of congestion. So far I have had pretty good luck with this plan especially when out camping where there’s less congestion. I do notice the deprioritization when home near DFW Airport. They also offer a “Verizon Plus” plan that includes 35GB of highest priority data for $89.95 per month. Both plans are unlimited and not subject to throttling due to exceeding a data limit.
User Experience and Performance
First I have to say thanks to Micah at Epic Off Grid for his attention to detail and support. My router order arrived in two days and everything was complete and setup, ready to be installed. I installed the router in place of the MOFI 4500 I installed a year and a half ago and everything went without a hitch other than my installing the LTE antenna leads wrong creating some erratic reception and connection issues which was entirely my bad. All of the ports on the router and on the included antenna leads were labeled clearly. I just messed up and for a while we could not figure out the problem until I triple checked the connections and discovered my mistake. Since getting things hooked up right the system has exceeded my expectations for connectivity in remote areas as well as throughput performance. The Cat 16 modem in the router is a definite upgrade over the MOFI unit and has enabled speeds we were not able to achieve before. We depend on our Internet connection to allow us to work remote as well as to monitor systems and security we have setup in the van. Having the coverage of Verizon is also a plus and knowing we are on a legit plan (no hacking TTLs, etc.) gives us confidence that we will have connectivity when we need it.
Pros and Cons:
An Integrated solution that can be ordered with unlimited Verizon plans takes a lot of the research, guesswork, and trial and error out of the process of getting a robust Internet solution for on the road work.
"Legit" unlimited plans are available from Epic Off Grid so no more trying to fool the carriers into thinking our router data is handset data.
Epic Off Grid provides a front end page on the router where performance can be monitored and the most common configuration tasks are readily available so you don't have to pick through the default system interface.
FAST modem that is superior to the one in the Mofi 4500. While wireless traffic conditions and distance to cell towers can limit performance, the modem in the Epic Pro has the potential to deliver very fast speeds via carrier aggregation.
I think the first thing I noticed is there is no Internet connection indicator light on the router. The MoFi had a nice panel of lights to indicate status and connection. It's nice when on the move it is nice to see if you have Internet or not.
The port labels are on the end of the router so they are near impossible to read when mounted. This made it easy for me to. make a mistake hooking up the antennas and difficult to find the mistake. This can be overcome by being very careful to hook things up right in the first place.
This solution is more expensive than our Mofi setup but you get what you pay for. For us it is worth it to have a more robust and higher performance Internet connection when on the road.