In this Section:
- Cell phone providers
- Improving your cell phone signal
Cell Phone Providers
We often get asked which cell phone provider to use for best coverage. There is no
definitive answer – it really depends on where you travel and how you place your calls. We use Verizon America’s
Choice Family Plan. This has provided us excellent coverage across the nation. Others use Cingular and report equally good
coverage. It just depends on where you place your calls from. Friends of ours are on our Verizon Family Plan. They also have
their own Cingular plan, which they are about to give up. They have found that for their use Verizon gives them better coverage
than Cingular. In my opinion, if you are a user of Verizon or Cingular, then I would just stick with your current provider.
Notice we have not mentioned any of the “smaller” companies. They may
give really good service in a specific area – in fact better than Verizon or Cingular – but they do not have the
nationwide coverage (in practice) that the big guys have. Personally, I would not recommend them, but if you are already with
one of them you have nothing to loose by sticking with them and seeing what happens.
If you are buying new phones, or are eligible for an upgrade, then make sure you get
a phone that has an external antenna connector. As a fulltimer, or extended timer, you are sure to be in marginal service
areas. The ability to add an external antenna, and the use of an amplifier, will enable good connections in areas where you
would not be able to hold a signal without them. But to use either the external antenna or amp you must have a phone that
has an external antenna connector. Many phones have them well hidden under little plugs near the antenna.
Cell Phone Antennas and Amplifiers
There are a number of antennas for use with cell phones. We, and most other RVers, prefer the Wilson Trucker Antenna.
There are actually two models of this.
One is designed for use on RVs and has a long threaded shaft extension designed to go through the roof of the RV. It
can be cut off and mounted on a bracket on the roof. This is the antenna we use
– mounted to the side of one of our solar panels. The advantage of using this on the roof is that the antenna is relatively
short and will not get caught on tree branches as easily.
|Wilson Trucker RV Model
The second model of the Wilson Trucker is designed to be mirror mounted on a truck
mirror. The disadvantage of roof mounting this is that it sticks up pretty far and is subject to limb damage. If you choose
to use this on the roof, make sure you mount it on the far left of your rig, and use an antenna spring to minimize damage.
In my opinion, the proper use of this version of the antenna is 1) on a mirror arm,
as designed, 2) a permanent mount on the side of the RV with just the top of the antenna projecting above the roof, 3) on
a PVC pipe that is temporarily attached to the RV slide with clamps when in camp.
Both versions of the Wilson can be used on fiberglass RVs. They do not require
a ground plane – the radials you see near the top of the antenna perform this function. Both
versions should be mounted so that they are not obstructed by air conditioners or other objects on the RV roof. Clear line-of-site
to the cell tower is required for best reception.
comes with 12’ of cable. You should carefully consider where you prefer to sit when you use the phone. See if the cable
can be easily routed to that location without extending it. Extending the cable attenuates (decreases) the cell signal. On our rig we dropped the cable down the refrigerator vent and sit at the dining table
when we use the antenna. Our amplifier is under the refrigerator, and the 12-volt power required for the amp is tapped off
of the refrigerator power. Each installation will be different, but you need 12-volt power for the amp, and a location that
minimizes cable run.
|Wilson Trucker - Mirror Mount
|Wilson Magnetic Mount Antenna
If you want an antenna on your toad (car) then I’d suggest a Wilson
magnetic mount. The one listed below is excellent. If you have the amplifier in your RV you can easily move it out to your
toad if you need really good reception when you are driving around.
|Wilson RV style mounted to solar panel
|Wilson Mirror mount on side of RV
|Fiberglass antenna - 25"
If you are looking for an even better antenna than the Wilson Trucker – at least
the specifications are better, I have no personal experience with it – then take a look at SKU CM100 on the Prime Cellular
site. It is a fiberglass antenna with 9 dB of gain. The disadvantage of this antenna is that it is more difficult to permanently
mount, since it is 25” tall. However, for an antenna on a PVC pole that is only put in place once you set up, it should
provide as good or better service than a Wilson Trucker antenna. I would only consider this if I knew I had extreme reception
issues in an area I set up in frequently. At about $84 the extra gain you get would normally not be worth the premium over
the Wilson Trucker, unless you really need it.
Here are my suggestions for
the “typical” RV setup.
1. I would probably get
the RV version of the trucker antenna because it is shorter on the roof of the rig - otherwise it is the same unit as the
mirror mount one. You can either mount it through your ceiling directly into your RV, or on a separate mount on the roof and
cut off the section designed to go through your roof. Look here: http://www.primecellular.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=126 and scroll down for SKU: 301119. The alternative is the longer trucker, SKU: 301101. I'd use the
longer one if I wanted to mount it on the side of the rig, shorter one if ON the roof. Both are the same unit and operate
the same. Neither needs a ground plane - that is what the radials on them are for.
A car antenna should be magnetic mount,
and attachable to the amp. Look at SKU: 301103 on the same page. It will connect directly to the booster.
You will need the specific adaptors that go on the end of the 6' cable that
comes with the amp and connects that cable to your phone. They will tell you what you need when you call. Or you can find
them on their adaptor area of the website.
You may need an extension
for the amp or the wire from the amp to the phone. Try to avoid this if possible, since it diminishes the signal.