Wireless USB External Antena

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Well-known member
Mar 12, 2005
Check out this wireless external antenna that plugs into a USB port. Designed specifically for RVs.
$170 is a lot for an 802.11b external client adapter.  USB 2.0 won't make any difference as the adapter is limited to 11Mbps, slower than USB 1.0.

There are better solutions for less money.
Check out the Hawking HWU54D adapter.  It has gotten very good reviews.  It's also a USB adapter and sells for ~$50.
It depends a lot on how far you are going to haul your laptop from your rig and what you have in/on/near your rig.

Option 1: No data service in MH.  You use your cell phone as a data modem  Contact your cellular provider for detalis, costs me 20/month

Option 2: Using campground wireless service when they have it... Then this antenna becomes 'interesting'

Option 3: Datastorm or simular in/on/around Motor home (Contact RON for more info there) use a wireless router in the MH and simply set the laptop on the picnic table, or dining table, or mh-office table, or Well you should be able to use it just about anywhere on your campsite and possible the one next to you as well depending on router placement  I am about 25' from my router as I type this (As the beam flys) router in basement, I"m on first floor, stick built house w/steel beams  Lots of furnace stuff between me and the router.

I very strongly suggest option 3
BruceinFL said:
Check out this wireless external antenna that plugs into a USB port. Designed specifically for RVs.

For a $170 bucks you could buy a Linksys WRT54G Router and a couple USB wireless adaptors.  Check out the Hawkins that Ned mentioned They do a good job.  Linksys also make a good USB wireless adaptor at around $70 unless you happen to find them on sale.
Thanks Ned, that unit looks interesting.  I have wireless built in to my laptop (Apple) but it doesn't have enough range for some of the campgrounds so I need a directional antenna.

Builtin antennas are generally of limited range.  A USB adapter can be positioned for better reception and the Hawking is one of the best.
Hi folks - just wanted to add my two cents.  I design and install wireless networks at RV parks all over the country and had a few comments about this adapter/antenna and RV park wireless systems in general.

The primary issues with coverage/service in RV parks are as follows:

1. Distance from antenna
2. Trees or other obstructions
3. Signal penetration into the RV

These 3 things combined with the ouput power of the wireless adapter you use will dictate how well your wi-fi service works (assuming the network was designed and installed properly and is functioning as intended).

Most wireless client adapters have output power of 10mW - 50mW.  The USB client adapter/antenna talked about here has 400mW of output power (26 dBm) AND comines that with being in an outdoor antenna (where signal is best........OUTSIDE).

One thing many people don't know about wireless access points is that a single customer attaching to the network with a poor signal can slow down everyone attached to the same access point.  This is because the AP can actually only "talk" to a single client at any given time (of course this happens hundreds of times of a second) and when a client connects at 1 Mbps for example, the AP throttles ALL communications to that 1Mbps level.  This is why it is critical to design a network with very intentional coverage areas as well as assuring that customers in those coverage areas have good signal levels.

Having said all that, this USB client radio/omni antenna all built in one unit is a GREAT option.  Many times, wi-fi signal will be good/great outside of your RV, but once inside, the signal drops dramatically.  You may be able to surf OK, but if you are connecting at a lower rate (2 Mbps or 1 Mbps), you could very well be slowing down the network for everyone else.  Placing the antenna outside where it can receive optimal signal will not only result in a better connection for you, but everyone else around you as well.

For those of you that think this is an expensive option for wi-fi connectivity..........all I can say is that when you want to use wi-fi service from the comfort of your coach and your tired of fighting signal problems, having to go to the rec hall/office/bath house, etc to get a good connection........get a better wireless adapter for your laptop or desktop and you will be a happy camper!
Ned said:
Builtin antennas are generally of limited range.  A USB adapter can be positioned for better reception and the Hawking is one of the best.


As an experiment, we took the board from the Linksys USB adapter and put it in a box with an external antenna jack so it could be used with a high gain antenna.  Two weeks ago at Bryce Canyon my friend could connect to my MH over 1000 feet away.  I was camped at the uphill side of the campground and he was down by the lake.

Interesting experiment, Phil.  I know of others that have modified standard USB adapters for outside use by waterproofing and extending the cable.  There is a length limit to a USB cable that can be a factor.

As dnk1988 points out, gain and power are the answer.  The Hawking is higher power than most other adapters and has a 6dBi directional antenna.
What's the power output of the Hawking?  I can't find a spec anywhere that includes it. The antenna rates pretty good, though, and that's probably half the battle right there.

I have a Senao 802.11(b) with USB connect and a small antenna that puts out a full 200 mW, about 4x the typical PC Card or built-in.  I'm getting a full strength signal ("Excellent") here while my neighbors on either side see only "Fair" or "Poor" with their standard set-ups.

I couldn't find the power output of the Hawking either, but the field reports I've read indicate it's probably in the 200mw range.  I will probably pick one up if I see it in a store.

I've read good reports of the Senao products also.
dmk1998, thanks for the infomation.  I assume the speed of a wifi connection varies with the signal strength, is that correct and if so why? And if that's so I guess the guy with the weak signal is slowing it down for everybody?
Another 2-cents - or whatever it's worth :-\

The 19" antenna they're talking about would be a 4 wavelength antenna (2.4gHz = 4.91"; about the size you find on a wireless router/access point). An antenna cannot boost a signal level; gain is a term relative to a half-wave dipole antenna which is assumed to have a gain of one (1). A full-wave antenna will have double the 'gain' or a 3db level above that of the half-wave dipole. To assume that a 19" dipole antenna (four wavelengths @ 2.4gHz) will be any better than a 4.91" antenna is simply bad math or a poor understanding of radio in general. The fact that it's omni-directional makes it worse because a directional antenna, such as is used in satellite tv or Internet, is far more efficient in gathering and concentrating radio waves because it is being aimed at the signal source, rather than accepting a signal from wherever it may originate. True, you would have to aim it as you do your DTV antenna or Motosat, but if you want the best signal possible, that's what you have to do.

Although a boost in output power from 50mW to 200mW or 400mW will certainly increase your transmit range, it has no effect whatever on the distance at which you can receive a signal. Once your system and the wi-fi system you're trying to communicate with have reached equilibrium in terms of transmit power and receive sensitivity, no increase in transmit power will have any effect - with the possible exception of high noise level areas or local atmospheric conditions.

Like Phil said he had done, I've mounted my access point in the skylight of the head. Maybe not the most aesthetically pleasing location, but the lack of walls, etc. should prove very beneficial. We'll see in QZ :)     
Caltex - the answer to your question about signal strength and speed is yes - and no.  While signal strength alone can impact data performance, the quality of the signal plays just as important a role.  For example, you can have 100% signal strength (a relevant term based on the utility you use for measurement), but the signal could be so noisy that is almost unusable by the radio within your client adapter (due to mutli-path, reflection, refraction, obstacle penetration, RF noise, etc).  They keys to the best performance are (in no particular order), radio sensitivity, output power, antenna gain and in the case of wi-fi, clear LOS (line of sight) or semi-clear LOS to minimize signal attenuation.

Keep in mind that having a 11 Mbps, 22 Mbps, 54 Mbps, etc connection has no real relevance to internet surfing speeds since most locations are being fed by a 1.5 Mbps DSL connection or a 1-3 Mbps cable connection.  However, those connection rates DO IMPACT the performance of communications between your adapter and the access point.  They really should identify these "connection speeds" in a different manner as they really indicate the solidity of the connection between you and the AP, not surfing speed.

To answer your other question - When someone connects to an access point with a 1 Mbps connections, the AP has to "throttle back" its communication with all other associated client radios.  This is caused by several factors.  The 1 Mbps client has a poor connection to the AP which results in lots of data loss during the communication process.  This causes the AP or the client to send many "re-send" request to each other, tying up the network and causing delays for other users.  In addition, because the AP really only communicates with one client at a time (again, hundreds of times a second) it will communicate with all clients at the same speed, so a poor/slow connection user causes everyone else to connect at their (slower) rate.
Remember that wi-fi is a contentious based network topology, meaning it uses collision avoidance (like a hub) and not collision detection.  When a client has to request a re-send, it does so at "random" (really semi-formulated) intervals after "listening" to make sure the channel is "clear".

I hope that answers your questions.  The bottom line is that when all users do everything they can to maximize their individual signal strength/connection speed, it ensures everyon else has a good experience too.  Wi-Fi is a shared medium and the better we get at educating the RV wi-fi user community, the better the systems will work for everyone.

RV Parks are particularly difficult to design and install properly simply because you typically have a open area, with trees, with lots of "metal boxes" (RV's) bouncing the signal around.  In many cases the signal reflects off other RV's (known as multi-pathing) and causes portions of the data transmission to arrive at the access point at different times.  When this happens, the access point will simply ignore the mis-timed receptions and request a re-send, again causing delays.
There are many, many design factors that go into installing a large, outdoor wi-fi network.  It sometime irks me when I hear people talk about how easy it is to setup a wireless network in an RV park, with many saying "all you need is an access point with a good omni antenna and a few repeaters and you are good to go".  This could not be further from the truth, as demonstrated by the number of parks that hire my company to install them, after they tried it themselves, or had a "local guy" set it up for them, and were dissatisfied with the coverage/performance of the network.

I'll stop rambling now  :D  If anyone has any other questions, please feel free to reply.  Thanks!!!
Here's a useful and simple anology about transmission power in a wi-fi system. It applies to cell phones too. Like any anology, it doesn't perfectly represent everything that is happening, so please don't beat me up with "Yeah, but..."

Imagine a man and a child playing ball.  When they stand close together, they can toss the ball back and forth easily enough.  As they move further apart, the man (the access point) can still easily toss the ball far enough to reach the child (the client station), but the child begins to have difficulty tossing it all the way back.  As the outer limits of the childs strength, his throws begin to go wild and the man has to chase the ball before he can throw it back. As the distance increases further, the child cannot reach the man at all and the game effectively stops because the ball (communications) travels in only one direction. 
dnk1998, thanks for the explanation, I hadn't thought about all the multipath from the RVs.

Gary, nice analogy, guess if you put then in a narrow hall (directional antenna) they could get a bit further apart.

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