New Hidden Wifi Antenna for Stealthy Surfing

If this guy had a good wifi antenna such as the C.Crane Super USB Wifi Antenna III or an Alfa indoor wifi booster, his neighbor wouldn’t even know he was snitching bandwidth!
 

 

c-crane-antenna

C. Crane Super USB Wifi Antenna III

Disclaimer:  Though I am providing this information about the C. Crane antenna as a service to readers, it is not something I am being compensated for.  You may not experience the same results.    


Please select any other disclaimers that apply:  “Tax, title, and license extra”.  “Batteries not included”.  “Coffee may be hot.”  “Past performance does not guarantee future results.”  “No responsible for accidents.” and the list goes on…..    

 One of the challenges facing van dwellers and campers is where to get wireless Internet.  Though  wifi hot spots often abound, many are located where a person feels obligated (and rightfully so) to go in and purchase something from a business.  This may not always be possible or feasible.  That’s where a van dweller who surfs a lot might want to consider an amplified wifi booster antenna.
First, here is what I was using with some degree of success.  For what it is, the Alfa is a great little device but it just didn’t meet all the needs.
alfa
Even though the Alfa helped to some degree, I was still having to do contortions to try and position the antenna for a better signal.  That can be bad if you’re stealth camping.

Moving around and rocking the van is not so bad at Walmart, but try it on a residential street and a nosey neighbor might call the police .  You know what they say about if the van’s a rockin’ the cops will come a knockin’…  or something like that.

I needed something more robust to get wifi signals through the “deflector shields” (the van’s metal hull)… The only real options would involve running a cable (hardwiring) an outside antenna.

After searching the ‘net, I recently purchased the C. Crane Super Wifi Antenna 3 from Amazon.  As you may (or hopefully may not) see from the pictures, I installed it inside the PVC mast used for the TV antenna.  Even though the antenna is weatherproof, I wanted it “invisible”, too.  Other than a PVC cap and a USB cord, there is virtually no visible difference.  (You might also see where I replaced the TV coax with some better shielded white coaxial cable)

 

 

“Before”  (top left corner) and “After” (main picture)

 

*** NOTE   ***  Just one clarification that might not be evident from the picture. The top mast section fits into the lower tube just to the left of where you see the middle line of text in the picture above.  If I need to be stealthy, it’s easy to pull the upper mast and boomerang TV antenna out and store them in the van.  The wi-fi antenna stays in place.
It was easy to install the wifi booster into the PVC pipe.  By luck, I had used 1.25″ PVC for the TV antenna mast.  The C.Crane booster is the exact same size as the pipe’s inside diameter.  The Internet antenna fit very snugly (more like wedged) into the PVC tube and will never fall out.  I added a a cap (drilled with a 3/4″ hole).

The cap was fitted with a little 3/4 inch,”star cut” grommet for the wire to come through, similar to the picture below.  The open grommet was chosen to help with water drainage and prevent ice from building up in the vertical pipe.
A Star Cut Grommet
You may also notice from the before / after picture that I lowered the mast pipe a couple of inches during this project.  There is a reason for that.  This is because the TV antenna and upper mast sticks into the top of the pipe and it was up a tad bit too high to reach safely… It’s nice to have it more accessible now.  No more reaching for the stars and having the pants fall down or, worse yet, falling off the van step.  Both have happened more than once.
The PVC cap on the bottom of the lower pipe is simply pressed on.  Because forcing the antenna inside the pipe slightly deformed the PVC pipe, the cap fit very snugly…  Perfect!   No glue is needed – that helps with disassembly should servicing be needed.  The USB cable came with a cute little double stick tape thingy to help keep the connection captive.  I used cable ties to keep things from flopping around between the pipe and where the cables go into the van.

Just a side note… For those wishing portability for their wifi booster, the antenna can also attach with suction cups, cable ties, or Velcro.  All three methods were included in the box.

That all sounds great, but did the dang thing work?  While there is the potential for minor signal degradation, C.Crane still recommends using the PVC pile.

After a quick software download (via the C.Crane website since I don’t have a built in CD drive), it was time to answer that question.

To test the new installation, I drove to several regular haunts:  McDonald’s, a local family restaurant, and the Coin Kleen Laundromat.   At each location, I moved the van to where the wifi signal dropped to one bar (often while still in the parking lot).
Here are the results:
Netbook alone:  1 bar
With Alfa booster in FRONT: 3 bars
With C. Crane booster:  5 bars
The best part is the sheer number of networks detected.  At one location (McDonald’s), the netbook detected eight networks.  With the Alfa, that number jumped to twelve.  With the C.Crane antenna, it was over twenty including an apartment building 2.5 blocks away (still 3 bars!).  I saw impressive results at each site tested.  Of course, only a couple networks at each parking spot were unsecured.
Conclusion:  I like the way the C.Crane antenna performs.  It seems to pull in more networks and deliver a stronger signal.   It does work well from all directions.  Being able to mount the antenna in a stealthy fashion outdoors is a huge plus.  It is helpful to be able to park across the street from a business and still get strong wifi while remaining incognito.  This antenna is worth the money.

That being said, I would not discount the Alfa model, either.  For indoor use, it has served well, too.  Either product – the C.Crane or the Alfa – is much better than using just the laptop’s built in adapter.

*** Update on 08/07/2012 – After taking the van to a number of different parking lots, rest stops, and other wifi locations, I am still amazed at the performance. It’s been a valuable enhancement! ***

So what are you using in your van / RV / or other mobile living vehicle?

Thanks for checking out the blog today.  If you have any questions about this or any other post, please email or comment.

Have fun!  Take care.
V.T.

About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"
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6 Responses to New Hidden Wifi Antenna for Stealthy Surfing

  1. Hi Brad,

    Sounds like a great device, and a very slick way of making it “out of sight, out of mind”. It’s nice to know about these things for when we can get out and travel again. I’ve used a Netgear USB WI-FI device with a USB extension cord in the past and positioned it in front of a large stainless steel bowl and it works great. Not so “stealth” though, and very directional.

    Anyway, that was a very good report. Keep up the good work, and stay safe and healthy out there! If you check out my CCRV blog, you’ll see what I am fighting now.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Brad, it would help if you showed a picture not so close-up to get a better perspective of how it is positioned and where it is positioned on the van. Thanks.

    • Brad says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I added a picture that should help better illustrate where the antenna is positioned and how it is nearly invisible to the naked eye.

  3. Kevin says:

    Brad – do you have a hub or router inside the van, you connect with? or do you direct connect to your PC?

    • Brad says:

      Hi Kevin,

      I am connecting directly with the netbook’s USB port. It has a built in wifi adapter but struggles with weak signals. Now (thanks to the neighbors) I get free cable internet that’s blazing fast…

      If the cord was long enough, I could plug in the desktop PC at Dad’s house to the van’s antenna. As I understand it, the adapter is built into the antenna so no extra hardware would be needed for the PC.