I’m posting this from a rather remote boondocking location in California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Without our brand new device, the We-Boost Drive 4G-X RV cell phone signal booster, you would not be reading this today. I would have had to wait until we move on before I could upload this blog.
The folks at Wilson Electronics contacted me before we left home to see if we might be interested in testing this, their newest cellular signal booster, made specifically for RVs. In fact, the product was not yet ready to launch. We planned to boondock in some rather remote locations on this trip so, if the booster could help us stay connected there, it could be a real asset! Not to mention, it’s a rather pricey device. Of course, we agreed.
Full Disclosure: – we were given this device with a request to write a review. This is the review. I am under no obligation to the company and the following review is based solely on our experience using it over the past three weeks. I never promote products we are not personally familiar with, and often turn down offers of free product or refuse to review them if we don’t believe they offer good value. You should also know that I will be paid a small commission on any sales that may result from links through this post.
How Can I Compare? We’ve never had a Signal Booster.
We received the We-Boost 4G-X RV and Randy installed it 3 weeks ago. The official product release was just 2 days ago so I’m finally allowed to tell you about it. Never having owned any type of cellular booster in the past, it’s difficult for us to make a comparison with any others on the market but I can tell you that, for us, it’s been a relationship-saver!
As you may recall, we are retracing the route in my guides on this trip. This means going to each location and physically checking the details – noting changes, additions, deletions. Randy is happy to do all that extra driving, as long as we make time to camp, hike, and just plain relax in our favorite campsites for a few days in between. We know all the best boondocking spots, of course, so usually we have already decided well in advance where we want to camp. Trouble is – our favorite spots are always the more remote, isolated ones. Like this one:
Internet Access on the Road
To keep on top of my two web sites, Frugal-RV-Travel and Boondockers Welcome, and their related emails, requires me to have daily Internet access. (Don’t let anyone tell you an online business is “passive income”.)
We don’t have the best or most up-to-date tech equipment on our travels. We certainly don’t update our laptops or phones just because there’s a new model on the market. We’ve experimented with various Internet options on our trips and try to make smart choices, always measuring the value against the expense.
This year we chose to get an AT&T sim card for my unlocked Android phone. We top up monthly, prepaid ($45/month for 6 gigs of data, unlimited country-wide talk, and unlimited text to Canada and US). We hot-spot the phone to my laptop and Randy’s phone and this suits our needs just fine – wherever there’s AT&T coverage.
How Many Bars Does Marianne Need to be Happy?
When we arrive in a new camping area, one of my first requests before we even park is to check if there are enough bars. Of course I mean cell-signal-strength, not the kind of bars that serve liquor. We can generally cover that need from our own “cellar”. Yes, our camper has one!
An initial check will show anywhere from zero to five bars. I’ve also learned to look for the more-accurate numerical signal-strength indicator in decibels (dBm). On my phone, I go to Settings and About Phone (may vary on your device). Apparently, a signal increase of just 3dBm is 2 times the power and signal amplification!
Where I am sitting right now typing this post, the signal without our We-Booster on, shows -97. With the booster, it’s increased to -57. This increase of 40 dBm, means 80 times the signal strength.
I Hate Numbers – What does this Really Mean?
It means, I can count on uploading this post to my blog efficiently and immediately as soon as I’m done typing it. I might have been able to accomplish it without the We-boost (-97 is not an unusable dBm) but I just tested that. The upload speed was terribly slow plus my connection was dropped a few times while uploading the photos. I’m not that patient! I have quit trying and switched the booster back on.
What Makes This Booster the Best one for RVs?
Randy had done some homework before we accepted Wilson’s offer; he wanted to be sure he had the necessary tools to install it while on the road. He was thrilled to find out that, he wouldn’t need to mount it on a steel surface. Unlike previous versions, this one doesn’t require it. The instructions suggest mounting it on the top of your ladder but we don’t have one. He attached ours to the fiberglass roof (no steel plate) and it works just fine.
We chatted with a couple of RVers in the Mojave Desert last week. They had purchased the We-Boost Truckers edition for their rig but were admiring the much shorter, low-profile exterior antenna of our Drive 4G-X RV. Overall height is sometimes already a problem for RVs so I could see why. They had a fun name for their antennae – called it the ”flame thrower”.
We were able to compare signal strengths – ours against theirs. Our own phone had no connection at this location (Kelso Dunes Visitor Area, in Mojave National Preserve). There was obviously not an AT&T tower anywhere in reach.
But this couple were on the Verizon network. Their iPhones and We-Boost 4G-X OTR Truck Edition signal booster (which they were quite pleased with overall) showed a Verizon signal of -130 dBm – not quite enough to connect and, therefore, they had a “no service” message. Using our booster, however, their Verizon signal strength came up to -79 dBm and they were able to make a phone call.
That may have been a fluke. Or maybe not. We spoke with a tech at Wilson’s who told us that this newest model, the Drive 4G-X RV, has the strongest capability of all their mobile models.
Is it Worth the Cost?
We take pride in our frugality. Having the opportunity to try this unit out, and seeing the difference it makes, I would say that it’s definitely a good investment – for some RVers
If, like us, you prefer boondocking in remote locations, you need or want the best reliable connectivity while you’re out there, and, if moving on prematurely just to “connect to the Internet” might lead to an argument, then the answer is probably, yes. (I’m mostly kidding about that – Randy is pretty supportive of my business needs.)
We found the biggest boost when using data. If you mostly use your device for phone or text, it may not be worth the investment.
If you’re not dependent on being connected for business but you have grandchildren, you might also appreciate the value. To test that aspect, we made two back-to-back Skype calls from a city location – a parking lot in Henderson, Nevada where we had a solid 5-bar signal with or without the booster.
We enjoyed a great conversation with our two-year. The booster was on and our video-call was as crisp as could be. To compare, we turned the booster off for our call with the two older boys. I’m sure you can appreciate the fact that, to a five and seven-year-old, seeing grandma and grandpa’s faces “freeze” in the strangest contortions was much more fun than just chatting with us. We know Skype can behave differently with each connection but, in this test at least, all three kids were all happy and we gave the booster the thumbs-up!