Wednesday, January 18, 2017

weBoost Drive 4G-X Cell Phone Booster Installation

 
When on the road, traveling and touring, it is always important for us to have good cell reception. An RV breakdown or an emergency in the middle of nowhere without any means of calling for help is a scary thought, but of course a cell booster will not help you in every situation- as the name implies “cell booster” means it needs an existing cell signal to boost. Sometimes a cell signal is too weak or cell tower is too distant for your cellphone to connect, this is when the booster helps. The weBoost Drive 4G-X can simultaneously boost voice and data, so you can make calls and browse the internet at the same time if your network supports it.
 
At around $480 the weBoost Drive 4G-X kit is not cheap. The Drive 4G-X also comes in OTR Trucker version with OTR mirror mount outside antenna. The regular Drive 4G-X comes with a small low profile "Hershey bar" antenna, a small 4–inch long magnetic mount outside whip antenna and a 12-volt DC power cord.

weBoost support is top-notch and they always respond to any questions you may have during installation. The outside whip antenna in combination with the small "Hershey bar" inside antenna performs marginally. weBoost support offered me to first try out the longer 12-inch whip antenna then their new 4G OTR Trucker antenna (spring loaded version) with 3 –way mount and the bigger directional panel indoor antenna; they also sent me all necessary cables and adapters to complete the installation. Thank you weBoost!
The weBoost Drive 4G-X OTR Trucker kit was not available for purchase at that time, and the OTR antenna was their newly designed antenna. The new antennas work really well with the Drive 4G-X, in fact I tried 4 different outside antennas and the weBoost 4G-OTR antenna gives us the best range and boost. The inside directional panel antenna performs better, it has a longer range compared to the smaller "Hershey bar" antenna that only gives a better reception when the phone is right beside it.

The weBoost Cell Booster was installed inside the AV cabinet. A 12-volt receptacle was added just above it; the DC power is connected to the previously unused 12-volt supply line for the old furnace thermostat. My AC/Furnace thermostat was upgraded to Dometic digital thermostat a few years ago (see this post) freeing that circuit.
 
The "Hershey bar "antenna is mounted inside towards the bottom part of the wardrobe closet and is enclosed inside a plastic wire channel so you can't really see it when covered; its location is directly below the roof mounted outside antenna, this is ideal location if you don't have enough separation between the antennas to prevent oscillation (feedback).
 

 
The second directional panel antenna is mounted over the cab; because it is directional and it is facing downward it prevents any feedback to the outside antenna. I usually connect the larger panel antenna to the cell booster when driving and switch to the smaller "Hershey bar" antenna when camped...but we try to limit the use of the larger panel antenna due to RF radiation concerns-although, weBoost manual under RF safety warning page states, "any antenna used with this device must be located at least 8 inches from all persons" and it's way more than 8 inches away from both driver and passenger sitting in front.
 
Here is the outside weBoost 4G OTR antenna. I was able to modify the antenna mast to make it a lot shorter. I was able to free the antenna head from the fiberglass mast by slowly twisting the head back and forth until it completely came off, I then pulled the wire out of the mast and the spring mount, I then shortened the fiberglass mast using a hacksaw. The fiberglass mast threads about an inch into the antenna head, so measure carefully before cutting. Reverse the process then epoxy the head into the mast and give it time to cure before mounting it into the RV roof.
 
 I fabricated an aluminum bracket that bolts into the existing awning support.
 
Here is how the stock 4G-OTR antenna looks like, notice the length of the mast compared to the modified one. The stock antenna is about 19 inches tall with permanently attached 14-inch long cable. 
 
The antenna wire is then routed into the same roof opening used by the backup camera. Roadtrek just applied a hill of sealant to seal the roof opening. 
 
The wirings thru the roof opening drops just behind the 3rd brake light assembly. You have to remove the 3rd brake light to access the wiring for routing inside the RV. The picture above shows the drilled hole into the back of the rear overhead cabinet.
 
The drilled hole is just big enough for the cable to pass thru inside the overhead storage cabinet. I use a plastic cable channel to hide the antenna cable going to the weBoost Cell Booster.
 
The roof opening was sealed with Sikaflex-221 then capped with a modified PVC pipe cap.
 
I tried the stock 4-inch whip antenna and the longer 12-inch outside antenna, a grounding plane is needed with these antennas.  
 
I also tried a magnetic mount 3G/4G Phantom antenna (seen above), but the 4G OTR antenna gives us the best range and boost.
 
I added the power switch for the cell booster above the driver seat for easy access.
 
Cell booster test using the low profile "Hersey bar" antenna, dBm reading with the cell booster off. 
 
With the cell booster on, that's 16 dBm boost. The low profile "Hersey bar" antenna in this test is on the other side of the cabinet wall and it's about 3 inches away from the phone, if I hold the phone literally next to the inside antenna the dBm reading drops to around -72 dBm.  

dBm is typically expressed as a negative number. The closer to zero the reading is, the stronger the cell phone signal. A reading of -50 is one of the strongest signals you will see. When a signal is weaker than -100 dBm, that’s a pretty weak signal. If the signal gets much weaker than that, you likely won’t have service.

UPDATE:
After many rainy days here in SoCal, the OTR antenna spring mount started to show tiny rust areas. I would recommend applying a liberal amount of grease into the spring during installation to prevent if not to mitigate any rusting issues.
 

7 comments:

  1. Nice mod. What are you using to re-seal the rear brake light (since the seal https://roadtreklife.blogspot.com/logout?d=https://www.blogger.com/logout-redirect.g?blogID%3D9075317643215417577%26postID%3D9077609655744880288usually damaged on removal). Thanks.

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    1. I use butyl tape. I cut a thin strip (maybe 3-4-mm wide) from my inch wide butyl tape stock and used that to make a seal around the light. I’ve removed the 3rd brake light on many occasions; so far the butyl tape provides a good seal and hasn’t leaked yet.

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  2. The quality of your work is inspiring. I would like to tackle many of the projects you have shared. Running wire in my RS adventurous is my down fall. How did you get the wire from the booster in the wardrobe closet to the panel antenna in the front cockpit overhead?

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    1. Fishing the cable is the difficult part. The cable is routed along a channel located on upper portion of the van (passenger side); the channel runs along the length of the van starting from the sliding door C-pillar and towards the rear. I started by removing the RT panel with monitor and switches located overhead of the sliding door, using a steel fish tape I was able to run the wire along the channel and exiting to an opening behind the A/V cabinet- very hard to do as I have to do multiple attempts with use of Borescope to do this. The other end of the cable is then routed from the sliding door area to the front overhead area, the cable then exits the same opening used by the center speaker (located next to the factory smoke detector). I should have taken pictures of the wire runs but did not.

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    2. Thanks, good to know about the channel and always a good excuse to buy a new tool. I have the steel fish tape, but temporarily lack the Borescope ;)

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    3. I must warn you, it is not easy. The channel has an area of narrow passage right before it gets behind the Agile A/V cabinet- and when you pass that, you still have to navigate the wire out of the channel in an opening right behind the A/V cabinet wall cutout.

      If you have a Sprinter dealer close by, I recommend paying them a visit and look at their bare bone Sprinter stocks, you will be able to see and figure out where to pass the cable.

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  3. You are correct. It is not easy to run wire in a 2008 RS. I wanted the WeBoost on the driver’s side. In the coffee pot cabinet, we have remove the coffee pot. I mounted the outside antenna on the roof rail and the cable past the rear door seal with a drip loop before coming past the seal. Into the rear cabinet in the very corner behind the trim pieces. Up into the same hole as the A/C power. I had loosened the cabinet screws that went into the ceiling and pushed enough fish tape until it popped out between the headliner and the cabinet. That let me direct the end of the fish tape to the outlet for the coffee pot, that is not used. I mounted the WeBoost in the top of the coffee pot cabinet and ran the interior antenna wire through the next cabinet. It comes out of the cabinet door behind the driver. I wanted the flexibility of locating the interior antenna in the shelf over the sun visor while driving and also be able to move it into the kitchen are at night. It took me the better part of two days to get it looking the way I wanted.
    I have some relays that have a pin 87 normal open and pin 87A normal closed left over from the macerator remote project and thought that maybe I would have the WeBoost automatically power up on the chassis battery when the ignition key is on and if the ignition is off then work on a switch (also left over from the macerator remote project) to the house batteries. But that is going to take getting past the breaker/fuse panel in the upper cabinet and I have not figured out how to get it out far enough to work behind the panel.

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