Fitting a Permanent Broadband Antenna on the Roof

DBK

Jan 9, 2013
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For the last couple of years I've used a Huawei E5577C Mifi with a Netgear Aircard antenna. This worked well but it wasn't very convenient to use - too many cables to get tangled up.

The answer was to fit a permanent antenna on the roof of the van. After looking at what was available I chose a Poynting MiMo 1-1 antenna which I bought from Solwise.
https://www.solwise.co.uk/4g-wifi-antenna-omni-a-mimo-1-1.html
Not cheap, but other antenna of similar performance have similar prices. I chose this one as the claimed performance was the best I could find and you could download various graphs to back up their figures, which I couldn't find for the competition.

Choosing where to fit the antenna took a lot of thought. The main problem is getting access to the underside of the roof without removing the headlining. One place I could get to the roof was in the toilet compartment. By removing a cabinet under the ceiling I found an area without headlining where I could reach the bare metal underside of the roof after pushing aside the insulation. The second problem was the top of the roof wasn't flat here but was the typical PVC flat ridges. The flat top of each ridge was only about half the width of the antenna so it would overhang along the sides. Solwise thought this wasn't a good idea as water might get in but I also emailed Poynting and got back a quick reply to say the antenna was fully waterproof and this wouldn't be a problem. While exchanging emails with Poynting they recommended I look again at the front of the vehicle.

To cut a long story short, I eventually fitted it at the front of the roof. Access on my van is difficult here but not impossible as there is a fixed shelf under the forward part of the roof. The headlining here is also stuck directly to the roof.

PB170027.jpg

Access is through the slot above the strip of blue cloth you can see above. Working inside here was like performing surgery through a letterbox. With a 90 degree drill attachment and some very careful measurement and several coffees to steady my nerves I drilled a 20mm hole in the roof. I started with a 2.5mm pilot drill from underneath. I then double checked from above this was in the right place and then opened it up to 5mm. Then from outside and still using the 90 degree attachment, I used a new 20mm hole saw bought for this job to cut the final hole.

PB100008.jpg

Ideally, it should be a little further to the rear, but as you can see in this shot taken from inside the shelf it was not possible to drill the hole any further back as there is a roof reinforcing member running across at this point. Where it is now the roof is very slightly curved at the front but the bottom of the antenna has a layer of foam so it caters for a little unevenness.

PB170031.jpg

The antenna comes with a pair of short cables with SMA plugs. I added two 1m extensions, which you can see fixed with 4.8mm P clips going to the left. I need to buy some 10mm P clips to support the cables coming out of the antenna as they are thicker and surrounded by braid but for the moment I have used a self-adhesive pad and a zip tie. The cables need to be kept as short as possible as there is typically a signal loss of 0.5dB per metre of cable.

The cables are fed round and into the locker on the left. Inside the locker they drop down and out again.

PB170023.jpg

They emerge here.

PB170025.jpg

The blue material where the two cables emerge is padded, so I could drill the 10mm holes required to pass the SMA plugs through, out of sight. The cables are then attached to two short cables with 90 degree TS9 plugs on them to connect to the antenna sockets on the MiFi.

In the picture above you can also see the USB power lead. I've just pushed this into the padding for the moment and connected it to a USB extension cable you can see in the bottom left. I will fix up a more permanent power supply later.

Here's another picture of the finished installation.

PB170026.jpg

The MiFi is held in place by Velcro, as conveniently the front of the locker is a sort of fuzzy felt. The other cable you can see dangling on the left goes to the dash cam. My next project to sort out with a proper power supply. :)

Here's a close-up of the antenna on the roof.

PB100018.jpg

And a general shot of the front of the van.

PB120022.jpg

So after spending around £200 including the cables (but not including the MiFi) does it work?

Here are the figures:

MiFi on its own, no external antenna but placed high up near a window.

Download: 8 mbps Upload: 4.5 mbps

MiFi with Netgear Aircard antenna:

Download: 10 mbps Upload: 6 mbps

MiFo with Poynting MiMo 1-1 Antenna

Download: 12 mbps Upload: 18 mbps

The figures above are rounded off averages of 6 tests in each configuration. Ping in all tests was about the same at around 32ms.

The striking performance on upload was a surprise. While this may not matter for some I use my MiFi a lot when away for uploading images so upload speed is important.

The tests were all done with a Vodafone sim card. Vodafone reception where I live is very poor, I can't get any signal inside the house. This makes this a good test of reception in an area of marginal reception I think. Test conditions were 10°C and dry with clear blue sky in daylight. It would be worth repeating them when it is raining I think and possibly at other times of the day.

Of course the way I fitted mine was specific to my van and if you want to fit your own you will need to sort out your own installation. Poynting were very helpful, I sent my first email to sales-europe@poynting.tech but then had dealings with specific individuals. They were very quick to answer technical questions and I would suggest contacting them before finalising your design. For example, the steel roof of a PVC is an ideal mounting surface but if you have say a fibreglass roof you would need to mount the antenna on a metal plate as it needs a ground plane. They could advise on the best material for this.
 
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DBK

DBK

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We are in deepest Cornwall at the moment and the Vodafone signal is a lot better than at home. So I did another speed test and the results were:

MiFi on its own, no external antenna:

MiFi display shows 2 bars. Ping: 39ms Download: 16.04 mbps Upload: 6.07

With Poynting antenna:

MiFi display shows 4 bars. Ping: 36ms Download: 31.18 Upload: 19.86

Both results are usable but the new antenna certainly gives good results. :)
 
Sep 16, 2013
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Very interesting @DBK - especially as I'm in the market for similar.

I bought a Huawei B310 router a few weeks ago, which I've been testing whilst in Wales for a few weeks. Have to say I'm impressed with it (using it right now). Next will be the antenna and I was leaning towards the MotorhomeWiFi MIMO LTE. Did you consider this antenna?

Where in Cornwall by the way? :)
 
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DBK

DBK

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Very interesting @DBK - especially as I'm in the market for similar.

I bought a Huawei B310 router a few weeks ago, which I've been testing whilst in Wales for a few weeks. Have to say I'm impressed with it (using it right now). Next will be the antenna and I was leaning towards the MotorhomeWiFi MIMO LTE. Did you consider this antenna?

Where in Cornwall by the way? :)
We are currently at Treloan Farm on Roseland. :)

I did look at the MotorhomeWiFi (MHWF) antenna but decided on the Poynting one for a number of reasons. Both are a similar price, but the MHWF one was unbranded and I couldn't find any technical stuff to back up their performance claims. You can also buy the same antenna for a bit less online but again there is no indication who makes it.

The Poynting one is sold in the UK by Solwise but you can contact the manufacturer directly and they make the detailed technical stuff freely available.

Of course, I haven't made a direct comparison between the two, I can only comment on the one I decided to buy.
 

Gromett

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I did look at the MotorhomeWiFi (MHWF) antenna but decided on the Poynting one for a number of reasons. Both are a similar price, but the MHWF one was unbranded and I couldn't find any technical stuff to back up their performance claims. You can also buy the same antenna for a bit less online but again there is no indication who makes it.
I believe they are made by Panorama.

I have this one on my list to buy.
http://amzn.to/2i88SXB
It covers Wifi, 4G and GPS bands. It has 2 outputs (MIMO) each for wifi and 4G/3G and a single output for GPS. It is a bit pricier than the ones dedicated to just 3G/4G however it would be nice to be able to just use the wifi option if you are near enough without having to get the Ubiqiti directional antenna out.
 
Jan 19, 2014
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Hi John. . Read that with interest. .
A couple points you raised that I had not given any thought to..
I recently shifted my aerial from a panel van conversion (a mhw roof mounted aerial ) on to a coach built chausson...
The aerial came with quite a few meters of cable (5m I think but would need to check ) complete with fittings which I just coiled up rather than cut... how critical do you consider keeping the cable as short as possible is...
The second point I didn' consider was the need for a grounding plate on the chausson which has a plastic shell..
I'l look into that...
Cheers Andy. ..
 
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DBK

DBK

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Hi John. . Read that with interest. .
A couple points you raised that I had not given any thought to..
I recently shifted my aerial from a panel van conversion (a mhw roof mounted aerial ) on to a coach built chausson...
The aerial came with quite a few meters of cable (5m I think but would need to check ) complete with fittings which I just coiled up rather than cut... how critical do you consider keeping the cable as short as possible is...
The second point I didn' consider was the need for a grounding plate on the chausson which has a plastic shell..
I'l look into that...
Cheers Andy. ..
I think the need for a ground plane varies. The one MotorhomeWiFi sell doesn't need one according to their website. The Poynting one I bought says it needs one 40cm square.
But I guess it's a bit like the cables, they will work with long cables but there will be some signal loss and they will also work without a ground plane - but I suspect they work better with one.
However, the science of antennae is very complex and I am certainly no expert. :)
 

two

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I'm not sure why you added longer cables. I'd have stuck the MiFi device directly on the end of the MiMo leads. Does it need to be visible?
 
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DBK

DBK

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I'm not sure why you added longer cables. I'd have stuck the MiFi device directly on the end of the MiMo leads. Does it need to be visible?
It needs to be accessible so I can turn it on and off and being able to see the screen tells me the state of the signal. Though the latter isn't essential, as you can get this info from the Huawei app.

The main reason for locating it where it is now is we store our bedding in the shelf and shoving duvets and pillows past the MiFi would displace it wherever I stuck it.

But you're right about keeping the cables as short as possible. Anyone fitting an antenna like this should try and avoid long cable runs. In the case of our van, getting access to the underside of the roof, without removing the headlining, was only possible in a couple of places and where I've put it allows the shortest cables.
 
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DBK

DBK

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I have one of these recommended to me , and since buying have found it to work very well even in very rural areas of Poland , and even when mobile .
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/4G-3G-LTE-External-Antenna-Aerial-for-4GEE-EE-Home-Mobile-Broadband-Router/232554395480?epid=559542088&hash=item3625527758:g:NkkAAOSwP8hTxorE
I think more or less any external antenna will improve the signal. There are lots of different approaches. In a fixed installation a directional antenna might be best in some circumstances but from my reading an omnidirectional MiMo antenna was the best solution for a MH. This type of antenna can make use of signals coming from different directions which often happens, particularly in built up areas where the signal bounces off buildings.
 

two

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Not just a longer cable; an added connection also.

This is on my list as a ‘maybe’ but, up to now, I’ve usually managed to get a signal without the need for an aerial. Of course, the speeds I get might not be so good but, when I’m on holiday, I tend to be more patient.
 
Apr 28, 2010
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Of course the way I fitted mine was specific to my van and if you want to fit your own you will need to sort out your own installation. Poynting were very helpful, I sent my first email to sales-europe@poynting.tech but then had dealings with specific individuals. They were very quick to answer technical questions and I would suggest contacting them before finalising your design. For example, the steel roof of a PVC is an ideal mounting surface but if you have say a fibreglass roof you would need to mount the antenna on a metal plate as it needs a ground plane. They could advise on the best material for this.
Following your very excellent artical @DBK, our roof is a one piece glass fibre fitting, so I emailed them about the ground plane and they confirmed that one is NOT required, so that’s a bit less to do, thank you. :xThumb:
 
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DBK

DBK

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Following your very excellent artical @DBK, our roof is a one piece glass fibre fitting, so I emailed them about the ground plane and they confirmed that one is NOT required, so that’s a bit less to do, thank you. :xThumb:
That's useful to know, thanks. I must have misread something somewhere - not unusual. :)

To add to the figures on my first test we went away to Cornwall for a few days recently and where we went the Vodafone signal was much stronger than it is where I live. So I repeated the tests.

MiFi on its own, no external antenna. Signal strength showing three bars on the MiFi.

Download: 16 mbps

Upload: 6 mbps

MiFo with Poynting MiMo 1-1 Antenna. Signal strength showing four bars.

Download: 33 mbps

Upload: 24 mbps

So where there is a good signal the MiFi would be quite useable but the Poynting antenna still gives a considerable boost particularly to the upload speed. Which is good for uploading images I guess, which I seem to do a lot of. :)
 
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Apr 28, 2010
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Thank you. And, as you said their responce to questions is excellent. I emailed them yesterday evening and I had that reply this Sunday morning at 8:34. I was still in bed, ‘cos I is retired. :xrofl:
 

Mr Chrysalis

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IMG_4906.jpg I use one of these. No wires, no aeriel. Use it for 2 iPhones, 2iPads, Sky (on demand) and the Sat Nav ( when on the move). Never had a problem with reception but of course we have not been everywhere! Occasionally had to put it up in the skylight to improve the signal. We have Vodafone 4G as a backup in case EE signal is not aveilable
 
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DBK

DBK

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View attachment 199700 I use one of these. No wires, no aeriel. Use it for 2 iPhones, 2iPads, Sky (on demand) and the Sat Nav ( when on the move). Never had a problem with reception but of course we have not been everywhere! Occasionally had to put it up in the skylight to improve the signal. We have Vodafone 4G as a backup in case EE signal is not aveilable
That has been my experience too. In most places the MiFi would work on its own but there are certainly places where an external antenna makes the difference between getting no signal or perhaps a 2G one which is no good for the internet and getting a 3G signal which will allow internet access. I got a 4G signal reliably on our last trip to Italy using Vodafone but 3G is fast enough.
You do need to be careful putting anything up against a window in a hot country - it can get very hot. I melted one cheap antenna because I put it between the window and the blind. :)
 

Mr Chrysalis

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That has been my experience too. In most places the MiFi would work on its own but there are certainly places where an external antenna makes the difference between getting no signal or perhaps a 2G one which is no good for the internet and getting a 3G signal which will allow internet access. I got a 4G signal reliably on our last trip to Italy using Vodafone but 3G is fast enough.
You do need to be careful putting anything up against a window in a hot country - it can get very hot. I melted one cheap antenna because I put it between the window and the blind. :)
Very good point about the heat! Electronic bits don't like it. Mind you when Mrs C is not looking I might accidentally leave the solar powered dancing sheep in the strong Sunshine. - just to see if he can Jive as well as he can Rumba! Strictly, for scientific purposes.
 
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DBK

DBK

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An update to the original posts based on a few month's usage.

A weakness of the Poynting antenna I discovered is in cold weather you can get condensation forming around the fixing nut. There doesn't seem to be any thermal barrier between the external bit of the antenna and the fixing shaft which projects inside the vehicle. I solved this by taking the cap off an aerosol paint can and after cutting a slot in one side for the cables, filling it with some closed cell foam. This fits over the nut and seems to have stopped the condensation.

With a Vodafone SIM card we've had good connections in Spain, where the carrier is Vodafone ES, apart from one very rural location where we could only get a weakish 3G signal - but it was useable. Elsewhere it has been 4G and a quick speed test here in Almerimar (near Almería) gave 38 Mb/s download and 8 Mb/s upload. I have just downloaded a 60 minute program from BBC iPlayer and though I didn't time it I suspect it didn't take longer than five minutes. With the 50 GB a month plan I have with Vodafone I am now, perhaps for the first time in the MH when outside the UK not worried about the connection or data allowance. I also download a paper (the Times) every morning and read it in bed over a cup of tea or two. :)
 
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Jun 18, 2016
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Thank you John for the update.

I followed your system, but with a slightly different antenna, and am very pleased with the results, mainly in Western France.

Grateful to you for taking the time and effort to post the info.
 
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Jun 18, 2016
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Just a quick update for anyone thinking of trying this sytem: we have had this working brilliantly in Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium and northern France over the past 6 months, with a great signal in places where others were getting nothing!

I have none of the great technical details that John gives, but know it works well when neighbouring vans are moaning about lack of connectivity.

Using 3 sims, and searching for the best local linked provider to get the best signal.

Many thanks again John.
 
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An update to the original posts based on a few month's usage.

A weakness of the Poynting antenna I discovered is in cold weather you can get condensation forming around the fixing nut. There doesn't seem to be any thermal barrier between the external bit of the antenna and the fixing shaft which projects inside the vehicle. I solved this by taking the cap off an aerosol paint can and after cutting a slot in one side for the cables, filling it with some closed cell foam. This fits over the nut and seems to have stopped the condensation.
John I'm thinking on installing one of these in our Autosleeper Kingham PVC in the same place as you except maybe more over to the right, so above the drivers head.
For the aerial to work does it rely on the threaded part going inside the van, could I just cut if off prior to installation and just rely on sikaflex to hold the aerial down, thus not having the metal bit inside the van, or does this also ground the aerial to the mh thus if removed could effect the signal.
 
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DBK

DBK

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John I'm thinking on installing one of these in our Autosleeper Kingham PVC in the same place as you except maybe more over to the right, so above the drivers head.
For the aerial to work does it rely on the threaded part going inside the van, could I just cut if off prior to installation and just rely on sikaflex to hold the aerial down, thus not having the metal bit inside the van, or does this also ground the aerial to the mh thus if removed could effect the signal.
My understanding is the antenna doesn't need a groundplane so you could do this. Lenny HB stuck his down as the roof was too thick for the nut to be fitted.

But I would be very wary of cutting the bolt. If you damaged the cables running through the middle of it repairing them without inducing signal loss might be very difficult. £££!

If you wanted to reduce the intrusion in the cab you might look at putting some foam board under the antenna.

But email Poynting. They are very helpful.
 
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Lenny HB

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But I would be very wary of cutting the bolt. If you damaged the cables running through the middle of it repairing them without inducing signal loss might be very difficult. £££!
Just put a length of tube e.g. copper etc., over the cables before cutting.
 
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