Since I’m in a position to get things shipped to me and pick them up in the near future, I pulled the trigger on two upgrades on the technology side of the van: a mobile router and an amateur radio APRS station.
After a fair bit of research (big thanks to the Mobile Internet Resource Center — every digital nomad should join and support them), I’ve ordered a WifiRanger Spruce router to complete my mobile internet setup. This will provide a consistent WiFi network in and around the van that I can use not only to get my laptop and other devices on the internet through my hotspots, but also an actual WiFi network that doesn’t rely on anything cellular at all. Photos and videos that I take on my iPhone will automatically sync to my Macbook Pro without using any hotspot data, or even if I’m not connected to the internet at all. I’ll be able to cast YouTube from my iPhone, which has unlimited data that doesn’t count against my hotspot data, to another device inside my WiFi network, such as an iPad or a Roku TV. The only thing I’m not yet sure I can do is set up an external hard drive as a NAS so I can watch movies off it when out of range or not wanting to use any data at all. That’s a nice-to-have, and not required. But I’ll work on it.
As it is, I’ll be able to just leave my Verizon and T-Mobile hotspots plugged in and let the router take care of directing my internet connection to whichever one I prefer. I’ll have to get my hands on the router and go through the configuration process to figure out exactly how to do this, so keep your scanners peeled for a how-to about this in the future once I know what I’m doing. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting this up and running. It’ll make my work, both the day job and stuff for Smokey Da Van and beyond, much more effective.
Amateur Radio APRS
Beyond the internet, I’m also an amateur radio operator (KJ1H). I’ve decided to add a piece of hardware to my station that will put me on the map — literally. I already have a radio and a smartphone app capable of APRS, or Automatic Packet Reporting System. It’s used primarily for location data but is capable of much more, such as weather data and facilitating local voice contacts. The APRS.FI app I already have can do a little of this through the internet, but the Mobilinkd TNC3 I just ordered will connect to my phone by Bluetooth and my radio through a special cable, enabling me to participate in this network over the air rather than just by internet. You’ll be able to follow my travels just by looking up KJ1H-9 and seeing where I’ve been, even if I’m out of cellular range.
There’s also a voice alert aspect of APRS that facilitates regular voice contacts with other participating radio operators in range. I’ve driven literally for days hearing absolutely nothing on the 146.52 national calling frequency. I can still monitor this frequency on one side of my radio, and add APRS voice alert functionality to the other side where I’m already transmitting data anyway. It’s just another way to meet locals on the air as I pass through in my travels.
I know van lifers sometimes use CB or coordinate on an FRS channel for convoys. I wonder how many nomad ham radio people there are. More and more people in the stage rally and 4×4 communities are switching from these to ham radio because of the improved range and extra frequencies that are available, especially since the entry-level Technician class license is so easy to get these days. I wonder if technologically inclined nomads may follow.