Upon my arrival in Quartzsite, my first priority was to figure out my internet situation. I make my living online, so while internet access may not be important to vacationers or retirees, it’s critical for my particular form of nomadic life. Unfortunately, the cellular situation isn’t that great in Quartzsite. My preferred T-Mobile hotspot is basically a paperweight, with a great signal but no data whatsoever. My Verizon hotspot works, but data was already slow in early December, and would only get worse as the masses descend on the area through January. I needed to either figure something else out or stay out of Quartzsite during the workweek.
Fortunately, there is a local company that offers a great solution: FastNet. Remember the old local internet service providers? This is the same idea, except instead of super slow dial-up internet, FastNet connects you wirelessly through their own independent network of towers. Their equipment is easy to set up and use, and I’ve found it to be quite reliable.
How It Works
If you’re within six miles of Quartzsite, you can use FastNet. This covers most of the BLM land in the area, including La Posa South and Tyson Wash. (I haven’t tested it at Plomosa Road, north of town.) Signing up will cost you just over $200 for the equipment ($129), your first month of service ($59), plus tax. At this point, you own the equipment. There’s no lease like you get with many cable modem arrangements. In fact, if you leave Quartzsite and never intend to return, you can sell your equipment, and FastNet will work with you to transfer your account to them. There’s also no contract. If you leave Quartzsite in March, call FastNet to put your account on hold, and they will not charge you for the time you’re not using it. (I wish T-Mobile would do that for my hotspot paperweight.) When you return, call them to reactivate your account, and they’ll restart billing and get you back online.
That’s all well and good from a billing perspective, but what about from a technical standpoint? The equipment FastNet provides includes an AirCube, which functions similarly to how a cable modem would in a sticks-and-bricks home, and a NanoStation AC, which is basically your antenna for the wireless signal. They also include all of the cables you need to power and connect everything.
FastNet is adamant that the NanoStation AC must have a line-of-sight view of the tower in order to work properly. This means mounting it outside and elevated above the height of any vehicles or trailers parked nearby. My 12-foot painter’s pole that I use for my ham radio antenna didn’t get it high enough for a reliable connection, so I got a 22-foot fiberglass extending flagpole from the flag store in the Quartzsite tent area. I upgraded the zip-tie they give you for mounting purposes to a hose clamp and installed it right below the flag I got for the Meet In Q Facebook group. Aim it toward one of the towers, and you’re good to go.
Use the blue 25-foot ethernet cable to plug the NanoStation AC into the AirCube at the blue port. Then plug the shorter grey ethernet cable into the grey PoE (Power Over Ethernet) port, and the other end into the power supply. That plugs into any available 110VAC power outlet. That’s a problem for me since I don’t use a power inverter and run everything off 12VDC. At first, I ran it off the inverter built into my Jackery 240, but then a neighbor gave me a small 75-watt inverter that just plugs into one of my 12-volt jacks. The AirCube only draws about 10 watts, so I leave it on all the time. Ultimately I’d like to get a 12-volt adapter that will work with the AirCube, since converting from DC to AC and back to DC doesn’t make sense, but for now, this works.
At first, I attached the flagpole directly to my van similar to my ham radio antenna mast, but later I got a holder that you hammer into the ground specifically designed for this particular flagpole. This way, when I want to drive into town for supplies, all I have to do is unplug the blue ethernet cable, leave it outside, and drive away. It takes a couple minutes to reconnect to the internet once I plug it back in when I return.
To get online, search for the AirCube-xxx network, where “xxx” is random numbers and letters. You’ll have to guess which one’s yours if you see multiples. Enter the password printed on the AirCube, and you’re good to go. You can connect a maximum of four devices to the AirCube. More on this later.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
FastNet claims to deliver download speeds up to 50 Mbps. I just ran this speed test while writing this, and found it to actually exceed FastNet’s claims. Uploading the Angeles Crest video took a matter of minutes, not hours like has happened on my hotspots at times.
The performance I’m seeing is so good that I used my WiFiRanger Spruce router to set up a guest network for my camp. I’m getting more data than I need for myself, so I might as well share it. While the AirCube only allows four devices to connect, the router only counts as one, and can itself provide up to 25 connections. This is a nice way to bypass the AirCube’s built-in limitations, particularly if you’re a family with kids and each of you has several devices to put online. Just keep in mind that if 25 people in your camp start streaming video at the same time, everyone’s going to have a slow connection. You’ll want to manage just how far and wide you share your connection to make sure everyone, especially you, still has usable data.
A Viable Option
My experience with FastNet has been excellent. The service, both the internet connection as well as the human factor, has been great. I should also point out that they’re not sponsoring me or this post in any way. I’m a paying customer just like everyone else. I just happen to be satisfied enough to recommend their service to anyone planning to spend a fair bit of time in Quartzsite, and who needs fast, reliable internet like I do.