Pocket Networks

bring your network with you

Feb 20, 2017 - 5 minute read

Internet in a Box, Rev. A (Part 1)

In the last post I discussed the current-at-the-time state of my “Internet in a Box” project. As it’s been ten months since then, I felt an update was warranted.

Since that post was published, the system has been taken on five trips for work or leisure, and each of those had its own set of hiccups.

The first trip was to Orlando, FL, at the end of July for a business trip. I used the LTE solution as the particular room at the Best Western Orlando West hotel we use for HamCation in February did not have a wired port under the desk. Surprisingly enough, it worked flawlessly! I was there for four days and things worked swimmingly as I only had one device connected.

The second trip was to Huntsville, AL, in the middle of August for the Huntsville Hamfest. Once again, the LTE solution was used and worked flawlessly. The trip was three days this time and yet again things worked swimmingly.

The third trip was to Milwaukee, WI, the second week of September for a business trip. As before, the LTE solution was used and worked acceptably. I had taken my Windows laptop with me instead of my Arch Linux-equipped Chromebook this time so I could play Final Fantasy XIV during evening downtime, and I kept getting disconnected from the game. Curiously, the tethering bucket of that line did not get touched despite using Windows.

The fourth was a local trip to the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel for Anime Weekend Atlanta. I had planned to use the wired solution, as the Waverly’s site did mention wired access; however, that was inaccurate. My group, which was myself and one friend, used the LTE solution out of necessity and burned up the tethering bucket as always. Oops. The WiFi solution using the Raspberry Pi failed miserably, so we each opted to just use our laptops’ on-board WiFi cards to use the hotel’s 5 GHz connection.

The fifth and final was two weeks ago to Orlando, FL, yet again, this time for HamCation. I was back in the same hotel, only this time there was a wired port under my room’s desk. Win! I plugged the router in and had great connectivity for the trip. On the return trip, we stopped over in usual fashion at the Tifton, GA, Fairfield Inn, which still had wired ports under the desk. For that one night things worked as well as they did last year.

Anyway, this post is dragging on, so we’ll get to the meat of it!

I have yet again decided to change the system around due to the proliferation of wireless and the dearth of wired access in hotels. The LTE solution is not as reliable as expected; however, it does work swimmingly for single laptop access, especially at certain airports. I’ll still put the AF23 router in the box with this new solution, however, even if just for a true backup.

The premise is as follows:

  1. The Pelican 1400 case will still be used.

  2. The router will be changed to a Mikrotik hAP ac lite.

  3. The WiFi client solution will be changed to a Mikrotik GrooveA 52 ac with its included antenna.

  4. The Huawei AF23 will remain in the case as a backup.

  5. The Chromecasts and associated accessories will remain in the case.

  6. All this will necessitate acquiring replacement foam for the Pelican case.

With that said, the choice to move to MikroTik equipment from pfSense stems from a search for applicable USB-powered dual-band WiFi routers that could be used in client mode that ended up as a dead end. I then moved my search to a USB-powered passive PoE injector I could use with, for example, a Ubiquiti AirMax station. That ended with locating an injector, but I still was apprehensive as to which WiFi device to get. Eventually I decided on the MikroTik GrooveA 52 ac, as it is dual band and comes with an antenna. With that part decided on, it was time to decide on replacing the router itself.

I went for the hAP ac Lite as it has passive PoE out on one port, and I could use that to power the GrooveA. Right now the it is set up at my house powering a spare UniFi AP that I flashed OpenWrt to set up as a client to my local WiFi. So far, so good.

Initial tests both with the UniFi AP as a wireless client and connected directly to my local LAN have proven to have acceptable speeds, roughly 40 Mbps wireless and 50 Mbps wired.

The GrooveA will be acquired sometime between now and June, probably next month. The truly fun part will be finding a proper mount for the GrooveA as it is designed to be strapped to a pole for outdoor connectivity. I’m fairly certain I can find or easily build something sufficiently small to be portable as well as stable enough to handle the load of the GrooveA plus its antenna and the attached Ethernet cable. Once it arrives I’ll have a better idea of what to build out.

Needless to say, I hope that once this is set up we will be fine for a while, as I don’t foresee hotel Internet connections becoming that much different within the next few years.

Until next time!