Web Working from the Road (Part 3): Creating a Wireless Network in Your RV



This article will have a very specific focus, namely, creating a Wireless Network in Your RV using Time Machine, but on a broader basis it will cover why you might want to do such a thing. Afterwards, I’ll throw out a little info on how you can use one of those Wireless Air Card I talked about last time to create a network using your Mac.

Creating a Wireless Network in Your RV Using Time Machine

Our primary source of Internet access comes from our Sprint Wireless Air Cards. Handy devices indeed for the on-the-go web accesser, for sure, but using one of them to create a network in your home can be cumbersome or, at the least, expensive. Modems compatible with air cards, such as the Kyocera KR1 Broadband EVDO Router (beautiful name, isn’t it) previously ran at around $200 but have now generously jumped up to $230. And to be honest, splitting a single EVDO connection between two or more computers is going to be dangerously close to somewhere between 56k and slow DSL. So we just each use our own air cards and get decent connection rates.

That said, there is still a need for a wireless “home” network in our RV. We use the home network to connect to our backup drive, connect wirelessly to the RV’s speakers, allow our iPhones to control our music selection, and in future we might even use it to connect to a printer. All of these are nifty little things that just make life easier.

Creating the Wireless Network

We personally use Time Capsule. You might want to choose another base station depending on your own needs and brand affiliations. Apple also has the Airport Extreme and Airport Express which can both be used to create a wireless network, and there are likely countless other non-Apple affiliated products which can create a network as well. I choose Time Capsule for us because 1) it’s able to create a network and act as a router and 2) it doubles as a backup / extra storage drive. Anytime I can get two things in one, I’d prefer to do so, particularly while living in small spaces such as are found in an RV.

Setting this up is a breeze, just plug the Time Capsule in and run the software that came with it on your laptop (or desktop) and voila, you’ll be all set. The setup wizard will walk you through everything from knowing what the various colors of blinking lights mean to how to setup a password for your network. If you don’t have the CD because you bought your Time Capsule out of the back of some guy’s van, then open Airport Utility and it should try and find the Time Capsule for you.

Using the Network to Play Music via Your RV’s Speakers

I’m not referring to the speakers built into the cab of our RV, though an enterprising tinkerer may be able to guide his or herself along those lines, but to external speakers. For example, we brought our speakers from home and mounted them to the top of our couch in the lounge. This is a central location where they can easily be plugged directly into one of our laptops if we’d like to watch a movie as a family or something and really need that bleeding ear effect. We then plug the speakers into an Airport Express with AirTunes, another Apple product, which allows us to stream content from iTunes wirelessly via our home network to the speakers. Now we can turn on our Party Shuffle playlist, turn up the speaker volume and sit outside around the fire, music loud enough to hear it but without being forced to bring our laptops out (where they may be accidentally left in the rain or covered in S’mores) or lug around a separate radio (which wouldn’t likely have our entire mp3 library on it.)

Also, with a little piece of software called Airfoil (about $8), you can stream any audio being played on your computer to those speakers, not just iTunes content. It should also be noted that, like Time Capsule, Airport Express and Airfoil are both compatible with Windows and Mac OS X.

Control Those Speakers with your iPhone

So now you’ve got your home network set up and you’re using it to stream that sweet all-80’s-metal soundtrack so that you and yours can truly rock out around the fire tonight. Suddenly you realize you’ve got it cranked up to 11 and it’s nearly 1am. What do you do? There’s no time to run inside and turn down the volume, but luckily you’ve got an iPhone, right?

Apple’s own Remote app, available via the App Store, was created specifically for this task. It lets you control iTunes via that wireless home network you’ve set up, including volume, skipping through tracks and even looking at playlists. Pretty nifty for those of us who can’t be bothered to walk all the way from outside of our RVs to the interior.

Creating a Wireless Network with Just Your Air Card and a Mac

You can also use Mac OS X Leopard to share your air card’s connection to the Internet with other devices in your RV. By going to System Preferences > Sharing and then ticking the Internet Sharing box, you can use your Mac as a wireless router. You will need to have a Mac with a wireless card installed, such as all Macbooks have built in, and I believe you also must have Leopard. I don’t think Tiger or previous versions support Internet Sharing (though I could be wrong.)

Once you tick the box, choose your air card from the Share your connection from dropdown and choose Airport from the checkbox list.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow you to connect your Airport Express or Time Machine to this network, which is totally lame, but it will allow other computers (such as your iPhone) to use the faster-than-EDGE connection speed you’re likely to get with your wireless carrier’s signal.