Mobile LAN Trip Report

 We are back from our West Virginia rafting trip.  Normally that wouldn’t warrant a post on a blog about technology.  However, what we did on the way there and the way back makes it relevant.  You can read the details of our plan in this post:  http://blog.timrettig.com/2009/07/09/another-trip-another-crazy-project/.  In short, we connected our van to the Internet, provided minute by minute picture updates to a public website, and setup video conferencing between our vehicles.  Here is how it went down:

Mobile Internet Access

We setup a laptop in the van with a Verizon aircard and then used Windows to share that connection via wireless between the users in the van.  We also had an AT&T aircard, and a couple of people tethered to their phones.  We have been using aircards for years, but not this extensively, not over this terrain, and not as a mobile shared connection. 

Van
Mission control in the van.

As expected, our only issue was data service.  We had service from both Verizon and AT&T and both services had major outages on our trip from Cincinnati, OH to Fayetteville, WV.  We knew we would have occasional drops, but we didn’t expect to have several 20 to 30 minute outages during the drive.  Neither service provided any better coverage.  They both were poor.  In fact, in one area we lost both voice and data service for about 15 minutes.  That was both Verizon and AT&T phones.  If this would have been a more important project, we would have planned our route to stay within data service more.

Near-time Website Picture Updates

On our website we setup a page to display a picture, and to refresh that page every 30 seconds.  We then setup a laptop in the van with a webcam to FTP a picture from that webcam every minute.  We used TinCam software (http://www.tincam.com/) to upload the pictures.  That worked like a charm.  Anytime we had data service, that application uploaded the picture without fail.  It worked so well we took the laptop into the cabin with us and allowed it to continue to upload pictures from there all weekend.

Goofing around with the Vancam.
Goofing around with the Vancam.

Vehicle to Vehicle Videoconferencing

We expected this to be the most challenging because we did very little pre-work to test it before we got on the road.  So we started out with the two laptops together in the van.  They kept dropping their connection, even when they were sitting right next to one another.  After a lot of troubleshooting, we found that the laptops were staying on the wireless network, but Microsoft NetMeeting was actually dropping the connection.  So Daniel suggested we try ZoneVideo from ZoneHope (http://www.zonehope.com) because he had a client who had tried it and been happy with it.  So we tried that, and it worked perfectly.  No more connection issues.  So when we stopped to get gas, we moved Daniel and his laptop to the other car and started our remote testing.  It worked fine until we got out of the parking lot.  As soon as there was any separation between the vehicles, there would be connection problems.  We kind of expected that, so we had outfitted the car with an external wifi antenna.  So Daniel hooked his laptop up to that antenna.  From that point forward, we had video conferencing between vehicles for the entire trip.  Well, except for one time when the vehicles got separated by a red light.  As long as the vehicles could see each other, the conference stayed up.  It was  a great way to communicate between the cars. 

Next Year

I think next year we will plan our route a little better so that we have more consistent coverage.  And, in addition to video conferencing, I think we should have some gaming between the cars!  We will need wifi antennas for all of the cars, and headsets for everyone.

VanPose

 

 

 

 

 

 

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