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                   Saturday, April 19, 2008 - 11:54PM

Mobile access point project

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Update 11:54PM Saturday: Some problems with the system tonight. Here was the first version of the rig, which alas, is no more:

I assumed the low voltages/current draws of the routers' power cords would not cause problems with inductive interference, but I was wrong! The metal frame of the rig is acting as a transformer core with the power cords wound around it, which to my surprise seriously impaired the internet connection. Down speeds dropped to 138Kb/sec with ping times exceeding 1000ms, and most web pages were timing out. The VOIP line of course was completely dead.

I disassembled the rig completely, and internet access jumped back to normal speeds. However, it appears that Alltel's network is experiencing higher-than normal traffic tonight, with ping times exceeding 300ms (a weekend night phenomenon, hopefully). That much latency is apparently enough to render the voice-over-IP line useless until things improve. I'm sure that the busy network compounded the issues with the mounting rack rig, but it definitely wasn't the main problem.

It's a disappointing development that the VOIP line is vulnerable to downtime like this. If it's just a weekend evening high traffic issue, then I guess I can live with it. If it happens too often, the mobile telephone service idea will just have to be scrapped. My phone service is too critical to not be working. This means the additional cost of re-connecting home cable internet to maintain phone service at the house - still cheaper and more efficient than reactivating the old telco landline or paying for a higher cell phone rate plan, but yet another monthly bill to pay.

As for the mounting rig, it's back to square one. Until I determine how reliable the VOIP line is going to be, I'm not sure I want to put too much more into building anything now. If the phone line idea is scrapped, then I'll only need to have the router/aircard in the car. Those devices together are small enough not to need a special mounting solution. Just the old conventional adhesive velcro (the "storm observer's duct tape") will do the trick there.

So it looks like the next job (before spending any more time on a portable mounting rack) is to keep testing the VOIP line regularly to monitor its uptime rate. And I'm still in Raleigh, which is not where I'll need the phone line the most. I'll need to run a good series of tests back in Charleston to see if the project is really worth keeping alive - which won't happen for at least another week.

Update 1:07PM Saturday: I'll be making a trip to A&B Store Fixtures here in Raleigh to look for a potential console solution. This store has countless types of shelves, grids and displays that could work for the access point frame.

Update 12:31PM Saturday: After some searching around yesterday afternoon at various stores for some type of grid or frame on which to mount the access point hardware, I didn't really find anything that met my standards of functionality and aesthetics. The closest thing was a wire-frame shower soap caddy from Target that would have worked, but looked a little too awkward. The challenge is that the console must be a compact single unit, be easily carried around, and accomodate the Cradlepoint router, the aircard, the voice-over-IP box and the power adapters for each. In addition, the finished console/frame must be able to be secured somewhere relatively high up in the car (for better cell reception) yet be easily removed to take inside. Third, the console must be in a convenient place for the power and telephone connections (a permanent telephone will be mounted in the car for the VOIP line).

As for the frame, in the absence of any ready-made office shelf or caddy, my next plan is to look at Lowe's to just build something from scratch. So now the dilemma is where to place the console - and I have to figure this out first, as its design will be influenced by where we mount it. I've ruled out the dash - while there is plenty of space, this area is in direct sunlight, so any device there will be subjected to damaging extreme temperatures.

A second idea is to use the sunglasses/vanity mirror compartments above the rear-view mirror, a space I obviously never use. It is out of the sunlight and within easy reach. The problem there is that the power and telephone lines must be dropped straight down from the rear-view mirror, creating a physical obstable that could potentially be snagged and pulled by someone or something in the car. Or, the lines must be run around the periphery of the windshield to keep them out of the way, requiring excessive length of cables. Not a problem for the phone line, but a problem for the power cords.

The third and most promising space is the bar in the dashboard that runs in front of the passenger seat, from which a console could easily be hung. Providing we can keep it low-profile enough that there is no incursion into the passenger's workspace and/or the laptop/jotto desk swivel path, this might be the ideal configuration. It would be out of the sun enough to not be nuked by summer temps, and high enough to maintain decent reception.

3:42PM Friday: The Cradlepoint router arrived this afternoon - and after a quick setup, everything works perfectly. We were able to get all computers and cell phones online via WIFI, and I was able to make a VOIP call through the device! Now it's on to an office supply store to build a compact frame to mount these two boxes onto. The idea is to be able to just carry it inside and plug the power cord in. Updates and photos to come...

A complete WIFI hotspot!

Voice-over-IP system plugged in

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