Vacation isn't just for vacation anymore.

Mount An External Antenna On An Airstream – Without Drilling!

We use a Pepwave Max Transit Duo for internet access in our Airstream Flying Cloud Office. In our experience so far, the standard antennas that came with the unit have almost always been sufficient for our needs. That means pulling in enough cell signal for two people, glued to their laptops eight or more hours per day, on Zoom calls 40% to 60% of that time. For us, a typical workday means churning through 20 to 30 gigabytes of data. Our router is mounted on a wall in the rear office area of the trailer and usually looks like this:

Pepwave router with standard antennas installed

This configuration is great. It’s out of the way, secure for travel days, and easily accessible if I need to move it elsewhere or restart it for any reason. That said, every once in a while we’ll find ourselves camping in an area where the cell signal is just too weak for those standard antennas to operate effectively. The solution for situations like that is to use an external antenna to magnify the available signal. That’s simple enough, but the harder decision revolves around how to mount one. Researching this online has left me with the distinct impression that most RV owners are perfectly willing to drill and/or cut into their trailers in order to install a permanent roof-mounted antenna. Jill and I, on the other hand, are of the opposite mindset. The last thing we wanted to do was bore holes into our brand new Airstream. One reason is because we only occasionally need an external antenna. Another is because we want to avoid potential leak points in our roof. Judging by the number of forum posts I’ve found by other Airstreamers seeking a “hole-free” or “drill-free” approach to mounting an external antenna, we are not alone. We ultimately came up with a completely non-invasive solution that can be installed and removed as needed with just a few minutes of effort.

I started with a Parsec Akita omni-directional pole mounted cellular antenna. Then I got one of these suction cup mounts from TechnoRV. Next, following the advice provided in the instructional video for that mount, I headed to the hardware store and bought a length of 1/2″ PVC pipe, a 90° PVC elbow, and two hose clamps. I cut the pipe into two pieces, one short and one long, and fastened them together with the elbow to form an L-shape. I then inserted the short end through the two hose clamps supplied with the suction cup mount and attached the long end to the back of the antenna using the two new hose clamps I bought. I was initially tempted to permanently glue the PVC pieces together, but I’m glad I didn’t. Hand tightening has (so far) proven strong enough to hold them together while in use and, conveniently, allows for easy disassembly when it’s time for storage. At this point my new pole mount was ready for use! Installing it – if you can call it that – only requires a ladder tall enough to reach the roof and a wet rag. I wipe down both the suction cup and a flat area on the Airstream’s roof, firmly press the two together, pull the suction clamp into place, and we’re all set!

The assembled mount.

However, there was one last dilemma. I still needed to route the antenna’s four meaty cables from the roof to the inside of the Airstream and connect them to the router.

We originally thought we’d route the cables in from one of our two external storage compartments. In fact, the first time we used this antenna, we mounted it to the front of the trailer and routed the cables through the front external storage area, passing them under the bed and over to the router. (At that time, we hadn’t yet mounted the router on the rear wall.) The obvious flaw with this approach is that it requires leaving the storage compartment door open, which is not good if it rains. Or if you’re worried about theft. Or you don’t want outside air to interfere with your climate controlled interior. Later I had the idea of carefully removing a small section of spline from the rear window screen and feeding the cables in through the gap. This worked much better, even though we couldn’t shut the window completely. Rain won’t – or shouldn’t – get in when the window is slightly ajar and the small gap only allows a minimal amount of outside air to get in. That might be a bigger drawback in very hot or very cold weather, but for now we’ve officially declared the approach Good Enough™. And when it’s time to pack up, tucking the spline back into the screen’s gutter is simple. All you need is a flathead screwdriver and a few moments of time. Next time I go to the hardware store, I might even pick up a spline roller to make this step even easier.

Once the antenna’s cables are successfully routed inside the Airstream, it’s just a matter of pushing them against the wall so they stay out of the way and then attaching them to our router. Admittedly, this doesn’t have the best appearance, but it hasn’t really bothered us. It is an office area, after all, so it kinda makes sense to find various wires strewn about.

And that’s how we built a removable mount for an external antenna and avoided drilling or cutting into our Airstream! It’s fast, it’s easy, and – importantly for us – temporary. The suction cup mount is very solid, staying in place for multiple days at a time even with thirty degree swings in temperature. The last time we set this up, we immediately went from three bars of AT&T signal to five – well worth the ten to fifteen minutes of setup effort.

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below!

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