johnny September 24th, 2007
Still got a bit of waiting to do, but we’re trying to finalize some of our technical gear.
On the power side, we’re going to start with 380 watts of solar panels. These are big honking 3′x5′ 24 volt panels, so we can only fit two without some extra work. If we find we need more watts, there is a possibility of putting a third panel without any major modifications or wiring smaller 12V panels in series for 24V. We will probably be supplementing this with a small generator – I still haven’t decided on a 1000W or a 2000W. Either should run the A/C, so I’m leaning towards the smaller genset for weight and efficiency reasons.
For power storage, we’re going to start with at least 4 12V group 31 batteries. These pack roughly 120Ah each. I’m still up in the air on AGM versus regular old lead acid. The AGM cost about twice as much, but should charge a bit faster and have the capability to be mounted upside down and sideways as well as indoors. The deciding factor may end up being how much junk we are going to haul outside versus inside. A battery stored indoors will have less Ah lost during cold weather, so indoor AGM’s would be a nice way to go.
For internet service, we’ve started looking more closely at EVDO service instead of satellite. From reading other people’s opinions that have the service, it seems that they fall into two groups: those that have spent money on an external antenna and amplifier and those that have not. For the most part, those with amplifiers and antennas are pretty happy with the service. Of the few that are not, it is generally because they feel it is too slow in some areas. Jenn and I are no strangers to slow internet service, having been working in the field since the days when 19.2kb was blazing fast. I still tend to use a text only web browser about half the time.
There is a lot to be said for having no setup time once we pick a campsite. I also like the ability to have internet access, and therefore, VOIP phone service when we’re rolling. From what I’ve seen, for the cost of a bottom end satellite system, we can have a top of the line EVDO setup including a router that will accept an air card for connection sharing, an amplifier and external antenna. At the moment, I’m leaning towards Sprint because they offer unlimited downloads and appear to have excellent peering with both Verizon and Alltel. I’m just not crazy about Verizon telling me I’m limited to 5GB a month.
I think a lot of people run into problems with EVDO because their expectations are too high. What I expect is: some sort of coverage 95% of the time. We can deal with modem speeds – that’s part of the price of getting out in the world. If I’m near a large city, I expect ‘slow DSL’ speeds. If I get ‘cable modem’ speed somewhere, I will just be thankful. I also expect to have to invest in hardware. You can’t expect a tiny card sticking out of a laptop to compete with the 50+ pounds a satellite user carries around. You need the amplifier and antenna to improve performance – if you don’t understand that concept or just can’t live with modem speeds, you’ll probably never be happy with the service except in major cities.