Greetings RVers. In this post I outlined my RV plex solution as a combination of three things: A streaming stick, a router, and a “Network Attached Storage” device, or NAS. Yes I am aware that some consider NAS to be out-of-character for an RV, but I’ve had such good luck at home with such a solution — I decided to try it in my fifthwheel.
Before I get started, let me address the issue of “Plex won’t work without an internet connection”. There are four essential problems that must be solved in order for Plex to work without an internet connection.
- Plex must be set up to allow local-network client connections without authentication. This is an easy setting in Plex
- The streaming client must cache your Wifi connection information and automatically re-connect to the local network from a powerdown without seeing an internet connection. I found that the Roku Streaming Stick fulfils this requirement (in particular, note that the Roku Ultra does NOT.
- Very careful setup must occur at home before you loose internet. You can’t expect to make any configuration changes after you leave home. Without an internet connection, Plex is pretty dumb, but it will stream
- Test/Sample your content for the first time after all libraries are built– while you still have internet. I have run across situations where Plex refused to serve up certain media without internet access, until this step is performed.
Now, lets get to building an RV-based Plex system capable of streaming content without an internet connection:
First, the network
The basic objective is to build the RV network with it’s own router. My first choice for this was the Pepwave SURF SOHO mk3 which I purchased from the 5GStore. The unit was in stock, shipped promptly, and the folks at 5GStore were very helpful as well! I was able to exchange emails with them about my setup until I got it working. Here’s another look at the network diagram:
- TV: no requirements here, except that it has to have an available HDMI input
- Roku: gotta be a “Roku Streaming Stick”
- Wifi-as-WAN: (home WiFi)
I like the SURF SOHO because its not a mainstream consumer-grade router, and because it allows that magic thing called “Wifi-as-WAN”, which allows it to connect to campground Wifi (or your home Wifi) all the while broadcasting a different network subnet inside the RV. That means your home Wifi router can be on 192.168.0.1 , and your pepwave router at 192.168.50.1. In the scenario described in the diagram, the home router (not shown) actually assigns an IP address to the Pepwave’s “Listen on Wifi-as-WAN” interface. This accomplishes two things
- The Pepwave now has access to the public internet, with the same public IP address as all other Home network activity
- The Pepwave is a device on the home network . That means it is reachable from the home network! Thats a bonus I’ll describe later.
The SOHO is a very capable router, and even has some advanced functions, but the “happy path” (most common settings) are easy to configure: I found it no more difficult to set up than the standard issue router supplied by my home ISP! Sure, some basic networking knowledge helps, but the SOHO is just not that difficult to configure. Even Wifi-as-WAN was super easy to set up — I had my router working for the first time in about 60 minutes, set up with some obscure local subnet that is less likely for bad guys to guess, broaadcasting both 5GHz and 2.4GHz WiFi into my RV while providing internet connectivity via my home network.
One of the cool things I like about the SOHO is that is provides for many different WAN sources, and allows you to prioritize them in order of importance for failover purposes. In addition to wifi-as-WAN on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz, the router supports USB cellular modems — including tethered Android phones — as well as celluar modems via its WAN (ethernet) port. Of course, the wired ethernet port can also be used, although that is not likely to happen in the RV situation. However, the wired ethernet WAN port means this puppy can serve as your home router as well — It even supports “VLAN tagging” which some ISPs (like mine) require.
To set up the prioritized list of WAN sources, you simply drag a WAN source to the desired priority level. The SOHO will connect to priority 1 first, and if that fails or becomes unreliable it will switch to priority 2, while it keeps trying priority 1. In the screenshot below, for example, I have the 5GHz Wifi-as-WAN source as priority 1, and the 2.4GHz source priority 2. I don’t have a wired WAN or a cellular modem WAN source, but if I did those could be added to the list.
There have been some reports of the SOHO misbehaving with certain firmaware versions and I highly recommend this gentleman’s website for some interesting bedtime reading on this subject. Michael Horowitz is very experienced in router securty and provides some helpful insights especially around firmware versions. After reading Michael’s comments about pre-8.1 firmware issues, I decided to take a chance on version 8.1.3 — and it’s working beautifully for me.
Here is a suggested order of things to configure in the SOHO right out of the box
- Connect a computer directly to the LAN1 port on the SOHO with an ethernet cable.
- From the computer, log into the router using the default credentials. Immediately change the dedfault user and password
- Configure the local network and SSID name
- Configure Wifi-as-WAN to gain access to the public internet
- Upgrade firmware
The Pepwave Bonus: VPN
One of the unique features of the SURF SOHO is that it can be a VPN server, which means you can log into your private network from another network entirely. This is exactly what I wanted — when parked at home, I want to leave my network (and NAS) running in the RV, but I want to access it from my home network — for example, to add new content. This is possible because the Wifi-as-WAN “listen on” feature in the Pepwave actually has it’s own IP address on my home network. Therefore, we can set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunnel from inside the home network to this address. Here I will provide the detailed steps, as they are not abundantly clear unless you are an IT professional:
Set up the Pepwave:
- Go to Advanced –> Remote user access
- Check “enable” (this means enable remote user access)
- select “L2TP with IPsec” (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol with Internet Protocol Security)
- Enter a pre-shared key of your choice for the encrypted tunnel (this is what the VPN client will need)
- Select “Listen on Wifi-WAN on 5GHz” (or your prefered Wifi) and note the IP
- Go to your home network router and register this as a fixed IP address (this means the VPN client will always target the same IP)
- Select the “connect to network” dropdown (there is probably only one, but the Pepwave does support mulitiple…)
- Set the user account and password that will be used by the Client VPN. Note: This is not the VPN tunnel shared key, above, and it is not a user on the local Pepwave network. This is strictly to authenticate a user of the VP’N tunnel.
Now set up your Windows Client (Mac users should find similar settings). Here I am showing the Windows 11 steps, noting the important Windows 10 differences
- Search for “VPN settings” to bring up the Network and Internet –> VPN settings
- Click on “Add VPN” (Windows 10 is “Add a VPN connection”)
- Fill out the form (Windows 10 is the same, only it is blue instead of white!)
- VPN provider: Windows (Built in)
- Connection name (your choice)
- Server name or address (put in the IP address reported by the Pepwave “Listen on” setting. This is the IP address of the Pepwave that is known to the Home network wrouter
- Select VPN type “L2TP/IPSec with pre-shared key” from the drop down
- Enter the pre-shared key you set up in the Pepwave VPN settings. This is the encrypted tunnel key
- Select type of sign-in info, “user name and password” from the dropdown
- Enter the username and password that you set up in the “Pepwave VPN settings” above. This is the user identity of the VPN client
- Check “remember my sign-in info” and click “save”
We have one more step to go — we need to configure the Windows 11 network adapter settings, so that the Pepwave VPN server will recognize the incoming request:
- Search for or navigate to control panel–>network connections, where you will see your new VPN connection with the name you chose
- Right-click on your VPN connection and select “Properties”
- Select the “Security” tab
- Check “Allow these protocols” and chedck “Microsoft CHAP Version 2”
To use the new VPN connection, search for “VPN” again to see your new connection and click “connect”. Here is the Windows 11 view (In Windows 10, click on your VPN connection to expose the “connect” button):
Thats it! You now have visibility into your RV network, for example, to log into the Pepwave router itself, or to access any other client endstation (such as a Synology NAS, which I’ll cover next).
Set up the Synology
After setting up the RV network, I attached the Synology DS220+ to the LAN1 port of the pepwave and fired it up (well, after loading hard drives!). The Synology system itself is very nice to work with as well. I won’t go into the click-by-click here either, but there are a few details of interest:
- My DS220+ shipped with “DSM 7.0.1” which appears to be a controversial topic in the forums. This is a major re-write of their “Disk Station Manager” operating system, and there have been some reports of discontent out there from the minions. Happily, none of this (that I can find) applies to Plex Media Server, in large part because Plex itself has also been re-written for DSM 7.0 — you just have to download the latest version from the Plex website and perform a manual install on the Synology side. So far I have found no issues.
- I set up the synology for a fixed IP address. That way, its HTTP user interface is always at the same address, and clients are not confused to see a different IP address everytime the system boots up (which will be often in my situation!). Make sure and make this setting on BOTH the router AND the synology.
Now for PLEX itself
Once you have the Synology running like you want, and Plex Media Server is installed, its time to load content and configure plex. Its important to point out that Plex is, fundamentally, designed to work with a live internet connection. Its a rather chatty app, and utilizing cloud resources a which only means there are some special tricks you have to perform to coax plex into running without internet. There are even some on the forums who counsel that Plex won’t work without a live internet connection — and I have certainly found that to be true for one particular streaming client (a Roku Ultra). However, as you will see below, the streaming client itself is important to make this work “off grid”. Here’s my list of tips:
- Choose your client streamer wisely. I picked the “Roku Streaming Stick” because it caches your network connection settings, allowing it to connect to your local Wifi network when booting up (after a long day of travel, for example), when there is no live internet connection. The Roku Ultra, for example, does *not* work for this, I assume because it has enough memory and horsepower to re-load information every time.
- With a system as powerful as the Synology DS220+ set the transcoder quality to “make my CPU hurt”.
- Set scheduled tasks to occur during the day — whjen you’re not in bed listening to the disks seek
- In the network settings:
- Set “secure connections” to Prefered.
- Prefered network interface to “any”. That way, if you plug the cable into the other LAN port on the back it will still work
- Uncheck “enable local network discovery”. It’s isunecessary network chatter for the RV
- In the box titled, “List of IP addresses and networks that are allowed without auth” type in the network address of your (Pepwave) router and it’s subnet mask. For example, “192.168.50.1/24” . I don’t believe the “off grid” plan will work without this setting
- uncheck “enable relay”. This is about serving up content in our server to the synology cloud and back to another remote streaming client. Not something I’ll use while camping!
- unckeck “webhooks”, which are not necessary
By the way — the DS220+ has enough horsepower to transcode on the fly, so theres no reason to build “optimized versions” of your content. I keep my content small anyway — reduced in size to 1080p/30 with handbrake just to conserve disk space. This isn’t a 4K home theater this is an RV!
See anything here that I missed? drop a comment below and let me know if something isn’t clear