RV Internet

RV Internet Is Required By Everyone

When I first started RV’ing, internet access was a major priority of mine. I work and source nearly all of my income as a remote employee. But it wasn’t a big problem for most RVers.

The majority of RV’ers were historically retired Boomers. Some more technically inclined than others. Internet access was a convenience, something to check whenever they ran into free Wifi at Starbucks or when campground wifi worked suddenly. They basically used the Internet in an off-line mode. So for this large demographic, Internet wasn’t a priority in their RV.

Nowadays, we all need Internet in our RV, young and old alike. Millenials are pushing this trend and becoming a large population in the RV crowd.

Major reasons for RV Internet

 

Incomerv-internet-income

remote work and online work is a real source of income for Millenials as well as Boomers. Look at Mike Wendland, most likely a Boomer, who does very well with his fantastic Roadtreking blog.

 

Family

staying connected to family thru Facebook, skype video calls, and emails allows you to see and hear your loved ones. For Boomers, grand kids are the big draw to RV internet. Text messaging and email work too, but there’s nothing like being live with your family.

 

Finances

From banking to paying bills, sending and receiving money, and everything in-between can be done online now. As a traveling RVer, being able to keep your bank account in your home state but using it to run your finances as if you were still at home is enabled by having secure and reliable internet.


What Is RV Internet

 

Getting internet while traveling is one thing, but getting internet from the comfort of your RV is an entirely different thing.

If you and your RV stay in populated areas, internet access options are pretty good. But the joy of an RV allows you to explore the fringes of populated areas, where your options for Internet greatly diminish.

How Is Home Internet Different From RV Internet?

Unlike your fixed home, apartment, or condo, where you can get cable, DSL, or fiber broadband internet to your house, getting the same quality and speed of internet from your RV is a big challenge.

Internet Options

Here is a list of the most popular internet options available for broadband internet.

BROADBAND TYPECOSTSPEED (5 fastest)EXAMPLES
Cable Broadband$$5Xfinity, Charter Spectrum, Cox
DSL Broadband$$4AT&T, Verizon, Centurylink, Frontier
Fiber Broadband$$$5Verizon Fios, AT&T Uverse, Frontier
Fixed Wireless Broadband$$$2-3Rise Broadband, GHz Wireless, King Street Wireless, Etheric Networks
Satellite Broadband$$$$$2-3Mobilsat, Hughesnet, Viasat, RVDatasat
Cellular Broadband$$$1-5AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile
Public Wifi$1-5Starbucks, McDonalds, Campgrounds

Internet Availability

Having broadband internet at home is different from having it in an RV. The big difference is physical connectivity to the internet service. Below is a table describing the availability of varying types of broadband internet for the home and RV.

Internet Availability At Home
BROADBAND TYPEAVAILABILITYPOPULARITY (5 Most)LIMITATIONS
Cable BroadbandYes5Monopoly limits providers
DSL BroadbandYes5Monopoly limits providers
Fiber BroadbandYes4Monopoly limits providers
Fixed Wireless BroadbandDepends on line-of-sight3Providers not in all areas
Satellite BroadbandDepends on line-of-sight2Cost and bandwidth caps
Cellular BroadbandDepends on closeness to cell tower2Cost and bandwidth caps
Public WifiDepends on wifi signal strength1Usually dense downtown areas
Internet Availability In An RV
BROADBAND TYPEAVAILABILITYPOPULARITY (5 Most)LIMITATIONS
Cable BroadbandNo0Must be fixed address
DSL BroadbandNo0Must be fixed address
Fiber BroadbandNo0Must be fixed address
Fixed Wireless BroadbandNo0Must have line-of-sight at all times
Satellite BroadbandDepends on line-of-sight3Cost and bandwidth caps
Cellular BroadbandDepends on closeness to cell tower5Cost and bandwidth caps
Public WifiDepends on wifi signal strength4Getting wifi signal at your RV

In a nutshell, RV Internet has to be wire-free.


When Is RV Internet Most Used?

Many RVers today use the internet for a job, business, or conducting financial transactions. These usually require connectivity Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm. You may not be online that entire time, but you need reliable connectivity many times during that time period.

Other RVers may use RV internet purely for social interaction such as a Skype call to the grandkids after dinner. Or some like to stream movies at night.

Most often, when internet usage is needed is dictated by the person or service you’re connecting to. Knowing this, one can quickly see how frustrating it could be to want internet access at a certain time, but unable to get it.


Where Can You Get RV Internet?

 

The beauty of an RV is you get to bring your home with you wherever you want! The challenge with internet, or more specifically, internet that is wire-free, gets challenging for RVers since they can be in populated and forested areas.

You can get RV internet anywhere. Really, it is possible. But you may have to have 2 or more types of different technology to stay connected.

Let’s explore the challenges of the three most popular wire-free internet technologies for an RV:

  1. Satellite Internet
  2. Cellular Internet
  3. Public WiFi

Satellite Internet

rv-internet-mobilsat

This technology is the one that truly can allow you to roam anywhere you want and get internet. But …. And it’a big but … it requires an antenna (fixed on the roof of your RV or on a tripod stand when stationary). That antenna also needs to be able to talk to a satellite providing you internet service.

Some of the common problems for satellite internet are:

Weather: storms and rain can make the connectivity slow or downright unusable

Man-made obstacles: buildings, or other structures can block satellite line-of-sight.

Nature-made obstacles: you may like to camp, and probably like forested areas. Those lovely tree’s can be tall enough to block satellite line-of-sight.


Cellular Internet

Every major cell phone provider allows for connectivity to the internet thru a cellular data plan.

If you have a smartphone like an iPhone or Android, or a tablet like an iPad, you probably have a cellular data plan on it. Many people do all of what they need just from that phone or tablet.

If you need a PC or laptop, then that device needs a way to use that cellular plan. Here are the options:

Cellular Internet Using A Cellular Modem

rv-internet-cellular-modem

A Cellular Modem is usually a USB device that plugs into a USB port on your computer. This provides direct internet access just for that device. It was popular at one time, but now that cell phones can become a Hotspot and MiFi devices are cheaper, it’s not that popular. Con of this approach is you need to buy the dongle, it only provides internet access for that single device, you get charged as an additional device on your cell phone plan, and you need to make sure you don’t lose the dongle.

 

Cellular Internet Using A Cell Phone

rv-internet-hotspot

By turning your cell phone into a hotspot, it broadcasts a WIFI SSID signal. Your laptop will then be able to connect to that cell phone internet plan using that WIFI SSID signal. The biggest pro to this approach is you don’t need to buy another device, and it allows for multiple computers to connect to the Internet. Cons of this, you chew up battery on your cell phone, and depending on what you do on your cell phone while it’s a Hotspot, it may drop connectivity to your computer, requiring you to re-login again.

 

Cellular Internet Using A MiFi

rv-internet-mifi

a Mifi is a wireless router that acts as a hotspot. It’s a separate device. It’s basically a cell phone, except you can’t talk on it or use any apps. Pros of a mifi are long battery life and they allow for multiple computers to connect to the Internet. Cons of a Mifi are the cost to buy the device and having to have a separate access charge for that device on your cell phone bill.


Cellular Signals Are Awesome For RV’s, Or Not

The great thing about cellular devices is they use an omni-directional signal. They don’t need to point to a specific receiving station, satellite, or some other object to work. Their signal broadcasts in a 360 degree sort of fashion.

The downside to an omni-directional signal is the range is typically less. So you need to be fairly close to a cell tower to get good data speeds.

Cellular Signal Biggest Challenges

The RV itself

The shell, cabinets, and all the other stuff you have in your RV could block or interfere with the cellular signal. If you’re in a Class B or Class A, they are commonly made out of a steel shell, which is a big blocker of a cellular signal.

Obstacles

man-made or nature-made, for a cell signal, an obstacle is an obstacle. Reflections or interference can impede a cell signal.

Other devices

running the microwave, or a neighbor with some other type of technology that broadcasts a signal, could interfere with a cellular signal.

Distance

the stronger the signal you have, the faster internet speeds you get. So you need to be fairly close to a cell tower.


Public Wifi

rv wifi internetPublic Wifi is awesome! It’s free! You open your laptop, see a wifi signal, connect, and you’re on the Internet like magic. As Rumpelstiltskin says on the hit TV show, Once Upon A Time:

“all magic comes with a price”

In reality though, most of the time, free public wifi just works great, especially at Starbucks. Some public wifi has a charge, or requires you to give up personal information like name and email address. But the biggest price to pay for public wifi in our opinion is security, which is an entire discussion for another time.

Public WiFi Biggest Challenge

The biggest challenge with public wifi in an RV is getting access to that wifi signal! It may work great inside that Starbucks, but how do you get connected to that signal from your RV in the parking lot?

Same thing for campground Internet. You may have a great location to park the RV, but you may be too far from where the campground wifi signal is broadcasting to get connected.

Public WiFi Second Biggest Challenge

The second biggest challenge for public wifi is lack of bandwidth. Having a great signal and connection to the wifi signal is one thing. Being free, there’s probably A LOT of people connected to it too, and they are consuming bandwidth. It’s not uncommon to have 100 devices connected to a 50Mbps internet connection in a campground. That’s called oversubscription and the result is a terribly slow internet connection for you.


How To Get Reliable RV Internet

The most reliable way to get internet in an RV for a variety of locations is to use multiple technologies. The theory is that if one doesn’t work in a specific location, the other one might work.

Common strategies amongst RVers are listed below, in order of cost:

BEST FORSTRATEGYPRIMARY INTERNETSECONDARY INTERNETPROSCONS
MoocherFree WiFiPublic WiFiCell: VerizonCheapest option with backup plan

WiFi signal into RV challenges
Can't use public WiFi while driving

Security concerns

Unreliable availability

Not reliable when boondocking

Will use Cell more often than expected
Couch SurferFree WiFiPublic WiFiMiFi: VerizonWiFi signal into RV challenges

Can permanently mount MiFi for ease of use

Can install MiFi signal booster
Can't use public WiFi while driving

Security concerns

Unreliable availability

Not reliable when boondocking
Penny PincherDifferent cell providersCell: VerizonCell: AT&TCost effective for light usage

If cell tower is far from one service provider, it may not be far from the other

Can use while driving
Drains battery of cell phone

Periodic disconnect issues

Not reliable when boondocking

Requires 2 cell plans
Nickel NurserDedicated MiFiMiFi: VerizonCell: AT&TDedicated MiFi

Able to use Cell Boosters on MiFi

Can use while driving
Not reliable when boondocking

Requires 2 cell plans
Boondocker VagabondSatellite + CellSatellite: HughesNetCell: VerizonGreat when boondocking

Can't use Satellite while driving

Installation costs

Must re-aim when move to new location
Boondocker BlingSatellite + MiFiSatellite: HughesNetMiFi: VerizonGreat when boondocking

Can use MiFi as primary where / when Satellite unusable
Can't use Satellite while driving

Installation costs

Must re-aim when move to new location

Conclusion

RV Internet is no longer a nice-to-have. Everyone, from young to old, requires reliable internet with a lot of bandwidth to conduct business, make money, or stay connected with loved ones.

 

See more articles below as we dig into this topic of getting good reliable internet from your RV!


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