The Best Internet Options for RVing
Four Internet Options for Your RV Lifestyle or Mobile Office
And How We Choose to Stay Connected While on the Road
Oh Internet, how I wish you were a better travel companion!
When we moved into the RV in November of last year we knew there would be a few hiccups along the way. After all, if it were easy living and working on the road, then everyone would do it, right? Since moving in we’ve had to replace the generator and awning, fix a leak in the roof, repair the gray-water tank, buy a new set of tires and have the transmission rebuilt. But all that aside, do you know what the most difficult part of this trip has been? Internet logistics. It turns out finding and keeping a good Internet connection while on the road is quite challenging.
So, whether you are considering moving into an RV full-time, taking a short trip across country, or launching a mobile business, check out the 4 options we’ve considered and learn how we stay connected while on the road.
Option #1 – WiFi
Since I develop databases locally and transfer them to my clients via email or IM, I don’t always need an awesome Internet connection. However, it’s a whole different story when I need to sign into a client’s server. That calls for a good WiFi connection with a relatively fast Internet connection. Unfortunately, you cannot keep a WiFi signal while on the road, so you have to hunt for it. We find WiFi all over the place, including RV parks, coffee shops, libraries, etc. The most reliable connection, of course, is when we are staying with friends who have a WiFi connection we can access.
One issue with WiFi networks is range. While you might have access to a WiFi network (like in a RV park or a local library), you might be slightly out of range or the signal might be so weak that your connection suffers latency. We’ve found the only way to circumvent this shortcoming is to use a wifi booster. This fellow RVer gave a short writeup about the wifi booster antenna.
As another option, AT&T offers a WiFi Premier service for $19.99 per month. This service grants you unlimited access to their vast network of 200,000+ WiFi hotspots around the U.S. All their wifi hotspots have a broadband connection to the Internet. However, their networks utilize network shaping to ensure no single user’s activity can de-gradate their network. Thus, if you need a lot of bandwidth this option may not be for you. We have not subscribed to this service because of the bandwidth limitations, but it is still a great option for average Internet users.
Option #2 – 3G/4G
When there isn’t a WiFi hotspot nearby, I resort to using our Clear 3G/4G mobile hotspot. Unfortunately, Clear is no longer offering devices with 3G connectivity (at least not on their website) so this isn’t a great option any longer. However, Sprint (who owns a controlling share of Clear) offers the Overdrive by Sierra Wireless, which is exactly the same device that I bought from Clear.
Why does that matter? Don’t you really want 4G anyways? Well, yes, but…there just isn’t enough 4G coverage (Clear, Verizon, Sprint, TMobile, AT&T) in the U.S. So, having a device that can switch between 3G and 4G networks is imperative. Most of the time, we end up using the 3G network because there isn’t a 4G tower nearby. As long as we have 60% 3G coverage, Shanna can teach her classes without latency, and I can conduct most business as usual. However, when we have 4G coverage, I can download software updates and other large files.
During our time in Buffalo, NY we did not have Clear 3G/4G coverage, so we borrowed a Verizon MiFi from a friend and it has worked great. We’ve found that where we don’t have Clear coverage, there is Verizon coverage instead. So we are considering purchasing a Verizon device as a back up to our Clear (read option #3 to learn the best way to make this work).
Little known fact: Clear white-labels their 4G network for most of the national carriers. So, if you’re using 4G from either AT&T, Verizon or Sprint, you’re probably actually using Clear’s 4G network (in most cases).
In the next 2-3 years, 4G networks will become more and more ubiquitous. So most of the issue that we are facing now with regard to the lack of 4G coverage will not affect us as much in a year or so.
Option #3 – Dependable 3G/4G
What you really want is a Cradlepoint MBR1200 with two different network USB devices (from Sierra Wireless) plugged into it. Ideally, you want USB dongles supported by different carriers, e.g. Verizon’s LTE and AT&T’s HSPA+. Most consumer wireless devices are considered “dumb devices” that require a user to interact with it and or reset it. The Cradlepoint device is essentially the smarts or brains that the consumer devices lack. This device interacts with the 3G/4G USB network devices and chooses which network to use (it actively controls failover and other neat network wizardry). However, choosing this option would have you paying multiple monthly bills.
Option #4 – Satellite
While I’ve looked into this option a handful of times, I just can’t bring myself to spend $10K-$20K on a device that gets dial-up like speeds. So, although many RVers consider this an option, to us and others who depend on Internet for their livelihood, satellite is really a non-option.
I hope that this has helped you make a decision about getting a great Internet connection while traveling. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome!
Photo Credits: Brian O’Donovan