In our conversations with fellow RV’ers, communicating in the RV forums, and other general chats with folks we find that there is one consistent issue most RV’ers struggle with and thats the issue of RV Internet. RV Internet or “Mobile Wifi or Mobile Broadband” as some refer to it is easily the most common issue people face as the world continues the trend of staying connected. We will attempt to address this issue and offer some clarity on what the options are and how to proceed. We have seen far to many people overpay, get unnecessary services and receive poor results with their RV Internet trials and tribulations. Below you will find a graph outlining the major players in the Mobile Wifi world and what they offer. You may notice we omitted some names. We did so on purpose because many others only exist while using the below companies cellular towers under a different marketing name and offer very little real value to the end user. Some of them only operate regionally and tend to be uncompetitive on price. If you happen to find a company offering better deals with the same level of service quality, support, and value as what we are describing here than we applaud you! Just be sure to check the fine print.
There are 3 main ways to access the internet while on the road:
- Public/Private Accessible WIFI Networks – McDonalds, RV Parks, Libraries, Rest Stops, Starbucks, etc
- Satellite Connection – Dish, Hughesnet, Starband, etc
- Wireless Service Provides (Cell Phone Networks) – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Millenicom, etc
Public/Private Accesible WIFI Networks
They are available throughout the US. The connections as well as speeds are hit or miss. Your experience can be improved through the use of additional equipment installed in your RV. This will not be the focus of this guide though it will touch on it briefly
Through the use of a satellite dish your RV uploads and downloads data through the same satellites that your TV would. This service tends to be more expensive and equipment heavy than other options. This will not be covered in this guide.
Wireless Service Providers
Through the use of MIFI “Mobile WIFI” stand alone devices or the use of your smartphone your device becomes a wireless connection device that uses wireless towers to send and receive data. Your service experience relies heavily on coverage and the quality of the network you choose to use. This is the most cost effective and popular way to connect while on the go and will be the focus of this guide.
RV Internet / Mobile WIFI Comparison Chart:
As you review this chart below you can find a guide below it to address the definitions of the items described as you begin to make your decision on what makes the most sense for you. Farther down you will find my recommendations based on the “RV Internet” profiles that we commonly see. If you feel like you have a unique situation we have not addressed here please feel free to leave a comment or visit our forums describing your situation and we will be happy to customize my thoughts for you!
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Monthly Use It or Lose It
Shared Data Option
|True Connect Internet To Go||x||x||More Info|
|Virgin Mobile||x||x||x||More Info|
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RV Internet Graph Explanation
Click the + Sign next to each item you would like to read more about.
True PrepaidDefined this as being able to purchase “Airtime” and get to use at your own pace, either in a month or in a year without additional charges.
Monthly Use it or Lose ItThis is how most wireless companies market under a “pre paid” veil though the only thing you pay in advance is your monthly charge. Very similar to having a contract the only difference is you can cancel anytime.
Contract OptionThis is familiar to most but most wireless providers ask for you to make a commitment of time your willing to pay them for their service. This many times means a discount on the device you will need to receive mobile broadband.
3G Speeds3G Stands for 3rd-generation. Analog cellular phones were the first generation. Digital phones marked the second generation (2G). Expected speeds average around 2 mega-bits a second. For the non techie crowed that means you can download your favorite country song in under 30 seconds. Usually acceptable for most casual internet users needs.
4G SpeedsWireless carriers in the U.S. have turned 4G into a meaningless marketing term unfortunately. All four of the major U.S. wireless carriers are calling their faster wireless networks 4G, but only one qualifies under the formal technical definition and that is Verizon Wireless and their LTE network .4G wireless is the term used to describe the fourth-generation of wireless service. 4G is a step up from 3G. You could expect to download that same country song 3-5 times faster on a true 4G network.
Coverage ProviderThere are 4 major players in the wireless coverage world and they are Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, and T-Mobile. Almost all others that you may know of operate very few if any actual cell phone towers and instead have agreements with the above companies to use their network.
Shared Data OptionRelatively new development in mobile broadband is the option to add a mobile wifi hotspot to your existing wireless plan and let it share your family’s data for a nominal monthly fee (usually $10-20).
Plan OptionsYou are probably aware of the varying array of plan options at wireless providers and when it comes to mobile broadband its not different. We have given you links to each companies plans but will also provide my pick for best of class based on your needs.
Recommendations based on the time you spend in your RV and your usage:
1. The “We are weekenders and occasional RV Travelers who need RV Wifi”
Pick: True Connect
This is the best option for light use part timers by far. You can pay for only what you need and its not necessary to have a monthly bill. With this option you simply purchase the device from Walmart and purchase prepaid data “card”. You then have as many months, weeks, years as you want to use it with no additional fees. If you decide to use it in the next 30 days they give you a much better deal than if you want to use it as you need it. Either way its a much cheaper route than being on a wireless carriers contract plan. Visit Walmart.com For More Information.
2. The “We are full time RV’ers and we need RV Wifi Everywhere We Explore”
Pick: Verizon 4G Contract Plan ( Millencom is also a worth looking into depending on the plans available in your area)
Verizon by FAR has the best coverage and speeds on its wireless network. You get 4G and 3G on the same plan. Millenicom uses Verizon’s network so you can expect similar results and pricing. Both Verizon and Millenicom have contract plans that are fair on pricing and they have great service when compared to their peers. You will probably end up with a contract but if your a full timer it will definitely be worth it. Visit your local Verizon store or Verizon.com for more information. Millenicom.com
3. The “We want it to be low cost ,simple, and I don’t have much to worry about this because we don’t use our RV very often”
Pick: The path of least resistance for something like RV internet is common and as we wear many hats it is certainly understandable. For many wireless customers who have phone service, simply add the mobile broadband device to your existing wireless plan(See graph above under Shared Data Option) or use your smartphone as mobile hotspot (Article on doing just that) for a nominal fee. The mobile hotspot feature is only available on select phones so check with your wireless provider. Of course the downside is your phone is now a wifi modem and in some cases you cant talk on it at the same time. Its $10-20 a month to add it to your plan so you can share that data with your phone and it could be more expensive over time than other options but you can set it up in a flash and don’t have to worry about running out of prepaid air time in the middle of sending an email to your brother.
Tip: If you go the Shared Data/Phone=Mobile Hotspot route be sure to up the amount of data you have available on your plan. Verizon has a great tool for estimating how much you will need to add HERE
Satellite Broadband and Other Options
We did not consider Satellite Internet in my guide as it has a very high cost comparatively and can be cumbersome to get connected and you also cannot use it while in transit. We know there many RV’ers who use this option and find it wonderful. But most people choose not to make the equipment/ installation investment that it takes, removing it as an option and its not really in the scope of this article. If cost is no object that certainly its a viable option particularly if your a boon docker.
More Information on Satellite Broadband:
Cant I get RV WIFI for FREE?
Perhaps you decided that mobile broadband is not for you but you still want to put yourself in a position to get the best WIFI reception possible while on your travels at a low cost one time expense. After all, then you can use the RV parks WIFI or possibly other local WIFI signals to your advantage.
There are many products that can help you get a better WIFI signal. There are 2 popular ways that seem to be common:
- Purchase and Install the WIFI Ranger. This is an all in one system designed integrate superior WIFI reception and your mobile broad band from (Verizon, Sprint, ATT, etc) so that your always connected. It will run you somewhere around $200 to $700 depending on the options you want plus any installation cost that comes along with that. Its one of the most widely used systems in the RV’er community.
- Purchase a WIFI Antenna/Booster. There are literally hundreds of options here. This is the cheaper and ”self install” option. For under $100 you can outfit your RV with a device that will get you much better reception at a fraction of the cost of the WIFI Ranger, yet you wont get the integration and feature set that comes with it.
You should consider picking up two products in particular. You will need to purchase a WIFI Antenna with a USB adapter which you can plug directly into a Laptop or PC. If you do not have a device with a USB port you can also purchase a Cradlepoint Personal Hotspot which you plug the antenna into and it takes the antenna reception and creates a WIFI hotspot in your RV so you can use your iPads, Mobile Phones, Laptops, Internet Connected TV, etc all at the same time. This will increase the range of the WIFI your RV can pick up exponentially. We actually have both the Mobile Broadband from Verizon AND this setup described here to make sure we are able to find a good internet connection. You can see links to the two products you will need below. You will probably want a tech savvy family friend or perhaps someone at the GeekSquad to help you install it.
There is no way that anyone can cover ALL the options when it comes to getting RV internet. We attempted to hit the hot topics and focus on what MOST people will need and find useful. We hope this RV internet guide was helpful and if there is anything you have questions on, find that our information lacking or just generally enjoyed this article please leave a comment below.
*Article originally submitted by guest post and then edited for accuracy and content by doityourselfrv.com