Off Grid Internet: 3 Ways To Stay Connected While Traveling
Being off grid doesn’t mean you have to lose internet service. Off grid internet is usually easy enough to get, once you know what to set up. You basically have 3 options at the moment, and we’ll run through the advantages of each of them.
Off Grid Internet Option #1: Satellite Internet
Satellite internet can give you great reception when there isn’t cell phone coverage. A satellite dish can either be mounted on the roof of the RV, or it can be a small portable satellite dish on a tripod. The smaller satellite dishes are a more economical option and can sometimes provide coverage in an area where there is an obstruction. A portable dish must be set up, calibrated, and positioned whenever you get into camp.
A downside of satellite internet is that the dish has to be set precisely in line with a satellite. So that means you won’t have internet while you are traveling down the highway. There can be no obstructions (like trees or larger RVs) blocking the signal.
Latency means the speed at which the signal travels back and forth to the satellite. Latency speeds for satellite internet can be very slow due to the distance. Space X’s Starlink satellite program is currently solving this by positioning satellites closer to earth than traditional satellite internet, so signals don’t take as long to go back and forth from space.
How fast is it? Download speeds for Starlink satellite internet is a very respectable 25-30 mbps. But it’s only available for those at a fixed address. The problem for RVers, who need fast internet on the go, is that Starlink mobile satellite internet isn’t available quite yet. Starlink promises that the mobile internet program for RVers is being researched and developed. They hope to have answers for data-hungry road warriors by the end of 2022.
How much does mobile satellite internet cost?
In order to get mobile satellite internet, you’ll need 2 things:
- A satellite dish: $300- $6000
- A satellite internet provider: $50 -$200, not including set-up fees.
Who is mobile satellite internet best for?
Mobile satellite internet can be really expensive to set up and maintain compared to using a cellular data plan. It really suits RV travelers with heavy data needs who go to remote locations where it’s difficult to use more economical cellular data. These folks might be fulltimers who work remotely, or those who don’t ever want to miss their favorite Netflix show.
Off Grid Internet Option #2: Cell Data
There are now a number of cell phone providers that provide cell plans with unlimited data. Cell phones or jetpacks can be used for internet anywhere there is a 4G network. You can use a mobile hotspot or a jetpack, but a cellphone is all you need. The cellphone or jetpack can be used as a hotspot for computers and other devices. This provides most of us with all the internet we need. And they can do it fairly economically.
Of course, cell data won’t work in areas where there is no 4G coverage. The workaround for this is to simply avoid those areas that have no coverage by researching ahead of time before your trip. You can then plan accordingly.
What cell data companies won’t tell you
There is one other thing that cell data providers won’t tell you. Even though they advertise plans as unlimited data, there is always a limit that cell phone providers let you use. It’s usually somewhere between 20 and 100GB. After that, you still get data, but it’s throttled down to much lower speeds.
The workaround for this is to have two plans, each for a different device. Spouses and other traveling companions can each get a data plan with their phone, and most of the time you can hotspot to each other’s devices.
Cell data cost
Cell data remains the most economical option for those who need to stay online while traveling or camping. Costs of data plans vary widely, along with data caps. Expect to pay anywhere between $35 and $140 for data.
Who is cell data best for?
Cell data is the best option for those who use a lot of data, and want to have a wide variety of options for places to camp. Travelers who change location frequently, or even need internet while they travel, will appreciate the ease at which they can get onto the internet.
Alternative option #3: RV Park Wi-Fi
RV park Wi-Fi is the most economical option since it’s usually included with your site. Though getting internet in an RV park isn’t technically off grid internet, it is an option for those who require internet access. However, RV park Wi-Fi signals are unreliable at best and RV parks can be very difficult places to get a strong signal.
Don’t get us wrong. There are some well reviewed RV parks that have amazing internet. But, just in case your RV park isn’t one of them, we included 2 things you can do to help connect when the signal is not great at your RV park.
- Ask which sites have the best W-Fi when you book. Some sites will have better Wi-Fi signal reception than others.
- Install a Wi-Fi booster. These are typically an antenna that plugs into the USB port of your computer or mounts on the roof of the RV. However, Wi-Fi boosters only work when there are signals to receive. It’s also wise to keep in mind that the bandwidth at RV parks is usually insufficient for all the RVs that want to get on it, so internet download speed may be super slow even though you can get it.
RV park W-Fi is often good enough for those who don’t work remotely and/or don’t require reliable internet access. This could be a great, economical option for those who don’t use the internet a lot.
One of the best parts about RVing is engaging with the community of traveling enthusiasts. iRV2 forums allow folks to chat with other RVers online, and get other perspectives on everything RVing, including products, destinations, RV mods, and much more.