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Mobile Internet Options

For best internet on the road, improve cell signals, not Wi-Fi

By Chris Dunphy
Founder of Technomadia

A lot of attention is being paid to internet connections while RVing. Campground Wi-Fi is notoriously unreliable and often slow. Trying to figure out the best solution can lead to confusion.

While there is a lot of information available online, and it all sounds promising, some of it is, unfortunately, not entirely appropriate for mobile living.  So, what’s the best option for RV use?

Wi-Fi was designed for short range wireless connections, and it does not travel well over distance or through obstacles at all. Over distances of around 1,000 feet, Wi-Fi quickly starts to become impractical.

You can improve on this distance and increase your ability to receive a signal a lot by using what is called outdoor customer-premises equipment (CPE) and a high-gain antenna on your roof, which is exactly what WiFiRanger’s products are, and is what is being described in a recent article appearing in Let’s RV.  Click here to read that.

But even the best gear can not work miracles — especially if there isn’t also equivalent high-end long-range gear on the other end of the connection.

By adding antennas and boosters, you may occasionally be able to connect to a Wi-Fi signal at a distance of a mile or two. But, only if you have clear line of site from one antenna to another. Trying to connect to a wireless connection from three miles away is getting crazy, and we have found that it simply isn’t realistic for most people most of the time.

While certainly appealing, free high-speed Wi-Fi is uncommon. Campgrounds and other businesses that provide wireless service free for customers usually don’t put a lot of investment into installing equipment to deliver consistently strong signals.

In fact, many coffee shops and restaurants use the same equipment you’ll find at your home — but the signal is shared by dozens of other people. The antenna sending out the signal simply isn’t strong enough to go beyond a few hundred feet from the router.

Even with good Wi-Fi equipment on both ends of the signal — if you can manage to get connected at all — you will often only manage speeds suitable for basic email. There is not enough bandwidth for interactive web surfing or downloading any video content.

A lot of people get excited by the idea of free internet service, but they are often disappointed by the end results. This is why we usually encourage people to focus on cellular equipment instead of exotic Wi-Fi gear for their mobile data needs.

There certainly is equipment available that can help A LOT in getting a better signal reaching campground Wi-Fi from the back of an RV park, or maybe picking up the Wi-Fi signal from a Lowe’s across the street.

Just don’t expect much from Wi-Fi signals coming from a mile away — or even a half mile.

The most fundamental key to successfully staying online while on the road is having multiple pipelines ready to be tried at each location. When Plan A is out of range or overloaded, Plan B suffers a hardware failure, and a tree is blocking the signal to Plan C – what will you try next? How much redundancy do you need?

The options for keeping online while RVing are quite different than those available while living in a fixed location. It is not going to be anywhere nearly as easy as just “plugging in” like you might have once done in your fixed home.

But, it’s also not out of reach with a little pre-planning and understanding your unique needs for internet access.

If you’re interested in knowing what the best cellular services are, which data plan is right for you, and what equipment you can install to get consistently strong cellular data connections, check out our our overview of mobile internet options by clicking here.

To watch a video overview of mobile internet for RVers, click here.


Chris Dunphy Cherie Ve ArdChris Dunphy is a long-time technology geek, working in several venues of the Silicon Valley tech industry with a specialization in mobile technology. He’s been a tech journalist, mobile tech industry spy and forged creating a mobile application ecosystem. After traveling the world as an industry spy for Palm & PalmSource (a job just too good to give up), in April 2006 he evicted himself from his San Francisco penthouse apartment and launched into a technomadic lifestyle, making his life a living laboratory for mobile technology. Today he travels the country with his life partner, Cherie Ve Ard, where they both offer consulting, advising, writing and app developmen. To follow his blog and his journey, visit www.technomadia.com.

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Do you have a story to share? Let's RV welcomes contributions from other RVers about their travel experiences or other issues of interest to RV owners. To submit a story, email editor@letsrv.com.

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