After being on the road for quite some time I have witnessed the ins and outs of having internet in my RV many times over. It is a real struggle to understand why some are sitting under the awning with friends sharing videos from the internet and others are flinging cables all over the place in frustration. You just can’t walk up and ask “hey, how did you get that internet in your RV?” I do know this though, there are those that have it running seamlessly and those that are still in the research phase trying to figure out the cure. A consistent, strong, working signal for Wifi requires several decisions to be made up front on type, method, and equipment. I trust this article will give you a better understanding of it all and answer the question.
How do I get Wifi Internet in my RV?
Wifi is any wireless “LAN” or local area network. And for those of you wondering, the term “Wifi” if short for “wireless fidelity”. Before we begin it is helpful to understand that Wifi is a radio signal and two-way communication. To get internet wirelessly, we have to transmit and receive a Wifi signal to and from your computer, laptop or cell phone. Within your compatible device, the technology is there, it is called the Wifi adapter. It converts data into a radio signal and directs it to an internet access point which sends it back, like an answer to a question. When the Wifi adapter sends out the questions and receives the answer it’s like asking “hey, what is the temperature outside” and getting an instant notification that it is “72 degrees” when it comes back. Yes, you sent the question and received the answer. To ask the question you used a transmitter, and to receive the answer you used an antenna. Both are a part of the inner workings of your devices. The challenge comes when nothing happens because your signal is too weak. Now that we understand the what and how let’s dig a little deeper into the why and what to see if we can fix it.
What are my RV internet options
Internet options in an RV are available from several different sources. The best option really depends on where you are in your venture across the country and what you actually use the internet.
These options can include:
Wifi from the access point in the campground or venue
Cellular through your provider
Any of these options will work. We suggest having one as a primary and another as a back-up plan. Having a little redundancy is a good thing. Depending on where you are one may work seamlessly and another might be non-non-existant.
So let’s go with an overview of these different internet options available for a full-time life in your RV. It’s a journey and we want to help you along. More on cellular and satellite later. For now let’s stay with the service offered by a campground or venue such as marinas, Starbucks and anywhere Wifi is offered.
Is Campground Wifi reliable for the Internet?
Campground and venue signals are variable and can be perfect or sketchy at best. A weak signal coming from this access point is the problem from the beginning with the Wifi adapter. These adapters are generally made for short, local range use and are weak by nature. Being too far from the access point is probably the cause.
Another problem can be the line of site or obstructions in your path. How many times have you heard “stand right here” and you’ll get a signal? After all, we can’t move trees or even the RV’s that are in our path.
Therefore, if we can’t get closer with a clear line of sight the answer is simple, we need more power. A stronger transmitter with a more powerful antenna equals a better signal. This leads us to add an additional device, the power booster.
What is a WiFi booster?
Perhaps the best way to solve the issues with Campground Wifi is boosting the signal with a Wifi power booster. Simply stated, more power to the antenna and the transmitter with a booster gives us in excess of 10 times more signal.
This is accomplished by adding a power booster. In most cases adding this boost in power increases the distance you can be from the internet access point tenfold. Most consider it a necessity.
A Wifi Booster, also known as a wireless range extender, extends the transmission of the incoming signal by amplifying the power of the signal. The result is a stronger signal with a wider range and gives you the ability to add more devices to your local Wifi network. The booster actually starts working once it has established a connection with the local access point in the campground. The booster captures the transmission and pushes it to your device. This is a great gadget to have when living the full-time RV life when experiencing a weak or out of range signal. The unit itself can be as simple as a wall socket plug-in unit, a freestanding surface unit or even a rooftop mounted device with exterior antennas.
Wifi boosters are similar to Wifi repeaters but accomplish different tasks. While the booster adds power and range to create a new network the repeater simply repeats the signal from the original network. It is possible to buy a combination Wifi booster with a Wifi Repeater.
This gives you the ability to boost a signal from “network1” extend it to “network2” and repeat the signal created by the booster. Without a booster, the repeater would repeat the original signal from “network1”.
The antenna’s on a Wifi booster captures the signal and rebroadcasts it. All boosters have at least two antennas to transmit and rebroadcast the signal. With three antenna’s, one will transmit the other two broadcast the reception giving you more range. With the plug-in and surface booster, the antenna’s are internal. Other more powerful boosters have external antennas.
Not only can the antenna’s boost the performance of a network they can also assist in counterbalancing interference. The more advanced the unit the more advanced the signal.
Most boosters come out of the box with an average range of 300 feet. Others can increase range the signal hundreds of feet and even thousands. When researching what booster to buy, this alone should be the most important consideration.
Another consideration when using WiFi is the speed. We can expand the range of a signal but we cannot increase its speed. If the speed is slow standing right next to the access point it is going to be the same speed wherever we use it.
A Wifi booster is a great mobile internet solution for full-timers. The installation is quick and simple and most require very little programming. After all, the solution we need is a strong boosted signal with little interference. Expanding the network coverage for your laptop, tablet, computer or smartphone can be accomplished with a Wifi booster.
Is Cellular the best RV internet option?
Cellular is the easiest, most convenient option. We all use our cell phones on a daily basis, we can’t imagine a day without one. They key to cellular is the available data. Unlimited data plans are available through the big four, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile & Sprint but which has the best rates and value?
With cellular data plans constantly changing by the time we suggest one over another the plans change, you never really know what lies ahead until you do a little research on this. Therefore, we are going to skip a discussion on the best plan and keep on the topic by describing how these systems work on the open road.
When choosing a carrier to look closely at the provider with the best data plan and the widest coverage. Make sure the areas you frequent have coverage. Each carrier has coverage maps available for you to take a look at.
Initially, you may be thinking about using the mobile hotspot feature that is available on most plans. On a truly unlimited plan, these will work fine when the signal is good. Secondly, the most recommended option would be separating your service between a cell phone for daily use and a “Jet pack” or “MiFi” device used exclusively for the internet.
These units are basically a cell phone but without all of the features of a smartphone. They have one job, provide a mobile hotspot for internet. Depending on the model up to 20 devices can jump on to this hotspot and share the cellular internet. Some even have a port for an antenna that can boost the signal.
A more advanced unit would be the cellular embedded router with multiple antennas, ports, and power to create a really nice and powerful dedicated hotspot system. The range on these units is incredible.
Do I need a Cellular Booster for RV Internet?
A cellular booster is a good thing. These boosters work similar to the Wifi boosters mentioned earlier in the fact that the cellular signal can be intensified and extended with additional power. There are areas where you may have a single bar of signal. This is when the cellular booster performs at its best, taking a weak cellular signal and making it usable.
Can I use a Satellite for RV Internet?
Believe it or not, there is a way to transmit and receive an internet signal from the stars. The technology is there and is constantly improving. Just as we can receive high definition television from a satellite dish or antenna we can have internet in the same fashion.
The big difference between the two is TV is a one-way signal and as stated previously the internet is a two-way signal. Therefore, satellite internet requires totally different equipment. One dish for TV and a second dish for internet.
Getting connected with satellite internet is great in remote areas where WiFi and Cellular are weak. With a view of the southern sky, we are good to go. Some say it works like magic.
The drawback is the equipment is large, expensive and the set-up time is lengthy. The big open style dish has to be stowed and secured for travel. There is no automatic tracking therefore, pinpoint accuracy is required to point the unit at the satellite that is over 20,000 miles away.
So unless you are in a remote area and going to be there for a while this may not be your best option.
Mobile internet as a whole can get a little tricky. The services, equipment and overall information available are constantly changing. We might suggest joining one of the many RV forums available to hear from the masses the latest and greatest news.
Most videos produced are very informative but hard to keep current. Even the books written on the subject can be outdated before they are even printed.
We will keep this article updated as new information comes to the forefront. The key to mobile internet is just get started and see where it takes you. Thanks so much for taking the time to read our article and check back for updates. Sharing information is what we do, and enjoy!