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Recently, getting internet access in an RV has become more and more critical to travelers. RVers want fulltime access to the Internet when traveling, whether they use their RVs year-round or not. Luckily, recent advances in technology are making it easier for people to get Internet access inside their RVs.
So, how can you get Internet in an RV? There 3 main options for getting the Internet while in an RV: cellular hotspot, satellite Internet, and using public Wi-Fi.
Each of these options has pros and cons and will suit different styles of RVers. I’ve done the research and explained the best three options available for you to get internet in your RV.
How To Get Internet to Your RV
In the not too distant past, the only way to get internet in your RV was through a physical plug in dial-up or cable connection once you stopped for the night at a campground. Back when the Internet was strictly dial-up, and even for some time after that, most public campgrounds offered some Internet hookups in their parks.
But there were many disadvantages to this method, including painfully slow speeds, forcing you to go to the office whenever you wanted to use the Internet, and hampering your ability to get much done online.
Other times, people were forced to use the Internet at a local library or other places, like Starbucks or McDonald’s. While this plan works well on travel days or for short tasks while you are out, it doesn’t meet most people’s needs anymore, either.
Fast forward to present day we, fortunately, have more options available to us to get Internet while on the move.
When you’re trying to get the Internet to your RV, what you need can vary depending on where you are going, how long you will stay, and what you’ll be doing. With that in mind, some of these options will work well for one person, while some won’t. That’s why we created a list to give you an overview of your Internet options when it comes to your RV. Below, we’ll cover those options.
Option #1: Wi-Fi RV Internet Access
Nowadays, while not every campground offers it, more campgrounds and parks are installing Wi-Fi networks so that travelers have Internet. Campsites provide wireless “hotspots” you can connect to just as you’d connect to a public hotspot inside of your local Starbuck’s or McDonald’s.
Thankfully, Wi-Fi data speeds are much faster than dial-up, so campgrounds with Wi-Fi hotspots installed typically have adequate Internet. Some offer excellent access, while others haven’t made the jump from dial-up to Wi-Fi yet.
Remember, not every park or campground will have access to Wi-Fi. And even if the park does provide Wi-Fi services, you might not be able to connect to the network at your spot in the campground. Ask about getting a place where the Internet works when you call the office.
You’ll want to ask the park if they charge any fees to use their Wi-Fi. Some parks and campgrounds provide Wi-Fi access for free, while others charge a small amount to use their Wi-Fi. Many will offer limited access for free, enough so you can check your email but that is about all.
Before purchasing a Wi-Fi package consider what you plan to use the Internet for and if the packages offered will actually suite your needs. If you are hoping to binge Netflix and YouTube every night make sure they don’t have a cap on the amount of data you can use.
If you’re not planning on moving around often and you can access the Internet from your campsite while inside of your RV, then you should be set. However, for other people, this option may not be the best.
Pros and Cons of Public Wi-Fi
If you’re trying to decide whether or not you want to rely on your campground for the Internet on your travels, I’ve created a list of pros and cons below to help you out. Keep in mind that the quality of Internet will vary from campground to campground.
- Affordable option
- Convenient, you don’t need to leave your campsite
- Can be fast
- When busy, speed can slow to a crawl
- Speeds may be capped by management
- Data can be limited
- Wi-Fi may not reach all sites
- Public Wi-Fi is not secure (unless you use a 3rd party software)
The Realities of Public Wi-Fi
While it might initially sound great when an RV campground says they offer free Wi-Fi, you might not wind up with the best Internet access if you go with this option. However, if you’re going to do some basic surfing and check your email now and then, it might be just enough Wi-Fi access for you.
Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi networks can be very unreliable when it comes to the quality of service you’ll be getting. Most campgrounds and parks don’t offer Internet that can handle a large number of people being online at once, slowing you down.
Although much has been done recently to improve the public Internet offered at many campgrounds and parks, even if your park does have good Wi-Fi, you might wind up in an area where the signal doesn’t come in for you. It’s a good idea to check the quality of the Wi-Fi at your campsite before buying an internet package from your camp hosts.
If you end up out of range there are options to help you get online but you’d need Wi-Fi extending gear to help you out.
Boosting the Wi-Fi in Your RV
If you do plan to use the public Internet in your RV on your travels, you should consider investing in a Wi-Fi extender (also known as booster or repeater).
An extender will take a weak Wi-Fi signal and boost it so your devices can actually use it. This should be enough to let your use the campgrounds Wi-Fi no matter where you are in the park.
You can also use it when accessing other public Wi-Fi networks so you can “borrow” McDonalds Wi-Fi without actually having to go inside.
Option #2: Cellular (Wireless) RV Internet Access
If you’re the type of person that wants the ability to connect to the Internet 24/7 then I’m sorry but you are looking for a unicorn. But if you want access to the internet in most places with reliable quality and speeds then you will want to consider cellular (wireless) RV Internet access.
If you want to be able to do some online banking, send a few Emails, map out your next destination, and browse the web all while driving, well while your partner is driving, then using a cellular connection is the only option.
With this option, you will need a data-capable phone, which most of us already have, or a hotspot device. Then you’ll carefully want to select the wireless provider that has the best coverage and a plan that suits your needs.
Smartphones are capable of accessing the Internet themselves, and they can also be used as mobile hotspots to connect other devices. Many smartphones can be used with auxiliary keyboards, making them just as useful on the road as a computer to many people.
Using your phone as a mobile hotspot is easy, you simply turn on the hotspot feature, how you do this will depend on the model of phone you have. Once on, you can connect your computer or other device to the cell phone via Wi-Fi. Bluetooth or a USB cable are other ways to connect to as well but not as convenient.
You can also typically connect more than one device to your wireless hotspot. If you do decide to use multiple devices, make sure you keep track of your usage limits so that you don’t incur substantial charges at the end of your monthly billing cycle. Also, many providers slow your Internet down when you’ve used all of your data.
Some people purchase a mobile hotspot device and use that instead of their smartphones when accessing the Internet. There are a couple of different styles of these devices. Some are a USB dongle but will only allow the device it’s connected to access to the internet. Others are stand alone units that will allow multiple devices to connect.
The advantage of these mobile hotspots devices is they don’t drain your smartphone battery. Your smartphone also gets very hot when acting as a hot spot. They are often stronger at delivering an Internet signal than a smartphone but you will need to purchase a separate data plan.
Choosing a Cellular Carrier
Before you get started using wireless Internet, you’ll need to pick a cellular carrier. Remember, you want to check out coverage maps so that you can select your carrier based on where you plan to go. Some carriers provide better city coverage while others have better rural coverage.
If you are the type of person that has to rely on data for your Internet connection and you know you can’t live without the Internet for more than 24 hours, I suggest having two carriers with reasonable data plans. That way, you will be more likely to have coverage from one of the two when traveling to remote areas.
If you aren’t sure what carrier to pick, know that there are vast differences between the coverage offered by the different cellular networks. If you are planning on using wireless Internet, you also want to make sure you get LTE coverage to ensure the best speeds. Below we’ve listed the most popular carriers in the US for mobile Internet:
- Verizon offers the best nationwide 4G coverage and is preferred by many traveling individuals.
- AT&T is right after Verizon in the coverage map, and they keep increasing their coverage area.
- T-Mobile is expanding quickly and rolling out its 600Mhz offering.
- Sprint—works best in bigger cities. However, coverage is rapidly improving.
Choosing Your Cellular Data Plan
Not only is the coverage area of your cellular provider important, but the amount of data you get will also play a role in your decision. When comparing mobile carriers, you’ll discover that they all offer different data plans. Many of these plans are made mostly for people that have Wi-Fi at home and need some data while they are on the go.
However, for RV travelers that move around often, cellular data becomes your main internet connection. You’ll want to carefully consider your Internet usage and read all the fine print in your data contract since most cellular carriers have some restrictions on how you use them.
Rates on data plans vary from provider to provider. While there are unlimited data packages, many of the cellular carriers still keep track of your data and slow your connection down once you reach a specified limit.
You’ll also want to make sure there is no clause preventing you from using your mobile hotspot on your smartphone if you have one of these unlimited plans.
Another thing to consider is if you are planning to travel outside of the US at all. Some provides, like AT&T, allow usage of your plan while in Canada or Mexico making it very easy for you to have Internet while out of the country.
Remember, different wireless providers have separate voice and data coverage offerings. You’ll need to check out their maps to see what their coverage is like by comparison. We recommend shopping around to figure out an excellent cell phone service and data plan so that you can compare what the different cellular companies offer you.
Choosing Your Cellular Gear
You have many options for gear when it comes to mobile internet connections. For example, if you want to make your own private Wi-Fi network, you can use mobile hotspot devices like those from Mifi or Jetpack to keep your Wi-Fi signal private. You can also purchase other items, like routers, RV specific Internet gear, and car equipment with wireless modems that come built-into the vehicle.
You’ll also need to think about how you’ll be getting good speeds when you are on the road. You may need to purchase things like antennas and boosters to help you with your wireless signal while you are on the go.
Pros and Cons of Cellular Data Internet Access
When it comes to cellular data for Internet access while in your RV, there are a few things to consider. First, we’ll cover the advantages below, and then we’ll cover the disadvantages.
- Use the Internet most places even while driving
- The speed of the wireless Internet and its affordability gets better as technology improves.
- Some service providers offer unlimited data plans.
- Depending on plan can use the Internet in other countries
- Wireless Internet won’t work in all coverage areas.
- Limited to data and speed based on your plan.
- You’ll need to take time to research coverage areas and data plans.
- It might be complicated to know what gear to purchase.
- Additional fees if using a hotspot device
While it is true that you won’t be able to use your wireless Internet everywhere, you should still get plenty of use out of your data plan if you plan your trips accordingly. If you tend to travel to particular areas, then make sure you pick a cellular provider that offers excellent coverage in those areas.
However, using a mobile hotspot, while it does provide a potential 24/7 connection to the Internet, it’s not a guarantee. It’s still an excellent option for the RVer who doesn’t want to be tied to an RV park.
Option #3: Satellite RV Internet Access
The third option is satellite Internet. With satellite Internet, you’ll wind up with a satellite unit mounted on top of your roof. But once your system is installed, you’ll have access to the Internet when you are stopped or on the go. However, know that RV satellite systems are expensive to install in RVs. Unfortunately, since MotoSat went under, there aren’t many other cheap options.
A satellite system mounted on an RV for data and Internet use is not the same thing as most TV satellite systems RVers use while traveling. However, if you do purchase a satellite system for Internet usage, you’ll most likely be able to add what you need to install a TV as well. These days there are two main providers of satellite Internet for RVs
- Viasat (formerly WildBlue)
Viasat boasts faster top speeds but HughesNet plans tend to be cheaper for similar plans.
After you decide on what satellite service provider you want to use, you’ll then need to purchase the outside equipment for your RV, including the satellite dish. This can be quite expensive depending on the type of antenna you choose. Once you’ve purchased that, you’ll need to buy a satellite modem and cables to connect the Internet to your PC. You may also have the option to lease the equipment from your service provider.
After you purchase the necessary equipment, you’ll need to figure out whether you want a rooftop dish or one that mounts on a tripod. You’ll find that you’ll get advantages and disadvantages with both of these choices, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Roof-Mounted Satellite Dish or Tripod-Mounted Satellite Dish?
Before you purchase your satellite equipment, you’ll need to figure out if you want a rooftop dish satellite dish or a tripod-mounted satellite dish. First, let’s discuss the pros of purchasing a roof-mounted satellite dish.
- You can attach this type of dish to the top of your RV so you won’t need to use any storage space.
- Most roof-mounted units work automatically, meaning they’ll find the satellite themselves, and you’ll never have to lift a finger.
Here are the cons of purchasing a roof-mounted satellite dish:
- You’ll have to consider your parking area when you have a roof-mounted satellite so that you don’t obstruct your connection.
- Since roof-mounted satellite dishes work automatically, that makes them more expensive than tripod-mounted units.
Now that you know what the pros and cons are of purchasing a roof-mounted satellite dish, I’ll cover the pros and cons of a tripod-mounted satellite dish. The advantages of a tripod-mounted satellite dish include:
- With a tripod-mounted satellite dish, you’ll have more flexibility when you have to park your RV. You won’t need to worry about any obstacles tripping up your satellite signal. That’s because you’ll be setting up the tripod-mounted satellite yourself nearby.
- Tripod-mounted satellite dishes cost far less than roof-mounted satellite dishes.
The disadvantages of a tripod-mounted satellite dish include:
- You need to store your tripod-mounted satellite dish when moving it.
- You’ll have to set-up and disassemble your tripod-mounted satellite dish whenever you move.
If you aren’t sure where to go to purchase the equipment you’d need to use a satellite Internet system for your RV, I’ve got you covered. You can check out Mobile Internet Satellite if you live in the United States, and Tech Mobile (Canada). By visiting those websites, you can search around for information about prices, plans, and what you’ll need to install on your RV.
Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet
Before you decide to purchase expensive equipment and install a satellite Internet system, let’s go over the pros and cons of using satellite Internet.
- With satellite Internet, you can be very mobile.
- You can also still have the Internet in remote areas where you might not get cellular Internet.
- Satellite Internet is expensive. Purchasing the items you’d need for satellite Internet can cost thousands of dollars, depending on what you select.
- Download speed decreases with satellite Internet when it’s peak hours.
- Satellite Internet has restrictive access policies.
- Weather can affect your Internet connection.
- May be locked into a 2 year contract
While satellite Internet might work for some that don’t mind the expense, not everybody will be able to afford the equipment and monthly costs to maintain satellite Internet in an RV. Using a cellular data plan costs much less than satellite Internet.
There are three options when it comes to getting the Internet inside of your RV. You can either use the Wi-Fi at local campgrounds or parks and make sure your camping spot allows you to connect. While using public Wi-Fi at local campgrounds, parks, or a Starbuck’s is often free or very cheap, you’ll wind up dealing with slow speeds and restrictive use issues. You won’t be able to get reliable Internet at every spot you stop in, you may need a faster Internet, and you can’t use the Internet on the road.
Your second option is to use a cellular service and a data plan on a wireless network. This option allows you to use your smartphone or another mobile hotspot while you are traveling. You can pick a cellular provider based on where you plan to go to most often and compare data plans to choose what’s right for you. While mobile service won’t always work everywhere, you’ll be able to access the Internet anytime you have a cell phone signal and data usage.
Last, you can opt for satellite Internet inside of your RV. While satellite Internet does work even in remote areas where cellular Internet might fail, satellite Internet is much more expensive. It costs a good deal to purchase the equipment for a satellite Internet system in your RV. Also, you’ll still run into reliability issues with your Internet because satellite Internet speeds are often slower, and weather can interfere with the service.
Picking the right Internet access option will depending on your needs and the type of RVing you plan on doing. Depending on what you need, you should select something that you are comfortable with, and something that falls in your budget.