How do full-time RVers get an internet connection on the road? What options are there for RV internet connectivity? We’ve been on the road for just about four years now and when we started off, Christine was working a full-time job remotely. This meant we HAD to have a reliable internet connection. Which isn’t always easy to do when you move around all the time. In this post we’ll give you several ideas on practical ways you can get RV internet connectivity on the road.
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RV Internet Connectivity
RV internet connectivity is important whether you are a digital nomad working remotely from the road, for researching, planning, and booking your travels, keeping in touch with friends and family, watching the shows you enjoy, and many other reasons! Here are some ideas for making sure you can stay connected on the road:
#1 Smart Phone Data Tethering
Most RVers get their internet access over a cellular connection. There are a couple of other options, but we’ll get to those a bit later. Getting a 4 or 5G data connection also comes with a ton of different options.
For starters, we just used our cell phones. Christine had a Verizon unlimited plan and Kevin used a plan through Google Fi, which is a combination of T-Mobile and US Cellular. We could just use the tether function to get our laptops online. That worked pretty well most of the time.
Have A Backup
Any of the 3 main cell providers (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) have nationwide coverage. But they don’t have coverage everywhere. That’s why it is a huge help to have access to more than one provider when you need a reliable connection. This will ensure you have some redundancy and a backup for those times when one or the other doesn’t work. So when Christine’s Verizon phone didn’t have coverage, often times Kevin’s would.
Research Cell Coverage Beforehand
That isn’t always the case though so it’s also very important to do your research ahead of time before you end up in a camping location with no signal. Make sure to read campground reviews to make sure you’ll have signal there. We really like to use Campendium to check cell coverage at various campgrounds and boondocking locations. The maps that cell providers give aren’t always accurate so it’s nice to hear what other RVers’ data speeds were. You can also ask on various Facebook groups and there are lots of campground reviews on YouTube as well. Though, not all of those give info on their data connection.
Cell Signal Amplifiers
We also have a weBoost (https://amzn.to/3ss7TTb) to boost our signal. It’s an amplifier designed for cell signals that has an outdoor and an indoor antenna. The outdoor one can be mounted to your ladder, but since we use ours in the front of our 5th wheel we run the cable through our bedroom slide gasket and mount the antenna to the front AC unit. The indoor antenna picks up signals from your phone, sends it through the amplifier to the outdoor antenna and works in reverse for incoming signals. It’s been really helpful in some scenarios, but it doesn’t always do the job. To be fair, ours is now an older model since we’ve been on the road for a while and we could upgrade the antenna.
When RV Internet Connectivity Fails
There have been a couple of times when Christine had to work from a coffee shop. In our first year we spent a week at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and really couldn’t get a usable signal. With the weBoost (https://amzn.to/3ss7TTb) we could send and receive text messages and that was about it. That same scenario happened again, later that year, at a Colorado State Park near Steamboat Springs. We also left a boondocking spot once to move to a campground closer to town because we had so much to do that week workwise. If we had only needed a bit of connectivity we could have stuck it out.
Overloaded Cell Towers
Otherwise, Christine’s plan with Verizon was pretty good. In fact, more often than not, when Christine needed to use Kevin’s phone for work it wasn’t actually because it didn’t have coverage. Instead, it was because cell towers often get overloaded when too many others are on the same network. This is actually really common. Then it can look like you have a great connection, but nothing will work.
This was REALLY common when we were wintering over in Florida. We’d be at a big campground and Christine’s Verizon phone was practically useless for anything but phone calls for the entire time we were there due to the nearby tower being completely overloaded. Kevin’s Google phone would connect to a T-Mobile tower and that would be our internet connection for the whole time we were there.
#2 Roof Mounted Router / WiFi Extender
Cell phones aren’t the only way to get an internet connection though. Most cell plans actually have a limited amount of data you can use while tethering a device. Even on unlimited plans, we really had to watch our data usage otherwise we’d get throttled and our speeds would go way down, sometimes to the point where the connection wouldn’t even be usable. Which is why we eventually added a 4G router with a REAL unlimited data plan through AT&T that mounts to our roof.
Our 4G router, using a Winegard Connect 2.0 (https://amzn.to/3MdorWU), has easily been our best internet option to date. It also functions as a Wi-Fi booster for when we’re moochdocking on friends or family property. It can pick up their home Wi-Fi even when our RV is parked a ways away. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to boost a regular Wi-Fi signal, WiFiRanger is also a good brand.
We ended up with our current 4G router / Wi-Fi extender because, for a limited time, a company called Togo was offering a roof mounted unit for $380, with an entire year of unlimited data through AT&T for $360. It screwed into the roof and Kevin had to drill an extra hole to run a power cable. It was a killer deal and ended up being a little too good. AT&T put a stop to it after a year. So when that first year was up we got another AT&T SIM card from Nomad Internet, which cost a lot more but also offered an unlimited data plan. Most of the time it works pretty well. Sometimes it can be kind of slow, but it still works pretty well for what we need it to do.
#3 Portable Router / Hotspot
If we were buying another one today, we wouldn’t recommend a roof mounted one. Mainly because it limits you to only being able to use it when you are with your RV. Nowadays we’d prefer a more mobile router that either has large, external antennas like a MoFi, or something like the Jetpack MiFi that has the option to add one.
Recently, we found ourselves in another campground for two weeks that had no cell coverage at all. Sometimes, despite our best efforts to verify cell coverage beforehand, connectivity doesn’t work out. I actually ended up taking our router off the roof, patching the holes, and making a separate power cord. Then we could take it with us in the truck when we don’t have a cell connection at our campsite. It definitely isn’t a perfect solution, but it still gets the job done.
#4 Public Wi-Fi Access Points
In some cases when your personal RV internet connectivity isn’t working, or if you are looking for another option, there are various public Wi-Fi access points you could try.
RV park Wi-Fi is notoriously bad and unreliable, but it is an option. When it’s free, it almost never has enough bandwidth to do more than surf web pages. Often times when you pay for access that promises better bandwidth, it doesn’t deliver. However, it’s at least an option that you don’t have to do too much to get. It can be good to call ahead and ask about the park internet if this is something you are relying on. There might be certain areas of the park that you should request to get a better signal, or you might need to go over to the office or clubhouse areas to use it.
There are some campgrounds that have focused on providing good internet connectivity, and others in the works that plan to cater to working RVers and their internet connection needs. These are worth seeking out if you want this as an option, but they’re not that common.
Community Wi-Fi Locations
Like we mentioned above, we’ve had to utilize coffee shops before, and those or other restaurants can be an option too. Keep in mind you typically have to purchase something to sit and utilize their internet connectivity. Another great option is going to a public library! This is a quiet place you can easily focus, plug in, and get some work done!
Starlink is probably the most exciting new internet option out there. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an unlimited data satellite internet connection from SpaceX. Satellite internet has been available for a while through other companies, but it’s always been really expensive for not very much data. As of the time of this post, they don’t have an option for RVers per se…but there are people using it by changing their home address to wherever they happen to be going.
Potential Drawbacks to Starlink
The internet speeds are a lot better than a cellular network, but we’ve heard it still has a couple of other issues. The signal can drop in and out as it reacquires satellites as they pass over you, but probably the main thing that gives us pause is needing to have an unobstructed view of the sky to use it. That wouldn’t be an issue at all in a lot of places. Actually, it would have been perfect for all of the boondocking we’ve done in the last year in the southwest. It really wasn’t until we came to the northwest that the trees have really blocked our view of the sky. But we haven’t tried Starlink ourselves.
It would be especially nice for heading out into some of the more remote areas where there is no cell signal at all! This is definitely on our list of things we’d like to try at some point.
So, that’s where we are on the RV internet connectivity front. With an unlimited data SIM card in our router and our phones as our backups, we manage to stay connected 99% of the time. We hope this information was useful and that you find the best source of RV internet connectivity for you and your travels!
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If you’d like to read about our RV and other RV adventures, then check out some of our other posts:
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