Internet by WiFi
I’ve covered WiFi for RVers in a couple of previous tips so if you want more info on the topic see:
Tips for Using WiFi at RV Parks and Other Places
Internet Access on the Road with WiFi
I will add here that on our recent Reunion Tour we had fair luck finding WiFi at the parks we stayed in. Most had WiFi but the service varied from unusable to excellent. Ironically the excellent WiFi was in a somewhat rundown RV park with no other amenities. At $17 a night it was the least expensive too although we did pay $3 for the WiFi. Still cheap!
WiFi service is widely available and usually free so any RVer who wants to have internet access should have WiFi capability.
Cellular Data Devices
There are two types of cellular devices: PC cards and USB modems. Both types function the same so which you choose depends mostly on if your laptop has a card slot, and the specific features of the device. USB modems seem to be the most popular but PC cards are still be sold.
The top cellular providers usually require a separate ‘data plan’ and all have about the same pricing structure… about $60/month.
The service is easy to set up and use. Basically, if you can get a cell signal, you usually can get online. Service speed is about the same as the slow DSL but can be as slow as 2x dial up speed in remote areas.
If you are a full time RVer who needs reliable internet access you should probably have a data plan.
Cellular providers all want you to buy a data device and sign up for a two-year plan at $60 per month so they don’t promote their Phone-as-Modem service much, but both Verizon and Sprint offer it. If you have a compatible phone it will work just like data device and cost about the same or a little less.
You connect the phone to your laptop using a USB cable or bluetooth. What makes Phone-as-Modem service different from a data plan is the lack of a contract. You can turn the service on and off as needed.
If you take extended RV trips but have other internet access at home, Phone-as-Modem service may be a good alternative to a data plan.
4. Use an iPhone or similar smart phone with internet capabilities.
The Internet experience is limited by the small screen size. Most useful for casual email and web browsing. The phones are pricey and service plans cost as much or more than a typical data plan.
These are practical only for RVers who take short trips… weekends or vacations… and only require casual internet access.
Satellite Internet Service
The cost of service is about the same as cellular data plans with similar service speeds. However latency… the time it takes for the signal to go up to the satellite and back down… adds a noticeable delay to webpage loading and email downloads.
To be usable the satellite dish needs an open view of the southern sky.
Manual set-up equipment starts at about $1300 and finding room to store the tripod and dish while traveling can be a problem. Automatic roof-mounted systems (that find the satellite for you) start at about $4000. Parking may be tricky at places with trees or hills that may block the southern sky view.
Satellite Internet is practical only to RVers who absolutely need internet access wherever they park. It should be a last resort for other RVers simply because of the less expensive and more convenient options outlined previously.
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