One thing RV travelers learn quickly is the challenge of getting reliable internet access on the road. If you only need to check the occasional email, you may be able to get by with campground WiFi or a local Starbucks. But if you need regular, reliable internet access, you’ll need a more robust solution. In this article, I’ll share what we have learned after 6 years of full-time RV travel and the equipment we use.
Many campgrounds advertise free WiFi, which sounds great! The problem is that it is rarely reliable. Our personal experience is that you cannot rely on it. Most times it is spotty at best. We’ve even been at campgrounds that have posted in their campground rules that you can’t use their WiFi to stream video services like Netflix because it takes up too much bandwidth.
We consider campground WiFi (when we have it) to be a bonus, but not something we plan on. Instead, we use cellular data plans for internet access.
In addition to being able to make phone calls from cellular signals, you are probably aware that you can use it to access the internet as well. The great thing about this method is that there are more and more cellular towers all across the U.S. We use Verizon as our primary and ATT as our back up. When you are working from the road full-time and need reliable service, having more than one carrier can really make a difference. You can use an app like Coverage (created by full-time RVers) to compare the coverage maps for different carriers across the country.
However, there are drawbacks to using cellular data as well:
- It is not cheap. If you are working full-time from the road like we were, you will need a lot of data. This means using not only your cell phones plan, but likely also a backup hotspot (see #2 below for an explanation of why you need this). Verizon calls it a Jetpack. Unlike the built-in mobile hotspot feature in your smartphones and tablets, a hotspot or Jetpack is a separate device that lets you wirelessly share your Verizon network connection with other devices.
- It isn’t really unlimited. No matter what people tell you, we’ve learned there is no such thing as UNLIMITED data. Let me clarify that statement. Your cell plan may say you have “unlimited” data. Technically, that is true because all it means is that they will not charge you for how much data you use. However, there is a catch. At a specific point specified by your plan, they may throttle or slow down your access. For me, if I’m having a video call this often meant I could not longer do my job. Big problem! Some cellular providers use other names for this…instead of throttling, they’ll call it ‘network management.’ That isn’t any better in my opinion. Network management also means they slow down your access, but it is based on usage of other users in the area. So if you are near a city, you might get ‘managed’ a lot.
- There are places where signal is very low. Low signal means trouble accessing the internet. And forget about using graphics programs or video teleconferencing. To overcome that we use a booster.
Click here to download a FREE Cellular Information Guide from our friends at TechnoRV. They are full-time RVers with a background in training and have guides and videos for all their products.
WiFi and Cellular Signal Boosters
If you need reliable internet on the road, you are going to want to get a booster. There are all different types on the market. Some only boost WiFi and some only boost cellular signals. We choose to go with one that can do both.
We bought the Pepwave Max BR1 MK2 Cat 6 LTE Advanced Modem three years ago and it has been fabulous! As you’ll see if you click the link, it is not inexpensive. To us, however, it is essential and we consider it a cost of working from the road. And to us, that is a price we are willing to pay for location freedom.
We did not get the optional roof-mounted antenna and it has worked perfectly without it. We especially love being able to prioritize which source we want to use first (cell phones, sim cards, or campground wifi).
Here’s a list of the major features:
- Dual Simcard Slots – Although the Max BR1 MK2 has one cellular modem, it allows you to use 2 SIM cards (cellular plans) in the one modem and switch between the two plans as needed. This allows for the redundancy often needed to stay connected while on the road. You can also set limits and rules for when you want to use one cell plan over the other which is a great feature when you are trying to conserve one plan and only use it as a backup.
- WiFi – The Max BR1 MK2 has WiFi as WAN capabilities which means you can use it to access campground WiFi using 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
- Supports Carrier Aggregation – Cat 6 routers like the Max BR1 MK2 support Carrier Aggregation (CA) which means they have the ability to connect to 2 cellular bands (from the same plan) at the same time. By combining more than one cellular band together, it is possible to increase the bandwidth available. Traditional hotspots and phones are usually only able to connect to one cellular band and the tower selects which band you are using. With the Max BR1 MK2 you can choose which primary band you want to use (the tower selects the second) which allows you to avoid the crowded primary band used by phones and hotspots.
- Works with the Major Cell Carriers in US and Canada
Note: This is our second booster. We previously used the WeBoost, which worked for a year, then broke. The Pepwave has been going strong for 3 years. Read our WeBoost review here.
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