No cell service. No internet connection. And now all those fancy gadgets and gizmos that you installed in your camper are just sitting there mute and unresponsive, leaving you no way to connect with the outside world.
If this is a nightmare scenario for you, then it might be a good idea for you to understand how to enhance your camper connectivity before you take off on your next journey.
We reached out to two tech experts including Eric and Tami Johnson (full-time RVers and owners of TechnoRV) and Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy (full-time RVers, founders of the Mobile Internet Resource Center and authors of The Mobile Internet Handbook) for their input. Their advice will help keep you connected regardless of where your travels take you!
Know what your mobile internet needs are before setting out.
Not everybody has the same connectivity needs, notes Cherie Ve Ard of the Mobile Internet Resource Center. “The setup of someone who just needs to check e-mail is very different from someone who might want to stream video or needs to work remotely.”
Once you’ve determined what your needs are, consider having redundant options on board so you can try different things at each location. For example, you may try the campground’s WiFi but if that’s not up to par, then switch to cell service. “There is no single option that works everywhere,” says Cherie.
Some RVers, like Eric and Brittany Highland of Hourless Life, have more than one network account. That way, if one provider’s coverage is spotty in an area, you can switch to the other one. While this may not be necessary if you’re a recreational traveler who can go hours or even a day or two without an internet connection, RV road warriors may need a consistent and reliable way to stay in touch with their clients or employees, regardless of where they travel!
Finally, don’t wait until you’re heading down the highway to wonder what kind of connection is waiting for you at your next stop. In the Mobile Internet Resource Center post, Travel Planning Around Connectivity for RVers and Cruisers, tips include reviewing your carrier’s maps, using the Coverage? app (available for iOS and Android), checking crowdsourced apps and websites, and researching campground and marina reviews. (The post also includes links to other resources.)
Consider what equipment will meet your needs.
Not all campgrounds are created equal, and that applies to the available bandwidth. According to Eric Johnson of TechnoRV, there’s a good chance that the amount of bandwidth can be less than what you’ll need, resulting in speeds that slow to a crawl.
While you can’t control the amount of available bandwidth, there are things you can do to improve your WiFi, starting with having a clear line of sight (LoS), meaning minimal physical obstructions between your equipment and the access point. This can be as low-tech as sitting next to a window in your RV that is facing that WiFi access point, sitting outdoors, or, if possible, moving your camper to be closer to an access point to improve transmission and reception, notes Eric. Or, he adds, you can buy a WiFi booster that will be 12 to 15 times stronger than the adapter inside your device.
Another option is to use a cellular connection with your system that allows you to acquire a signal from local cell towers, keeping in mind that this uses your data plan. It’s all a trade-off, notes Eric. “While using WiFi will reduce your data load, relying on a cellular hotspot (with or without a cellular booster) can result in a more reliable connection.” (TechnoRV offers two useful free downloads on this subject: the RV WiFi Information Guide and RV Cellular Information Guide.)
Still not sure what equipment should be on your must-have list? “Unfortunately, there’s no list of equipment we can provide that will be suitable to everyone—or even most,” says Cherie. “You really need to determine what your needs are and build a mobile internet solution that balances your needs, your travel style, and your budget. For more on getting started with your research, check out our Getting Started With Mobile Internet page.”