RV Internet Access

RV internet access is of growing importance. Many fulltimers want fulltime access, and even part-time RVers want to be online and send email. Technological advances provide more choices for RVer internet access. Here are some of the options.

Dial-Up, DSL, Cable RV Internet Access

In the past, the most basic approach to RV internet access was to just plug in to a dial-up modem at a campground. Many campgrounds had at least one connection in their parks. The main disadvantages of this method are slow speeds, having to trek to the campground office or
wherever the connection is located, waiting your turn or having to limit your time to give another camper their turn. In the past, this was about the only way to get RV internet access, but in the current web-based world, it does not meet the needs of most RVers.

Another option is to use internet access available at local libraries or other public places. This is a feasible solution for short RV trips, or as a back-up plan if you have no other means of getting connected.

Sometimes campgrounds offer phone or cable connections for RV internet access at the individual sites. Usually the visiting RVer needs to activate these connections by calling the phone or cable company. For the RVer who is going to be staying awhile, this can be a good means of high speed RV internet access via broadband or DSL connections. But for the visitor on the move who only spends a few days or weeks in a given spot, this is usually not a viable means for internet access on the road.

WiFi RV Internet Access

Wi-Fi is a big improvement for getting RV internet access. A computer with an 802.11 (Wi-Fi) card or adapter should get you online in the comfort of your own RV.

More and more parks are installing WiFi networks. The RVer connects to the park’s wireless “hotspot”, much like the hotspots now found in many locations across the country – in airports, truck stops, coffee shops like Starbucks, convenience stores, restaurants and so on.

WiFi dataspeeds are much improved over dial-up. The speed and range of the reach will vary depending on the specific WiFi network and configuration at a given park. We have been fortunate to find some very fast access, but have also used WiFI connections that are just so-so.

Also be aware if a park does offer WiFi RV internet access – you
may not be able to access the network from all sites in the campground,
so ask when you make the reservation or check in.

When you
get to your park be sure to ask if they charge for WiFi RV internet
access. Some RV parks offer it free and others charge a fee. Some
parks offer RV internet access for a fee through a WiFI provider. Check
to see if they offer hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and/or seasonal

Most laptop computers come equipped with built in 802.11 capability suitable for RV internet access via WiFi.

Wireless (Cellular ) RV Internet Access

Fulltimers or “most-timers” are seeking a 24/7 internet access connection (or as close to 24/7 as they can get). They want RV connectivity at any park. They want access when they are boondocking or in remote locations.

They need to send email, do their online banking, look up directions and do the usual web browsing. Ideally, they would like to be online while going down the road.

One way to go is to use a cell phone and/or wireless provider for internet access. Wireless providers include companies like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.

  • In its simplest form, you can use a data-capable cell phone – aka smartphone, iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, etc. – to retrieve email and web browsing. Internet access is through the wireless provider, using one of their various monthly plans. The array of features for smart phones and other portable devices grows daily. There are different sizes and designs for displays, and different types of graphic or text-based browser options. Auxiliary keyboards, tablet PCs and other accessories make these devices easier to use on their own or as an adjunct to a more permanent PC.
  • The cell phone may also be used as a modem for RV internet access. In this arrangement, the computer is connected to the cell phone via a USB cable, infrared or Bluetooth, and the cell phone then connects through the wireless provider to the internet. This mode of operation provides the larger screen and functionality of the computer vs. the cell phone/PDA display. You may be able to use a wireless router to give access to multiple PCs – but be wary of usage limits and charges associated with your carrier’s data plans. Maybe a smart phone with a data plan will suffice for all your internet needs. Or you may want to go with the third option.
  • A third option, and our choice, is to use a wireless networking device. We had been using a Verizon USB device (sometimes called an “air card”) which provides a connection to the wireless network for data use. We recently changed to Verizon’s Jetpack 4G Mobile Hotspot, which enables both of us to connect wirelessly to the 4G network.   So we don’t have any wires to deal with and the connection speed and performance has been excellent.  

Most of the wireless providers have plans and devices that allow you to connect, with options for the amount of data usage. These are generally high speed connections. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have an plan that include about 6GB of data usage for about $60/month. Note that the various wireless providers often have separate voice and data coverage maps – so read the fine print as you browse the wireless provider websites. You can often obtain a device at a discount when signing up for a data plan.

We have been very happy with our use of a Verizon wireless data plan and a good laptop for RV internet access

You can shop both voice cell phone service and data plans online to compare carriers, phones, voice and internet plans.

The advantages of wireless internet access – it is compact and may get you a connection going down the road. You probably can’t count on coverage everywhere, but you will have internet access in an increasing number of locations. Speeds continue to improve as technology evolves. A mix of WiFi where available and wireless connections elsewhere may give you adequate RV internet access. It has worked for us.

Satellite RV Internet Access

Another way to have RV internet access is the use of a satellite system – mounted roof top or as a separate auxiliary unit. These give you RV internet access when you are stopped. RV internet satellite systems are not cheap, and with the demise of MotoSat, there are really no inexpensive automatic acquisition solutions. 

Satellite systems used for data/internet access are not the same thing as the satellite units used by many RVers for TV (although once you buy one of the Data/Internet Satellite systems, you may be able to add hardware to accommodate TV).

Pros and Cons: The greatest advantage to satellite internet is that you can be highly mobile and have internet service even in remote areas where wired connections or wireless services are not available.   All you need is a clear view of the southern sky.

However there are some drawbacks to satellite internet service: high cost, decrease in download speed during peak hours, restrictive access policies, latency and weather related problems.   Hardware costs range from about $1300  into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the type of equipment and set up.

If cost is not a factor, the most common complaints from satellite internet users is the decrease in speed during peak hours from 4:00 to 10:00 PM. Another issue is restrictive fair access policies (FAP) that also decrease your speed if you exceed your daily/weekly/monthly throughput limits.    If you need streaming media, gaming and or voice-over-IP calling (such as Skype), latency is another consideration.   Another minor inconvenience is that inclement weather, such as rain, fog and snow, may degrade service.

Providers:   There are four primary satellite internet service providers: HughesNet/Direcway, Wildblue, Skyway and Starband.   RVers typically chose HughesNet as their provider of choice.

Hardware:   There are several components to an RV satellite internet system. First you must choose an internet service provider.   See the list above.

Second you need the outside
equipment or satellite dish (either roof or tripod mounted).

Third you will need the indoor equipment or satellite modem and lastly cables to connect it all together to your PC. Satellite dishes and modems can be bought through a variety of dealers and value-added resellers (VARs).

One of the key decision has been whether to get a roof top dish or one mounted on a tripod, with pros and cons for both types.  

The pros for a roof-mounted satellite dish are they are attached to the roof of the RV and will not take up any additional storage space.   Roof mounted units tend to be automatic – meaning they are programmed to find the satellite automatically. The cons are that you will have to give some thought to where you park so as not to obstruct a clear line of sight to the southern sky.   Also, since they are automatic they tend to cost significantly more than the manual tripod mounted units.

An advantage for a tripod-mounted satellite dish is greater flexibility in parking your RV.   You can park under a tree or other obstacle and set up the tripod-mounted satellite nearby where you can get a clear view of the southern sky. Another advantage is that they cost less.   On the down side, they do need to be stored for transport, and then set up and disassembled.

Automatic roof-mounted units:   Motosat used to be the major manufacturer for the automatic-mount products.  Since they have gone out of business, there is not really a comparable product and price point for the RVer.   A company called RF Mogul has picked up all the repairs on MotoSAT controllers for both TV and Internet the models that are repairable.  They had the expertise and ability to repair these controllers so they hired the technician that did all the repairs for MotoSAT and set up a repair facility.  They say they offer 24 hour turn around with a flat rate repair price and can do bench test and software upgrades.  The model numbers of the controllers they can repair for TV applications include the Nomad 2/3 and Nomad SD/SD2.   For internet applications, they can repair models D4, J1, H1 and H2.

Other manufacturers of the roof counted, automatic acquisition units are Ground
Control and C-Com’s iNetVu.

Manually-mounted units: These use a tripod type of arrangement. Various vendors sell these and have their proprietary method for the set-up and dish-pointing functions. Prices run from about $1300-$1700 and higher, for packages with different types of satellite aiming devices. Monthly plans run from $59 and up.

Here are a couple companies that provide tripod equipment and/or automatic roof top systems. Search online for others and check these resources for pricing deals and further explanations of satellite options:

In summary the choice of internet access option is going to be governed by what you need and feel comfortable using – a matter of trade-offs. As you make decisions about which way to go, think through how often you will need your RV internet access and how you will be using your time online.

Whatever your means of connection for internet access on the road, take necessary security precautions to protect your computer and your personal information.

More about getting internet access on the road.