Twenty years ago, the idea of getting the internet anywhere other than in your home was unthinkable.
Even a decade ago reliable internet on your phone was still slow, and finding a way to use it on a laptop in your RV was a serious hassle.
Yet today, more and more RV travelers want or even demand access to streaming services through reliable internet signals.
So, How to Get High Speed Internet and Stay Connected in Your RV? and what is the best way to get reliable internet service in your RV?
The truth is, there are a few options to consider. With the expansion of high-quality cellular service and mobile WiFi access, your smartphone or a mobile hotspot may provide you with the best option. However, this can be a factor depending on where you are in the country. There might also be more affordable options to consider.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to get reliable internet service in your RV. This includes exploring some of the more popular and cost-effective internet options for RVers.
Top 5 Ways to Get Internet Full Time RV Living
1: Free Internet Access Options And Public WiFi
You might be surprised to know that there are many places that provide free WiFi signal. Coffee shops are one of the first places that come into mind.
They’re often small enough that their WiFi signal will reach well out into their parking lot. Just be kind enough to go in and buy a coffee.
This is usually necessary to get the password, which is usually on a sticker at the counter. Public institutions like libraries and university commons are also relatively popular and likely areas where WiFi is available outside for free.
Just bear in mind that there might be security issues with these free institutions.
They are meant more to provide internet access to people inside the building who need to look things up.
It’s probably not the place where you want to handle your online banking. More than one person has fallen victim to security issues and malware when using sensitive files through public access WiFi.Security issues aside, the larger problem with these forms of free internet is that they are limited to the place itself.
You can’t really take them with you. It’s the sort of thing that’s great for taking a break from driving, and you want to download some music files.
They can also be a great pitstop for a treat while you look up the details about your next leg of the journey.
2: A Cellular Signal Hotspot
Just a few years ago cellular signal hotspots came with expensive data costs and depending on where you are the speed was very slow.
There were many people living in rural areas who tried to trend away from home satellite internet to cellular hotspots only to be frustrated by surprise data costs, and nights spent double-checking data usage.
These issues were largely related to the now outdated 3G networks that many providers rushed to slap together.
Today 4G cellular networks and the emerging 5G networks are providing very reliable highspeed internet connections that may one day truly outcompete cable WiFi signals.
Choosing Between A Smart Phone And A Mobile Hotspot
Technically, most modern smartphones have the ability to launch a hotspot. This signal can then be connected to a laptop or a compatible smart TV.
This will get you by for simple things like checking your email and securely logging into your online banking account.
If you are interested in streaming TV or running your favorite audio playlists. You may find your smartphone’s hotspot is over-taxed.
It also drains the battery surprisingly fast and can lead to excess heart issues that could further shorten battery life.
In fact, if you like to charge your phone with a wireless charger, the drain might be faster than the phone can receive a charge.
It also means that your phone will be dominated by the internet signal. Depending on the age of the phone, you might run into issues texting or using other onboard phone functions.
A mobile hotspot is basically a small wireless router. Most cellular providers count it as a separate line in terms of monthly service costs.
However, many will let you “Suspend” the service for up to three months at a time for no additional costs. You can often do this twice a year.
This means that you can suspend the hotspot from late fall through early spring when you are less likely to be traveling in your RV. You can then activate the mobile hotspot for the summer months.
The biggest benefit here is that multiple people can securely log onto the mobile hotspot without eating up your phone’s functionality
Data Costs For A Mobile Hotspot
In the past, the biggest drawback of getting your internet signal through a mobile hotspot was the cost of data usage. Even so-called “Group” or “Family” plan still “Charged by the Gig.”
This made them a decent option for sending e-mails, checking social media, and occasionally watching a popular viral video.
The data of watching longer videos or streaming services was just too large, and mobile hotspot users would then incur major charges for exceeding the limit.
Today this problem is fading into the rearview mirror as more and more cellular providers are offering unlimited plans.
There are even a few giant cable internet providers who are getting in on the action, offering their own wireless plans as part of a companion package.
The way they pay for these decadent amounts of data is by having you sign up for long-term contracts to “Lock In” your rate and “Lock You In” as a customer.
Most also require you to purchase one or more devices from their affiliate providers.
What this means is you are going to need to shop around. The top dog in the market today is likely going to be outdone a month or three down the line.
Fortunately, their rates are almost always on par with their closest competition.
You might save a few bucks with a splash promotional rate, but you likely won’t get a major upper hand with one provider over another.
The thing you need to pay attention to the most is the affiliate brand you need to sign on with.
If you are loyal to Android or the Apple IOS system, you might need to shop for different competitors.
These days few carry both with the same exact unlimited plan.
How To Deal With Cellular Signal Strength Issues
If you will be traveling east of the Mississippi river or even the states that border the famous American waterway, then chances are you will be spoiled with a reliable cellular signal.
The occasional mountain, valley, or deep forest might cause a momentary interruption, but you’ll certainly have the signal strength you need in an RV park.
It’s when you get to the central plains, the Rockies, and remote parts of Canada that you might find yourself driving through a cellular dead zone.
Some are substantial, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. In a situation like this, your phone won’t work either.
So, rather than fight the inevitable, you can treat it as an opportunity to unplug.
What About An Cellular Booster For An RV?
There are sometimes, where the signal strength is simply weak. This might be due to the position of a nearby tower, the elevation, or the surrounding forest.
Many people RV enthusiasts will turn to cellular boosters to answer a problem like this.
Some of the cheaper models cost less than $50, while some of the more advanced cellular boosters can be as much as $400.
Just which one is right for you will depend on the characteristics of your signal strength issue.
The nice thing about the cellular booster is that not only can it improve your internet hotspot’s performance, you can also tie your phone into it.
This lets everyone in the family stay connected, even when you might be far from what most consider to be the civilized world.
3: Cable And DSL
Admittedly, this is another type of internet access that requires you to stay put. It’s probably not the preferred option if your style of RVing involves a lot of rambling and boondoggling.
This type of physical connection simply won’t due.
However, there are some segments of the RV community where the RV itself serves as a “Home Base” which allows a secondary vehicle to explore the surrounding countryside.
The benefit here, of course, is a reliable connection that typically offers fast broadband data rates.
Most of the time hardwired or landline internet service calls for a regional provider.
Cable Internet Through A Short-Term Stay RV Park
There are some RV parks that realize the demand for reliable internet connections. In fact, there are some who will advertise this level of access to put them a step or two ahead of their local competition.
Especially, RV parks that aren’t perhaps the closest to the area’s biggest attraction.
Most of the time this is a wireless hookup very similar to WiFi where you connect to the internet signal offered through their wireless router.
There might be one or more wireless routers with a specific password and login information.
Though there are a few smaller RV parks, particularly “Mom & Pop” campgrounds who want to offer cable internet access to a few via a hardwired line.
Cable Internet Access At A Seasonal RV Park
There are some RV parks that offer seasonal access to pads or slips with full hookups. Signing up with one of these is a great way to park your RV for the summer while exploring the surrounding attractions.
Most of these RV parks offer a seasonal subscription with an added bonus like cable internet or access to their cable-based wireless network.
What Do I Need To Use Cable Internet Through A Wireless Modem?
Outside of a few small RV parks, cable internet is available via a wireless router. To connect to it you will need some type of wireless modem.
This usually comes in the form of a laptop. In fact, most quality laptops on the retail level come with a wireless modem in part of their “Standard Package.”
At the same time, there are a lot of people who love to stream their favorite shows. An entire family sitting around a 15-inch laptop screen is hardly the peak of luxury.
In a scenario like this, you can turn to an HDMI cable. Just bear in mind that while most flat-screen TVs and laptops have HDMI ports, not all of them do.
So, if you’re in the market to upgrade your personal electronics or your RV’s onboard entertainment devices, take a moment to make sure there is an HDMI cable included.
Connecting them is very easy. You just need an HDMI cable that’s long enough to connect to your TV, while keeping your laptop near a reliable 120 Volt electric outlet.
While you can run the laptop for a while on its internal battery, streaming video will chew through the charge surprisingly fast.
The other advantage of this setup is that you can use the laptop as a DVD player if you want to watch some of your favorite movies.
It’s not a big deal, but if you’re traveling on a budget it can save you the cost of buying a DVD player which might not get used all that often.
Can I Use A Wireless HDMI Transmitter To Connect My Laptop To The RV’s TV?
If you aren’t enthused by the idea of tangling wires between your laptop and your RV’s flat-screen TV, you could try investing in an HDMI transmitter.
As the name implies it sends a wireless signal between the laptop and the TV.
There are some drawbacks to consider with this configuration. Right off the bat, the cost of the HDMI transmitter itself is typically much more than a simple HDMI cable.
They also tend to cause the laptop’s internal fan to run constantly, which could lead to a heating issue.
4: nternet WiFi Through A Smart TV
Smart TVs have continued to evolve, especially as more and more studios are offering 4K resolution options.
Depending on the age and your particular brand, the internal modem can pick up and connect to other WiFi signals and wireless cable internet routers.
The upside here is easy access to streaming services and audio. Not to mention that many come with free short-term subscriptions to popular online TV networks like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The downside to this option is that even the best-designed interfaces are still clunky for things like sending an e-mail or online banking.
5: Satellite Internet Signal In An RV
Satellite internet was once touted as the most effective way to deliver relatively high-speed internet to rural locations.
It may have started out as a way for farmers, and ranchers to access their e-mail. It has since evolved into a possible option for RV enthusiasts.
Just bear in mind that not all satellite providers offer internet service, and you will need access to a significant expanse of the open sky.
The signal interface is not friendly to trees. The speed of the signal might not be enough for some streaming services or could lead to lag times and frustrating buffering times.
It’s also usually not something you can just use on the go. Satellite dishes and highway airspeeds don’t really go together. You usually have to take time setting it up once you get to your intended location.
Also bear in mind that many of these satellite internet services charge a better rate for long-term contracts, and you might want to cost compare with short-term, monthly rates.
There are many different options worth considering for providing your RV with a reliable internet signal. The first step is to take a fully tally of your needs and how you will be using them.
You can then use this to filter the options that are best for you.
If you just need to check your email once a day and search maps for the next leg of your journey, fast food restaurants, coffee shops, and library free WiFi linked through your smartphone’s hotspot might be all you need.
If you are going to be parking up for the summer to enjoy an RV park’s seasonal subscription, then you might be able to find a good deal based on what they offer.
Even if they don’t have what you need, you can always turn to cellular hotspots.
If you do go this route, be smart and take your time shopping plans as well as providers. Ideally, you want to prioritize one that allows you access to an unlimited data plan.
If you are one for the unbeaten path, you might want to also make room in the budget for a cellular booster.