Internet Access

If you are reading this page on your computer, chances are you are accustomed to keeping in touch over the Internet. With so many new technologies on the market, you can take the Internet with you in the RV—with the right equipment.

As you can imagine, keeping this web site current requires access to the Internet no matter where we go. We have spent a good bit of time researching various methods of getting online on the move, and on this page we share our findings with you.

We cover the following methods of connecting a computer to the Internet:

Cell Phone

The least expensive and slowest method of connecting a computer to the Internet is through your cell phone. This can be accomplished with phones and cell phone service that support data connections.

Pros Cons

Little or no extra cost in addition to your voice plan

Wide area of coverage

Very slow connection of 14.4 Kbps

Emails with large attachments (i.e. photos) may never download, blocking all other emails

While possible to browse the Internet, most people will not have the patience to wait for pages to load

Ideal Uses:

  • As a stand-by Internet connection, with another solution as the primary
  • As a primary Internet connection for those with very limited emailing needs on a tight budget

What You Will Need

  • A cell phone capable of acting as a modem when connected to your computer
  • Cellular plan that supports dialing up an ISP for data services
  • Data cable to connect cell phone to your computer (usually to USB or serial port)
  • Dialup Internet service provider (ISP) with access numbers local to your cell phone, such as EarthLink ($22/mo) or Copper.net ($10/mo)

    ISP's that require their own dialing software may not work.
  • Instructions from your cell phone manufacturer or service provider on how to configure your phone to act as a modem

IMPORTANT: Your ability to access the Internet via a cell phone depends on all of the following: phone model, cell service provider, and location.

Finding a Data Cable

Data cables are not common options with cell phone users, so the sales person may not know what you need or may give you incorrect information. Ask plenty of questions to make sure you are getting the correct part.

Also be aware that carriers want to sell Internet service with the cable and may present it as something you must have. For example, the Verizon "Mobility Kit" includes the data cable and software for signing up for their Internet service. The bundled Internet service is generally more expensive than the no-frills dialup services (see above). You may decide that you want the Internet service offered by your cell carrier—just be aware that in most cases you can use a less expensive solution.

To find a data cable for your cell phone, go to 1800Mobiles.com and search for the following phrase:

your-phone-brand usb "data cable"

Example search phrases:

motorola usb "data cable"

lg usb "data cable"

nokia usb "data cable"

If the cable you found has a description similar to the one below, then chances are it is the correct item:

Motorola Data Connectivity Kit allows the user to connect a wireless phone to a modem, enabling access to the internet, e-mail or fax. Just connect the cable to your laptop, desktop, or PDA...

Wireless Internet

Cell phone carriers and specialized companies offer wireless Internet services designed specifically for the laptop. Most services in this category are based on cellular technology or variations thereof. Connection speeds vary from very slow to DSL-like speeds.

Some providers call this service Wireless Broadband with connection speeds of 128 Kbps to more than 1 Mbps. Pay close attention to the connection speed claims because many have very limited coverage, switching to a much lower speed outside that area. Be sure to review the coverage map before buying to make sure service is available at your travel destinations.

Ideal Uses:

  • As a primary Internet connection for those traveling in covered areas

What You Will Need

  • A laptop with an available PCMCIA or PC Card slot, or USB port, depending on the model
  • A service-specific wireless internet card (not a WiFi or 802.11b card)

Providers: 128 Kbps and Up

Providers: Below 128 Kbps

WiFi Hotspots

Wireless Fidelity (or WiFi, also known as 802.11b) is a technical term for the wireless network cards in laptop computers. Most new laptops come with this technology built-in and older models can be easily retrofitted by adding a WiFi card or device.

WiFi is the technology that links your laptop to a provider using two-way radio signals, and the provider further connects you to the Internet. The actual speed at which you browse the Internet depends on the connection speed between your computer and the WiFi receiver, and between the WiFi receiver and the Internet.

WiFi has a very limited range, typically less than 1,500 feet in radius. An area within range of the WiFi signal is called a hotspot.

Pros Cons

Fast connection speeds

Easy to use and connect

Free or inexpensive access to the Internet

Have to be in a hotspot, which are not available in many RV parks

Reception may be spotty inside a building, near the edge of the hotspot

Many WiFi signals are not properly secured, increasing the chances of data eavesdropping. Financial transactions should be performed only on encrypted web pages.

Ideal Uses:

  • As a primary Internet connection for those traveling in or near hotspots
  • For transferring large amounts of data (photos, etc.) at public hotspots, such as a library

What You Will Need

  • A laptop equipped with a WiFi network card or adapter
  • Be in a WiFi hotspot, in range to receive and transmit reliably
  • SSID and password to get on the WiFi network, if required by provider

Free WiFi

Many hotels, libraries, and some RV parks provide free WiFi Internet service to their guests. Check with the office for details such as coverage, SSID, password, and if additional fees are required.

It is not uncommon to make reservations at an RV park and be told that WiFi is available, only to find out later that the slot you are in is outside the range. When making reservations, ask if your specific slot is in range.

Paid Local WiFi

Various local WiFi providers may be available at your destination for a fee. Common locations are airports, book stores, truck stops, coffee shops, etc. These places offer daily or extended fee structures—ask for details at the establishment. Daily rates range between $3 and $7.

During our travels we have noticed that some RV parks include WiFi in their literature as an amenity. What they may not specify is that you have to pay for this service in addition to your park fees.

Paid National WiFi

If access to the Internet is important, we suggest looking into a national WiFi provider such as Boingo Wireless. Many of the hotspots that can be subscribed to independently can also be accessed under a Boingo consolidated plan for a reasonable monthly fee.

To determine if this solution is practical for you, go to the Boingo search page to find hotspots at your intended destinations.

Cable & DSL

If cable TV or land-line phone service is available in the RV park, then chances are you can also get cable or DSL Internet. Ask the RV park office who provides these services and call them directly to check for service availability.

There is one obvious down-side to relying on wired Internet in a recreational vehicle—it ties you down. But, if you are planning to stay put for a while, this solution may be ideal.

When you talk to the cable or phone company, be sure to ask the following:

  • How long is the contract?
  • What are the penalties for canceling early?
  • What are the installation and equipment costs?

In some competitive markets you may be able to get service without a long-term contract and without cancellation fees. However, these are the exceptions, so be sure to ask.

Pros Cons

Fast connection speeds

Reasonable cost

Ties you down to one location

Provider may require long-term contract and penalize early cancellation

Ideal Uses:

  • As a primary Internet connection for those staying in one place for an extended period

Satellite

When you don't have the option of being out of the Internet's reach no matter where you roam, then satellite Internet is for you. As you might expect, always having access to high-speed Internet costs a premium.

Older one-way satellite technologies are still on the market, but we suggest you only consider the two-way solutions. With the one-way satellite, you also need a secondary up-link, such as a wired phone line, cell phone, or satellite phone.

Among the two-way satellite Internet solutions, there are two types:

  • Fully automatic, roof mounted, operates when RV is stopped.
    Approximate cost: $5,300 - $6,300 installed, $55 - $135/mo
  • Tripod mounted or fixed base, manually aligned when moved.
    Approximate cost: $600 - $1,800 installed, $55 - 135/mo

A note about tripod mounted two-way satellite
These units are intended for fixed locations. As such, the provider will tell you that every time the dish is moved, a licensed technician must re-align the dish and you will incur an installation charge. Currently the providers are not enforcing this rule and users of tripod dishes have been able to freely move about the country without penalty.

We are pointing this out so that you can make an intelligent decision for yourself. Your risk is that the companies may start enforcing their "pay when moved" policy in the future.

Pros Cons

Service available everywhere within the continental US, where the southern sky is unobstructed

Fast download speeds

Roof mounted units are completely automated, connect within a few minutes

Slow upload speeds, similar to dialup connection (newer models improving on this)

Latency makes real-time applications impractical, such as Internet gaming

Tripod mounted units require some skill and time to align

Considerably higher cost than other options

Ideal Uses:

  • As a primary Internet connection for those who require coverage at all times

Roof Mounted Dishes

Tripod Mounted Dishes

Two-way satellites are available from various online and retail locations. You can have one installed in a permanent location and then purchase all necessary components to mount onto a tripod. Or, you can buy complete tripod units from one of these vendors: