How Fulltime RVers Get Internet

One of the most common questions we get asked is “How do you guys get internet?” Our primary source of income is web development so the answer to that question is as important to us as anyone.

Outside Hardware

I have three ways of getting internet inside the RV:

  1. Someone Else’s Wifi

    When this works it’s usually campground wifi. I use a Wifi Ranger Mobile mounted on the RV’s crank-up TV antenna. I routed the wire along the roof securing it with nylon cable clamps in three places. I covered the clamp screws with Dicor roof sealant. The wire then drops inside the RV and I covered the hole with the same sealant. The Mobile unit pairs with a router inside the RV. For the summer of 2016 this is our main internet source.
  2. A 4G Signal

    This starts with an external Wilson Antenna also mounted on the RV’s TV antenna. We don’t watch TV, so I removed the actual batwings because they interfered a bit with the two antennas I’ve added. The antenna wire is also routed into the RV through the same hole in the roof and connects to a Wilson Sleek 4G Amplifier. From there the signal is picked up either by a Pantech UML290 Aircard or a Verizon 6620L Jetpack. If we are using the aircard it runs to the same internal router as the Wifi Ranger Mobile Unit.
  3. iPhone

    I have a iPhone 5 (not tetherable on my current plan).

Inside Hardware

That’s how we get signal into the RV - now what do we do with it?

Primary Router

The two outside wires connect to a Wifi Ranger Go router - which is our primary unit.

The Go has an interface where I can see all of the wifi signals that the Wifi Mobile can see, or I can switch to the cell signal instead. The Go interface has a ton of settings that should allow failover from wifi to cell or vice versa but in practice I can’t figure out a reliable setup.

I use the interface to try local wifi first and if it’s not usable switch to the modem instead.

85% - 90% of the time we use our 4G setup because available wifi signals aren’t usable.

Backup Router

Before we bought the Wifi Ranger unit I used a Cradlepoint MBR 1000 Router. When the Wifi Ranger unit arrived I threw the Cradlepoint in a cupboard.

There have been a few places where the Wifi Ranger wouldn’t connect using the aircard/4G. The first time this happened out of desperation I took out the old Cradlepoint unit and sure enough - it connected.

Assuming I’d probably need a backup router again I mounted both units in a way that I can easily swap the aircard from one to the other.

Use Both?

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Sometimes we are in a spot where the campground wifi is reliable, but slow. I’ll connect the WiFi Ranger unit to the slow-but-free wifi for the family to use for general surfing. Then I will connect the Cradlepoint to 4G for a faster work connection.

Or, we’ll connect the WFR to the free wifi and then I’ll use the Verizon Jetpack for 4G speeds.s

That’s our hardware configuration - but that’s only part of the puzzle. You still gotta get on a plan.

Service Providers

Verizon

We’ve always used Verizon as our primary cell data service provider. We’ve bought cell data from Verizon in different ways:

  • Through Millenicom, which resold Verizon data on plans targeted to RVers. Verizon later bought back these accounts and Millenicom is no longer a source.
  • Directly from Verizon - we had a 20GB month to month data-only plan. With all the fees added on it was ~$130 per month.
  • Our current approach is renting an unlimited 200GB/MO 100GB/MO data plan from a 3rd party provider. RVMobileInternet has a list of sources for these plans and we choose one from their list. It runs $145/month.

AT&T

My iPhone is on a grandfathered, out-of-contract unlimited AT&T plan. It’s been handy having a different provider on my phone - I can still manage client email when the aircard doesn’t connect.

The Wifi Ranger Control Panel - while at Myrtle Beach the campground wifi actually worked.

The Wifi Ranger Control Panel - while at Myrtle Beach the campground wifi actually worked.

Drilling through my roof to route wires.

Drilling through my roof to route wires.

Our external antennas - 4G up top, wifi below.

Our external antennas - 4G up top, wifi below.

Wires routed, secured, and sealed up.

Wires routed, secured, and sealed up.

Our internet gear. Backup drive on the left in back. Backup router front left. Aircard/amp in the middle. Primary router front-right. All mounted to a carpeted board on top of kitchen cabinets.

Our internet gear. Backup drive on the left in back. Backup router front left. Aircard/amp in the middle. Primary router front-right. All mounted to a carpeted board on top of kitchen cabinets.

Am I Missing Something?

I don’t continually shop for this stuff - so if I’m missing a great piece of gear or killer service plan let me know!

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21 Comments How Fulltime RVers Get Internet

  1. Picture of Jonathan LongneckerJonathan LongneckerApril 22, 2015

    Hey Mike!

    I’ve ordered most of my internet stuff and will be setting it up next week, but had a few more questions for you:

    1. Why did you have a backup router again? How is it hooked up?

    2. Do you do Time Machine backups with that drive or is it just NAS and you store stuff there?

    3. Are the cables running from the two extra antennas just exposed up there before they go inside? Did you need to re-seal the top where you drilled the hole? I couldn’t see what it looked like up there from the ground :)

  2. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkApril 22, 2015

    Hey Jonathan -

    #1 - The Cradlepoint was my first router. When I got the WFR I kept it “just in case”. If the WFR isn’t working I just pull the aircard from it and plug it into the Cradlepoint unit. Then on our laptops we connect to it’s wifi network rather than the WFR.

    #2 - I added a photo and some detail about how the wires are routed - they are secured to the roof but do lay on top of it. They catch leaves and junk but otherwise it’s worked OK. It was a longer run than I would have preferred but I had to bridge the distance from the TV antenna mount on the outside to where the gear was going to sit on the inside.

  3. Picture of Jonathan LongneckerJonathan LongneckerApril 22, 2015

    Cool - how did you seal the point where the wires go through the roof?

  4. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkApril 22, 2015

    Same stuff - that Dicor sealant. Best to have a tube of that on-hand as an RV’er anyway. Roof leaks are the great bane of RV existence…and being able to quickly patch a leak is key to preventing a major disaster.

  5. Picture of Jonathan LongneckerJonathan LongneckerApril 22, 2015

    Gotcha - it kind of looked like a molded plastic piece in the photo. Couldn’t quite tell :)

  6. Picture of Cherie Ve ArdCherie Ve ArdApril 23, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your mobile internet setup - I’ve added this page to our Full Time RVers setup page on the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center.

  7. Picture of Kennie KennieSeptember 14, 2015

    Thanks for a straight forward solution on how to hook up a RV paradise.

  8. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkNovember 16, 2015

    I’ve updated this page to reflect our new Verizon data plan (which replaces the short-lived OmniLynx plan).

  9. Picture of Jonathan LongneckerJonathan LongneckerNovember 16, 2015

    I’m keeping an eye on that new Karma plan, too. We have 20gb ATT and 14gb Verizon to the tune of $250-ish a month. It’s amazing how the kids will turn on some automatic update/backup setting by accident and blow through half our allotment in two days. Unlimited would be a nice insurance policy.

    If we were only going to be on the East coast, Karma would be a no brainer. But we’re headed West next year so I’m not sure.

  10. Picture of BoyinkBoyinkNovember 16, 2015

    Unlimited was nice in a “don’t worry about it” way - but it also allowed some couch-potatoism to creep in.

    I’m thinking a data-diet will be good for us again.

  11. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJune 30, 2016

    Updated yet again - we are now running a Verizon unlimted data plan.

  12. Picture of Katina HesterKatina HesterJuly 20, 2016

    I’ve purchased a WeBoost for my Verizon Mifi but still struggle with internet. Needing pretty fast speeds for my work I find myself having to drive quite a bit to find a library to work. I need a better solution that doesn’t tether me to a large city. Your set up is a great help, but it is a large financial investment to begin. So I wanted to ask, do you find that it achieves overall high speeds of internet using Mifi (i have a 4G only one apparently so have to go buy a full one) and RV park wifi overall? FYI, I’m in North Carolina and have struggled on the coast and the mountains with internet, Verizon 4G is non-existant and wi-fi is painfully slow. At my wits end!

  13. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJuly 20, 2016

    Hi Katina -

    Depends on what you mean by “high speed”..;)

    Overall we find our setup works well but we also purpose to be where we know it will work well (we use the Technomads Coverage app to ensure there’s a Verizon signal where we want to go).

    The Wifi Ranger helps in some parks, others it gets you connected to the park better but the park wifi is still overloaded.

    Overall Verizon is the provider of choice for RVers.

    Right now we’re in San Luis State Park in Colorado - miles from anywhere, getting 5MBPS down & 4MBPS up using our Mifi/booster/antenna.

    My AT&T iPhone is showing No Service, but will periodically connect.

    Our standard recommendation on gear is to look at http://rvmobileinternet.com/ and see what they recommend. Chris and Cherie track the market like no one else!

  14. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJuly 20, 2016

    And I meant to say - no single piece of gear will ever guarantee a great connection no matter where you are. It depends on the coverage in that area, the traffic on the tower you connect to, etc. All you can do is fire up the best arsenal based on current market knowledge. For me the gear is a minor cost when I look at it as a business expense. A few billable hours lost here or there buys a WifiRanger or not.

  15. Picture of Katina HesterKatina HesterJuly 21, 2016

    Thank you! The app is a nice tool I didn’t know about. This will help me tremendously!

  16. Picture of Jonathan LongneckerJonathan LongneckerJuly 21, 2016

    Katina,

    I can tell you from experience don’t even bother with campground wifi. I haven’t had my wifiranger turned on in months.

    Like Mike said, Verizon all the way. I’m not sure what WeBoost thing you got, but you probably need an omni-directional antenna in addition to the booster. The tiny antenna it comes with isn’t going to help you much.

    We know a bunch of boondockers who are regularly in the middle of nowhere, but can get good speeds by using this: http://3gstore.com/product/3047_3g4g-full-band-outdoor-omni-antenna.html.

    Obviously depends on if Verizion does in fact have coverage there or not :)

  17. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJuly 21, 2016

    For what it’s worth - we have used our Wifi Ranger while workcamping and put our cell-based internet on hold for ~ 6 mos total.

    That’s roughly $800 in savings so even though we don’t use the WFR all the time it has been worth it for us.

  18. Picture of PeterPeterJuly 14, 2017

    We used the WFR for a couple of years, then we needed an upgrade to get 5ghz…  what a mistake!  the folks that make WFR have gotten really poor at QA on their new stuff - nothing but problems!

    After that miserable experience, I went to Amazon and purchased the Peplink Balance One.  WHAT A HUGE DIFFERENCE.  Works absolutely perfectly with my rather odd setup.  And, they actually test everything before selling it!

    Our setup:

    Peplink balance one load balancing router.

    Peplink internal Wifi antenna

    Ubiquity external Wifi source antenna and router for getting external wifi (park, driveway surfing, Walmarts, etc).

    2x Sprint hotspots

    1x Verizon hotspot

    1x AT&T hotspot

    all connected and load balanced through the Peplink (the balance-one has one USB port were I plug the Verizon hotspot and the other 3 are connect via a PepWave each (simply to translate USB to Ethernet))

    1x sprint (via my person business) at about $40/mo.

    AT&T (this is an expensive one, but we have all of our phones on this one and they recently came out with an unlimited everything plan that included the hotspot! (4 phones and a hotspot for $320/mo everything unlimited - they have caveats that they can throttle, but we haven’t experienced this at all yet).

    Verizon are direct from the carriers (Verizon unlimited was purchased a few years ago with the help of rvmobileinternet (Chris and Cherie are AWESOME) at $49/mo. after the $1,000 purchase fee.

    The second Sprint is through 4gcommunity ...  If/when you’re in a Sprint area, this is an unlimited plan that works out to about $20/mo… can’t beat it and is great for additional bandwidth.

  19. Picture of CatherineCatherineAugust 08, 2017

    This post is very intriguing to me.  We do quite a bit of camping in the summer and I take my work with me. This summer we invested in the Unlimited data plan and use our phones and tablet as hot spots.  I noticed the busier the campground the harder it is to get a good signal. What do you recommend to strengthen my phone hot spot signal? We do have an antenna on our hybrid that could be modified.

  20. Picture of BoyinkBoyinkAugust 08, 2017

    Hi Catherine - I’ve detailed our 4G setup above.

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