Most RVers use the Internet to stay in touch with family and friends. Many use it for banking and bill paying. Finding campgrounds, attractions, places to work or volunteer, are all easier if you have a computer and an Internet connection. The methods RVers use to connect are: cell phone modem or Aircard, satellite Internet, RV park Wi-Fi, other Wi-Fi signals, public computers, PocketMail (for e-mail only.) and a dial-up modem connection at an RV park.
Three factors will help you determine which form of Internet access is best for you.
- How often you want/need to connect
- Your budget
- Where you travel
How often do you connect?
For RVers who need a dependable, regular (daily) connection no matter where they travel for business purposes, satellite Internet is a good choice. It works in remote areas when nothing else does. Trees can obstruct the signal, though.
RVers who stay along the Interstates and metropolitan areas are more likely to find a good signal from an Aircard. Each cell phone company, though, has areas where their service does not work, especially in more remote areas. Overall, Aircards are getting better, faster and with a signal available in more places.
If you only check e-mail occasionally, you might not even want a computer that gets an Internet signal. Checking at public libraries or using PocketMail could work fine.
How much can you spend?
Budget is a factor too. The satellite Internet equipment is a minimum of $1500 for the tripod-mounted dish, $5000+ for a rooftop mount that automatically locates the signal. If you catch a sale and rebate, the Aircard or cellular modem is free. The regular price is as much as $200. The basic monthly service for both Aircard and satellite Internet costs about $60; other plans are more expensive.
If you rely strictly on Wi-Fi, cost can be deceptive. You can often find a free signal by driving around, but how much time and fuel are you spending finding it? Some parks and coffee shops charge for Wi-Fi. If you need a subscription for even 24 hours very frequently, you could end up paying a lot per month for service. If you only check e-mail two or three times a week when you have a signal, then you can avoid paying. Consider all that when making a choice.
Where do you travel?
If you like remote areas, you may have difficulty connecting with anything but a satellite Internet dish. If you are usually in more populated areas, check the coverage for the company you are considering for an Aircard or modem; all have holes in their service, not only in remote areas, but in certain states or areas. My sister lives in the L.A. area, north of Pasadena. At her house I have to go outside for my Verizon cell phone to work or stand by certain windows. It works elsewhere in her area. (We couldn’t use the Aircard or satellite Internet there either.) If you park in areas with lots of trees frequently, satellite Internet may not work.
What’s the solution?
No one method of connecting to the Internet works all the time. I need to check e-mail and get on the Web nearly every day. We were in Big Bend for several months in 2005-06 and had no cell phone service. My Aircard did not work either. We first got a landline, which got clogged up with users as soon as the kids were home from school. We ended up purchasing a satellite Internet dish, which worked well.
The satellite Internet works great – except when it doesn’t. In 2007 we traveled with satellite Internet. Even so, we used Wi-Fi in RV parks where we stayed if we were there for only one night rather then set up the dish. We would call ahead to find out. In Maine, we had no signal because of trees; the promised Wi-Fi in the park wasn’t operational yet. We used a landline at the family cottage and some days drove about 15 miles to a coffee shop/bookstore for free Wi-Fi. A few times on our travels, I went into the RV park office and used their dial-up or high-speed modems.
Several RVers we know have recently given up their satellite Internet dishes in favor of an Aircard. In fact, we too have switched to a newer Verizon Aircard because of problems with speed with Hughes. We know the Aircard won’t work 100 percent of the time but are prepared to look for other ways to connect.
What we like about the Aircard is that it is tiny and easily finds the signal. We can both use the same Aircard by using a router. With satellite Internet, even though George was quite fast at setting it up, it still took 10-15 minutes, was more involved, and we needed a place to store the dish and tripod. The signal for satellite Internet is more difficult to find than for satellite TV because you have three parameters to match instead of two. The Motostat system that is mounted on your RV roof and finds the signal automatically works well but is much more expensive and you can be limited in where you park so trees don’t interfere. With the tripod mount, you can move the dish around. With Motostat, you need to move your RV if you don’t get a signal.
To come up with the solution that works best for you, weigh all the factors. Choosing either an Aircard or satellite Internet does involve a two-year commitment when you sign up so think it through before committing. And, be prepared to use an alternative method when your main choice doesn’t work.