Traveling and working from an RV isn’t necessarily easy. One big challenge of living on the road is Internet.
Mobile Internet plans tend to be expensive and worse yet, typically limit your bandwidth.
Even “unlimited” plans are not really unlimited. After you hit the “fair use” bandwidth clause on the contract (usually around 20GB), your data speeds are slowed drastically.
It is so bad that it makes the internet almost unusable.
Bandwidth and campsite location
Another issue is where your camper is located in a campground.
For example, we stayed at one place where some camp sites were on the mountain side, and others were down in the valley.
For the ones in the valley, the internet reliability went way down.
The app Campendium can help. People leave reviews and mark their carrier and service that they had.
But it still can change depending on how many people are streaming when you are there.
Never go to a campground expecting that you’ll have high speed internet.
At best you’ll have DSL speeds during non-peak hours – say 3-5 AM.
If you have anything better, congrats! You have found a unicorn.
So what are your mobile internet options?
Post-paid plans typically get you the highest priority for bandwidth but are also typically the most expensive. Moreover they still limit your data.
It’s best to buy these direct and not from a reseller.
Also these frequently come with contracts attached if you get a promo such as a free phone or hotspot.
Be prepared to be locked in for 24 months if you go with a promo.
You can find these cheaper than the other plans, but they also have less data and lower priority.
The benefit though, is that you can turn them off and on at will for occasional use – no monthly contracts.
So if you don’t always need mobile Internet, this might be a good option.
What we tried…
This orange puck has a good value proposition – an eSIM card switches networks to get the best signal with the beat carrier in the area.
It works pretty good in places with great internet. However, we found three main shortcomings:
1) it only switches between GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile, not CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint.
If it worked with all four it would really be a great solution.
2) no 5G yet. 4G LTE only.
3) Data refills were expensive. Because it is prepaid, the max plan size is 20GB a month. It has options for refill automatically.
However, during our first 2 weeks we had 3 refills at $60 a refill (Harper was streaming like it was her job).
At $180 in 2 weeks, we decided to start looking for alternatives.
Many new vehicles and aftermarket stereos come with options for mobile internet plans. Our tow vehicle does have an option with a very affordable, unlimited plan with AT&T. I think it was $20-25 a month or $200 for the year.
For high speed, LTE data, that is really inexpensive so that is what we use in the truck and for the kids while we are traveling.
iPad with Data Plan
If you so t have car connect, you can get a similar plan at a similar price for an iPad.
That said, I have seen reports that have said that in iOS 13 or 14, they added something so carriers can see if you are tethering or not so they can restrict bandwidth if so.
In other words, if you are watching videos from your iPad directly it is unlimited. But if your laptop or tv is tethered to the iPad and streaming, they can slow you down.
Visible (by Verizon)
Verizon created this subsidiary that doesn’t have stores and does everything via mobile app and mail order.
You get the benefit of cheaper prices on the Verizon network but not lower prioritization as you would through one of the many Verizon resellers like Straight Talk.
They also have announced that the bandwidth is really unlimited but that capped at 5 Megabits and 480p for streaming.
5 megabits isn’t blazing fast – like slow cable speeds, but it is usable.
The downside is that Verizon doesn’t have the best or fastest service everywhere.
Or in areas where Verizon is king, you might have slower speeds because you and everyone else is sharing a tower.
That said, our friends used this own a recent trip and had great internet.
GL.iNet Router and Tethering
With tethering, you can only connect to one device at a time.
So only your laptop can be hooked to your phone. Not your laptop, TV, and kids devices.
However, this little router (and other similar ones) allow you to tether to it and then multiple devices to connect to it at the same time so you can “share internet.”
It even has other features such as a VPN and the ability to modify TTL so carries might not realize you are tethered.
You’ll have to Google around to find out how to do this. Plus it does require a little technical elbow grease so it isn’t the best option for all.
T-Mobile Home Internet
T-Mobile started offering mobile Internet as home Internet (probably to figure out how to compete with Starlink).
Our friends recently tried this option and it may work for some but I believe the consensus was that 4G speeds were way too slow at their house to keep this.
If you get great T-Mobile speeds wherever you go, this could be an option.
Starlink is one of Elon Musk’s companies. It is actually the end game reason for his rocket company Space X.
Each time he launches a rocket for say the US Government, he launches so low orbit satellites that provide internet around the world.
Currently Starlink is available in beta but is geo locked which means you cannot move it outside of a radius around your home.
This is so Starlink can collect data on where internet is available.
Eventually, the hope so that you can move this. When you can, I bet it will be popular for RVers.
It is also the most costly at $500 for the kit and $100 a month. But you can get blazing speeds with it.
And it does carry a cool kid factor of “I get my internet from space, bro.”
Nighthawk m1 and iPad plan
Every carrier has options for truly unlimited internet. They don’t advertise these but they might have had it previously but discontinued it, or they might have contracted business plans that need high bandwidth and priority but don’t advertise it.
You just have to know the right way to get these plans.
There are various hacks available depending on your carrier. This is one of them.
Basically, you get a compatible hotspot, buy credits from a third party who has this contract, jailbreak your hotspot so the carrier sees an iPad plan, and voila! Cheap, (mostly) unlimited, unrestricted internet.
I usually stay away from these as hacks used by the masses often get patched eventually.
With this one, I’ve heard that people using more that a 1000GB a month were starting to get blocked. Less than that, they have been fine as of this writing.
The carries have started to roll out 5G and each one now has a 5G option.
T-Mobile recently started offering 100GB a month for only $50. This isn’t the cheapest option. But it also isn’t a hack.
At $0.50 a gig, this is a very good deal.
5G is not only much faster that 4G, it also stretches further.
I proved this at my last campground in a valley – without this device I wouldn’t have had internet.
5G is good news for campers.
Plus you get the fallback of 4G and 3G in a single device – which actually saved my bacon when driving through Navajo country where internet is spotty or non-existent for most.
What do we do actually do for Internet in an RV?
I rely on the Internet to work. As such we have a hodgepodge of devices we have and can use if we need to.
Car Connect with AT&T
Our tow vehicle has car connect built in and the unlimited plan is only $200 a year with AT&T. So we did this and it has worked out well.
The kids get internet in the car but limited or none at the campsite. It forces them to use their imaginations when we camp and makes long travel days a lot better for mom and dad when the kids have internet.
Visible phones with Verizon
We both have Visible phones which includes tethering. I also have a wireless router with a USB I can tether with. This way multiple devices can connect and stream if needed.
So if Verizon has good service where we are at, this is an easy solution for us.
Years ago I purchased a prepaid Sprint hotspot. I used it on occasion as I didn’t often need it.
If I did I could just purchase some data and away I go.
It is so small that I just keep it in my bag as a backup to a backup.
Even with all of these options, I’ve been in a situation where the Internet was lousy.
I decided to give T-Mobile’s 5G hotspot a try and so far it has saved me quite a few times, even though I’ve only had it a few times.
In fact, this has been my go to device the past few weeks.
Whatever you do, if you rely on Internet, I’d have at least a couple of options.
Often times where one carrier has good service, another won’t. Or you’ll be in an area where bandwidth is used by other people. Or something else.
Always have a backup or two or three.