Technology for RV Living: Staying in Touch with the Outside World
Many RVers see each outdoor adventure as an opportunity to go off-grid completely and block out the outside world. These folks aren’t very interested in Internet connection and rely on their phones for emergency situations or they drive to the nearest hotspot they can find when necessary. Other RVers are vacationing with their kids who need entertainment in the evenings and will go through withdrawal symptoms if they can’t occasionally get on Instagram. If you RV full time while holding down a job remotely, chances are that your need for Internet access is a dire one.
For you, it’s all about how much money we’re willing to spend for all the technological creature comforts found in a brick-and-mortar home. Because your bread and butter relies upon having a steady and reliable connection, it probably makes sense for you to dole out hundreds of dollars to make sure you’re always able to get online. For boondockers, however, there are no guarantees about when there will be an Internet connection in the horizon. There’s also the time spent on the road, where you might need to make contact because of a mechanical failure, a natural disaster or a medical emergency. There are a few gadgets that are designed to work when other mobile devices fail.
Whether you’re writing the occasional text messages to friends, camping in unexplored territory or sending important documents to your boss, we have a way for you to stay connected while out in nature. Below are the most common ways RVers are connecting with the world in between each adventure:
You’re taking the RV out for the weekend or an entire week and while it’s not your top priority, you’d like to be connected to the Internet, especially if the kids are with you and they are beginning to whine due to separation anxiety from their best friends. If you’re not boondocking, chances are you’ll be able to connect to the Wi-Fi at the campsite, at least somewhat. Basically, connection is usually iffy at the campgrounds and when you do connect, the service is very slow. Most experienced RVers have learned to bring a signal booster along because of this very common problem. If you’re relying on Netflix as your babysitter in the evenings, a good place to start your search for a signal booster is Wilson Amplifiers.
If you have a good network on your cell with a booster, you should have a pretty easy time connecting. Wi-Fi is strictly a local connection, so there are also restaurants and libraries that may give you a better connection if you are having a really hard time. Google Earth is a very popular, free application that can help you locate fishing holes, amazing trails and (aha!) other Wi-Fi hotspots.
If you’re close enough to a network, your phone may enable you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you have this feature on your phone, just tap into the broadband connection to create a network for your devices. If your phone doesn’t have this capability, you can try downloading an app like MyWi that will enable your phone to set up a hotspot. Beware that data charges on this could be very expensive.
WiMax devices are another option when you are far from a wireless network. Sprint, Comcast and other carriers now sell hardware that gives you broadband service in fairly remote areas. The devices become hubs to which your devices connect.
You also have the option of bringing your own mobile Wi-Fi system, like TP-LINK 3G Power Bank (M5360) or 4G LTE-Advanced (M7350). These systems establish a Wi-Fi hotspot and also have unlimited data bank for storing images and documents.
Your 3G or 4G cell phone service or MiFi will likely not get any connection at all in extremely remote areas, miles of terrain that you most likely will cross and may even possibly choose to set up camp in. Don’t let this come at a surprise and rest assured that there are ways to get around this problem, too. But count out Wi-Fi if you’re traveling far from civilization. The following are ways to get an RV Internet connection in the most obscure areas.
Satellite Phone & Internet
Most people do not use satellite technology because it’s extremely expensive. Satellite hardware can cost over $20,000 and generally starts at $1,000. One emergency message saying you’re okay starts at about $6 a minute. Monthly service costs are anywhere from $50-$250. LEO (Iridium or Glonass) phones are said to have the fewest problems with connection but may run you a bit more in cost.
There are two types of setup, which vary greatly in cost. There’s an automatic roof mounted version, which is more expensive (think upwards of $10,000 even $20,000 and a $1,000- $1,500 installation charge). The manual tripod ($1,200-$1,500 with a $250 installation charge) is more commonly installed by RVers. The roof mounted version needs little manual manipulation and the setup is fast whereas the tripod takes up some room and needs to be assembled and disassembled with each use, which takes about 15-20 minutes. Companies like HughesNet and WildBlue are just a couple of carriers for satellite Internet who offer fair rates.
There is lots of equipment involved in having a satellite setup. Outside, you will need an antenna, a transmit-and-receive unit and a dish. This equipment then connects to an indoor receiver and outdoor transmit unit, which connects to your wireless router.
Unlike Wi-Fi, which is a local connection, satellite phones connect via geostationary units in space. Basically, your source is an orbiting satellite so you can connect even in the most desolate corners of the world. People sometimes assume that satellite phones work anywhere but that’s not always the case. Usually, you’re required a clear view to the southern skies to connect. This may sound simple enough but may prove to be a challenge if you’re in, say, the mountains or a thick forest. The one advantage of having the less expensive tripod satellite system is that you can put it off to the side of the RV to get the right angle towards the sky whereas with a roof mounted satellite system you will have to hope that the view overhead is clear.
Keep in mind that with satellite phones, calls often get dropped from simple bodily movements like walking into an area where there is no clear view to the satellite.
Another thing to keep in mind is that satellite modems do use quite a bit of energy, roughly 20-30 watts at a time. Also, bad weather or a branch obstructing the view can block a satellite signal and cause disruptions. For every problem, there is a solution and for this one, the answer costs $60: an Internet hot spot contraption for redundancy will minimize disruptions.
When boosters, antennas, and satellite phones fail, there’s a nice unit that can help you out in a bind. For less than $300, InReach is a combination gadget with a GPS and satellite communication protocol with an LCD user screen and easy prompts and buttons. With this gadget, you have GPS tracking, satellite messaging and SOS signaling. You can also get weather reports.
InReach is different from other gadgets in that it will connect anywhere: the desert, the highest peak – everywhere. It’s the Iridium LEO network that provides this amazing satellite coverage for which you don’t need to aim the device to any source.
Not only do you have SOS signaling, but the SOS and GPS info gets tracked so that rescuers are alerted to your location if there is an emergency. You also have the usual texting with friends and family with a 140-character limit.
There are different connection services available for the InReach and prices range from $25 to $35 a month. You can also connect InReach to a smart phone using Bluetooth.
This is an emergency gadget for the most part. Do not expect to be surfing the web on this machine.
Regardless of which type of device you’ve found to work for your lifestyle, you’ll need to charge up your devices. If you’re staying at a campground, you’ll have an electrical hookup, but if you are dry camping, you’ll still need to juice up your devices. Perhaps you have a generator, but there are all sorts of gadgets on the market for this, including DIY kits. These products even include hand-cranked kinetic energy chargers. The most sensible thing to buy is a battery or solar-powered USB charger. Make sure you bring extra batteries with you if you end up going that route.
Don’t forget that having the proper insurance on an RV or travel trailer is the wisest thing you can do. Car insurance is inadequate and you shouldn’t wait to find out the hard way. With one phone call an Insurance Specialist can give you multiple quotes from several insurance companies that have specialized motorhome and trailer insurance. Call now: (866) 501-7335. You can choose to buy an annual policy or a seasonal one, depending on how often you use your vehicle. You can also start a quote by visiting here.
The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms, and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.