How Do I Get Internet Service In My RV?
We have been on the road since 2015 and have tried almost all the wireless internet options. Things have changed quite a bit since we first hit the road, but let’s look at all the internet options and answer the question: How do full-time RVers get internet?
When it comes to getting RV internet, there are four primary options: cell, WiFi, satellite, and cable/fiber. Let’s look at each of these options more closely.
Cellular-based internet is by far the most common primary internet source most full-time travelers default to at this time. While you are familiar with getting internet on your phone, this same internet can be improved upon and expanded to offer entirely usable internet for all your devices.
Cell internet, of course, means you need to be in cell coverage to get it. However, users can install special hardware on RVs that will pick up cell service much better than your phone. Cell service is usually available anywhere from 10 to 40 miles from a cell tower, depending on equipment, frequency bands, and terrain.
We use cell service primarily for our internet needs and share how this works in detail below.
Next up is WiFi service. WiFi is available from hardwired access points in many campgrounds, coffee shops, and sometimes even cities. WiFi coverage is not as extensive as cell, and you need to be nearby to get it. (usually within 100 to 1000 feet) It also frequently requires a password that you need to get from the provider.
Some travelers rely on WiFi from their campgrounds or coffee shops for their internet, but it can be difficult for primary use when you need to be connected all the time.
Like cell service, you can install special antennas on RVs that can pick up WiFi from much greater distances. Our setup includes this capability that we will talk about later.
It might seem that the best possible internet connection for an RV that moves all over would be a satellite. In one regard, this is true as you can get middle of nowhere internet where nothing else would work. It does work for that, but few drawbacks make it less appealing for many travelers.
First, it is harder to set up and will not work as you drive down the road. It requires you to point a satellite dish at a specific location.
Second, its service is slow. Not by download, per se, but in latency. Latency is how long it takes requests to be received, and since a geosynchronous satellite is 22,000 miles away, even at the speed of light, things take time. Lastly, satellite internet is usually the most costly and restrictive internet source.
Now all the above is referring to geosynchronous satellite internet. However, newer constellation technologies are currently being deployed that could change all this. Starlink and OneWeb should be able to offer us cellular-like connections from satellites within the next few years and maybe game-changers. Constellation satellite internet is something we will be considering for our internet as it becomes available.
The last option for RV internet is hardwired internet, or the same type of internet you have in your home. This type is less than ideal for most RVers as they want wireless connectivity. However, for more extended stays at a location (or when nothing else is available), it is possible to hook up an RV just like home.
Many RV’s have cable ports and cable run witing them that you can use for internet. Even if they don’t, setting up a wireless router at a nearby internet source is possible.
We don’t use it, but we have gigabit fiber available at our Florida-based lot.
Can You Get High-Speed RV Internet?
So the next question we get asked is, “can you get high-speed internet from these wireless services? ”
Well, that is going to depend on what you consider high speed.
For standard high-speed home internet service of 50 – 100 Gbps, yes, cell, WiFi, and even satellite can provide these speeds. They are, however, very condition and location-dependent. Most of the time, we can cellular internet speeds of 10-50Mbps. However, there are places where we struggle to get 2Mbps.
If you consider high speed in the gigabit per second (Gbps) realm, these services will not provide that. The latest millimeter 5G services can do this but are limited to short-range city use only.
However, if you need speeds like this, you are probably a more advanced user who probably knows more about all this than most of us anyway.
Mortons on the Move RV Internet Setup
As we mentioned before, we have been improving our connectivity for the entire time we have been on the road. When we first started RVing, 3G internet was still the primary provider, and we had an unlimited plan through a minicom company.
We used a phone as a hotspot and constantly struggled with the net. We tried WiFi and cell boosters and spent lots of time at coffee shops.
Slowly over the years, we improved our equipment and plans until we finally reached our current setup, which is working very well.
I will preface that this is not a cheap setup, but if the internet is critical to you like us (our livelihood depends on it), then spending the money for the best might be worth it.
So we primarily use cellular-based internet and a little WiFi. There are two sides to an RV internet setup. The Hardware and Software. Hardware refers to the physical equipment installed in the RV that gets us service. Software are the data plans themselves. Let’s take a look at what we use.
When we talk about hardware, we’re talking about modems, routers, antennas, and cell boosters. Here are the exact pieces of equipment we use, and we expand on them below:
- Pepwave Max Transit Duo LTE-Advanced Cat 12 Modem
- Parsec Husky 7-in-1 antenna
- WeBoost Reach cell booster
- High-gain directional Yagi external antenna (for rare situations)
The very heart of our RV internet system is what’s called our modem. The modem is the device that talked to the cell provider. We use a Pepwave Max Transit Duo LTE-Advanced Cat 12 Modem. This device does a lot of things.
First, it connects to the cellular towers, and you can think of it kind of like a fancy cell phone. Unlike a cellphone, however, this device can connect to external antennas that are much more powerful than a cell phone.
The modem we use is 2-in-1 (hence “duo” in the name). This enables us to run two cellular plans at once in the same device, and it will automatically switch between them or even connect them together! (more on that later)
This Pepwave router is an industry-hardened device designed for rugged service in law enforcement, busses, ambulance, and military applications. Its cell connectivity is MIMO which stands for “multiple-in multiple-out,” so it can both receive and transmit data at the same time more efficiently than with a single antenna.
The router handles your local internet connections – both wireless and hardwired connections. Our Pepwave modem is also a router that rebroadcasts the cell as WiFi inside the RV. It also has ethernet ports to accept a hardwire connection. We can connect to the device from its WiFi network and see what it is doing in real-time and make changes.
The WiFi features go beyond just broadcasting. It can also receive WiFi and add it to the cellular service for an even better connection. You can connect the Pepwave to external WiFi antennas and pick up campground or local WiFi from much greater distances. It will even act as a WiFi booster.
While the Pepwave is an incredible device, it only comes with a set of basic antennas. While these work well, they have minimal gain and can only pick up from the modem’s location.
We extended the antennas to the roof of the RV and used a high gain option. Our primary antenna is currently the Parsec Husky 7-in-1 antenna. This is a very simple roof-mounted antenna, but it performs exceptionally well.
This antenna has 4 Cellular LTE antennas, 2 WiFi antennas, and one GPS antenna in it. An antenna like this both receives and transmits WiFi from its location. So, since we are broadcasting WiFi from the roof, our WiFi coverage outside the RV is much improved.
Overall, this antenna has provided us excellent service where there is cell coverage.
In addition to the Parsec Husky, we have a cell booster that we put up, but only rarely. The rooftop MIMO Husky will almost always outperform the cell booster. But in those rare situations when we are just on the fringe, we bring out the big guns.
We run a WeBoost Reach booster when nothing else will work. It will never provide the same quality of a link as the rooftop antenna but can get us some service when nothing else works. The booster has both internal and external antenna connections.
For the internal antenna, we swap out one of our rooftop links for a “candy bar” antenna. We then wrap the candy bar antenna with the WeBoost internal antenna in aluminum foil to shield it from the booster’s external portion. If the external antenna sees the internal antenna, it will limit its boost.
For the external antenna, we run a long cable up a pole to a high gain directional Yagi antenna. This antenna is very directional and needs to be pointed at the cell tower to work correctly. What’s great about this setup is that we can force the router to connect to a different cell tower if one is overloaded by pointing at it (if we have multiple options within range).
Software (RV Internet Data Plans)
All the hardware we have is pretty fantastic for getting connected, but it isn’t very helpful unless it has a data plan to work with. This is the software side of things and is much more susceptible to change.
In our 6+ years, we have been through 12 different cell plans!
Unfortunately, only two of the plans we currently have are available to purchase as they come and go so regularly. After we share what we use, I will share some resources to look for current data plans that could work for you.
The best setup with cell plans is to always have a backup on another carrier. You never know when one might not work because of coverage or if it might get shut down.
With that said, here is our plan lineup.
Primary Cell Plans
We run 2 primary cell plans all the time installed in the Pepwave’s two SIM card slots. They are:
ATT Unlimited (500 GB) Mobile Must Have International Data Plan – This runs in our Pepwave router all the time. You can check out their available Mobile Data plans here.
Nomad Internet Unlimited T-Mobile Plan – This runs in our Pepwave router all the time. However, this plan is no longer available as they only rent it with the hardware.
Backup Cell Plans
In the event that ATT and T-Mobile don’t provide the best cell coverage in an area, we have three backup cell plans that we can use on other carriers.
Visible Unlimited Cellular Cata Plan – This plan runs in an old phone that we use to create a hotspot. The Pepwave then connects to the phone and rebroadcasts the internet.
Visible plans are still available, but they currently cap them at 5mbps speeds. They are cheap and make a great backup data plan.
ATT Mobley Unlimited Plan – (No longer available) – This device has its own router and was sold many years ago at just $25/month for unlimited internet. ATT quickly shut down the plan when they realized they made a mistake, but it’s still working for us. We use this plan primarily when we are away from the RV.
These types of deals come and go, so keep an eye out for them and grab one if it pops up!
Google Fi Cell Phone Plan – This is Tom’s primary cell phone, but the phone can act as a hotspot and has prepaid data. The data has a price cap, so it can be used as an unlimited plan if needed. This phone works internationally and on carriers like US cellular. Sometimes it’s the only phone with service, and we will use it as a hotspot that the Pepwave rebroadcasts.
Having five sources of RV internet might seem crazy, but sometimes only one will work. With this setup, we cover the following carriers: ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Sprint (T-Mobile just acquired them), and most international carriers with Google Fi.
Mobile Must Have – Connectivity Supplier
All of our connectivity hardware has come from a connectivity supplier called Mobile Must Have. We first became aware of these guys when looking to get the best setup for our trip to Alaska during the Go North production. They are mobile nomads themselves so they understand the unique needs of the RV community.
On top of that, they are very knowledgeable about their products and provide excellent customer service. They have been extremely helpful in getting us set up correctly.
We were able to get a discount code for our subscribers that want to build the best possible system like ours.
If you need even faster or more reliable cell, the Pepwave routers can provide it by bonding all your internet connections into one. They do this at a server or cloud level with some very fancy technology.
Speed Fusion is a subscription that you can sign up for, and costs vary per month based on how much data you want to bond. 500GB costs $20 per month.
This service makes cell connections even more reliable and faster. We don’t think this is necessary, but if you want the absolute best, Speed Fusion is it!
How to Find a Good Service Plan for RV Internet?
While you could buy the same hardware that we have, getting a good data plan is a bit tougher. The first place I always recommend picking up a data plan is from Mobile Must Have. They offer a great unlimited ATT plan, but it is so popular they are usually back-ordered.
Secondly, keep an eye on the Mobile Internet Resource Center news. They have a subscription service where they share the latest information, but you can find lots of good info for free through their news site.
Finding a plan to meet your needs is the hardest part of getting connected, and will take the most research. But keep at it, and eventually, you will end up with a great plan you don’t need to think about much.
Planning Our Travels Around RV Internet
The last piece I want to cover in this article is how we plan our travels around connectivity. Even with the best equipment, connectivity is still not perfect, and we end up in places where the internet is weak.
We always plan ahead using apps like Campendium or RV Trip Wizard to see what others have said about connectivity in a campsite. If we know that service is bad, we may still go, but knowing it will need to be a shorter stay. Cities and urban areas almost always have great cell coverage, so we don’t worry about it when visiting them.
Overall, if connectivity is essential, trip planning will need to be part of it. Amazingly, we went all the way to the Arctic Ocean and had pretty good connectivity the whole way because of our planning, gear, and data plans.
Installing An RV Internet System
Once you’ve chosen your RV internet gear, you need to install it in your RV somehow…and somewhere. This can be a trick, as many people don’t like the idea of drilling additional holes in their RV roof. Here are a few things to consider when installing gear.
Non Hole Installations
If its temporary you might not need to drill holes. For a long time we just ran a cable out our water bay and installed our equipment in our basement. This enabled us to install it without holes, however we had to set it up each time we arrived. Another option that we now use for our booster is to run cables through slide seals. There is usually an inch of space around slides that cables can run along. Again this is a temporary solution.
RV internet equipment needs power, usually 12 volts (although our pepwave can accept 5v to 48v!). Getting power to the are you need can be tricky in RV’s as running new wires in the wall is usually not an option. Things to consider to get 12v to your equipment is tapping into existing power sources like lights.
Our most recent install actually utilized some old speaker wires that were already instlaled in the wall. We didnt have 12 v where we needed but used the speaker cables to connect to a 12V supply and ran wires off them to the equipment. Sometimes you just need to get creative.
Sometimes drilling holes is unavoidable. Luckly if you are installing a roof mount like we have, most of the time they seal up very well. We have never had a leak from our cell equipment. One thing that you do need to consider when drilling any hole in an RV roof is if you will hit anything. There are ducts, wires, and structure in rv roofs that need to be avoided.
One way to make sure its safe to drill through a roof is to find a light, or duct nearby that can be removed so you can look around and make sure there is nothing in the way. If you cannot do that its always best to drill a small pilot hole in the roof. We used a very long bit that we drill through one side of the roof then move it around and feel for any structure or wires with the bit. If it seems ok we then go all the way through. If everything lines up we then drill the larger hole for the wires.
Reliable RV Internet On The Move Is Possible
If you’re accustomed to having WiFi in your home, it might seem weird or impossible to get reliable internet on the move. With today’s technology, however, it is very possible and getting better every day. Unfortunately, getting connected on the move is a bit more complicated than plugging in a modem in your home. You will need to learn the nuances of how it all works.
This article just scratched the surface of all there is to know about RV internet, and if you want to learn more, we highly recommend taking the Mobile Internet Explained course from RV Masterclass. We’ve been through the whole 3+ hour course and learned a lot about how this all truly works!
Overall, with a bit of understanding and guidance, anyone can get and stay connected on the road!
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